I couldn't touch my toes for years. Yoga is not a part of my life unless you count the pants. But even I know the value of integrating yoga in schools.
Studies have shown that it helps decrease symptoms of anxiety and impulsivity, improves self-esteem and classroom behavior.
The benefits hit home for me during my first summer as a site director for a camp for students with autism. We had yoga classes two days a week.
I had a particularly challenging, very dysregulated six year old that summer. I didn't think of yoga as something to try with him and his group wasn't scheduled for class.
But one day, an epic meltdown and running away from his group led him into the middle of yoga class. He went from tears and screaming to trying to do a tree pose in the middle of ten 13-year-olds.
From then on his intervention plan included his most preferred coping strategy: five yoga poses and deep breathing.
When I returned to school in the Fall, yoga and my own inflexibility came with me.
Yoga is perfect for the classroom at any level or setting. There are lots of yoga poses that can be done seated or standing behind a desk. No mats required.
Teachers in the elementary level incorporate movement throughout their day since students are not switching between classes. Many teachers have a jar of activities to use when students are restless or unfocused.
Consider using yoga in place of or with these types of activities. It is also something to suggest to your physical education teacher.
Lots of teachers have found it beneficial to incorporate a mindful minute or a yoga sequence after recess or other high energy activity. This can help calm students and reengage them in the next activity.
I have used this with high energy counseling groups. Think 5 boys referred for impulsivity issues. 🙂 We would begin and end each session with a yoga sequence. It did wonders for their focus, our productivity, and my sanity.
If you have a couple sequences of 3-5 poses that students can do, it easy to have them go through a sequence a few times as they transition.
Deescalation & Coping Skills
Once students are familiar with yoga poses, they really enjoy employing the strategy independently.
The student I mentioned earlier was reinforced by learning new poses and being able to add them to his coping skills toolbox.
With students who struggle with self-regulation, consider teaching them 3 poses they can use in succession. Pair that with deep breathing.
Identify with students when they would use the yoga strategy. For example, should they use it when they were bothered or when they were angry? Where do they feel comfortable doing yoga poses?
To keep up the novelty, it is easy to switch the poses or sequences you are using.
Mindfulness Practice Complete
Mindfulness has really become popular in the last few years and for good reason. It is effective at helping students regulate their feelings and actions.
Often schools focus on guided visualization, guided meditation, and mind-body awareness. But yoga is another great mindfulness practice to incorporate and doesn't require as much space as people imagine.
Tips for Implementation
- Grab my kid-friendly yoga deck to have on hand.
- Make it fun and engaging. Students can play Follow the Leader, with each student matching a student's pose.
- Use yoga sequences. This helps build confidence with the poses and allows students to implement it independently.
- Integrate with other practices such as mindfulness or social emotional learning. Yoga is a way to become more aware and better regulated.
- Start small. Use a few poses that you feel comfortable with. It's okay if you aren't an expert.