“Sometimes before I go to yoga my back hurts and after yoga class I feel so much better. All the days I go to yoga I feel so good and the days that we don’t have yoga I feel worse,” wrote one fourth-grader in a letter to Superintendent Tim Baird.
In today’s world where so much class time and homework takes place hunched over a desk or computer screen, yoga helps students (and teachers) unwind. Literally. Through stretching and holding poses for more than a minute at a time, yoga uncoils the spine and strengthens the core, preventing and relieving aches in the neck, back, and shoulders.
Aside from the physical benefits, yoga boosts memory. At the beginning and end of every yoga practice, students spend a few minutes trying to empty their minds and pay closer attention to the sensations and sounds around them, a process known as meditation. Research indicates that regular meditation leads to increased concentration span and improved memory recall.
Studies have also shown that yoga reduced stress in fifth-graders, enhanced self-esteem in teenagers, and can even treat eating disorders.
Here in D.C. and Maryland, several schools, including Friendship Charter Schools, Woodson High School, and Avalon Elementary School, offer yoga as an extracurricular activity. One elementary teacher says she uses deep-breathing techniques immediately before and after recess to improve concentration among her students during class time. Tempted to try it? Here are two ways to incorporate yoga into your class:
- Use a Lion’s breath to either calm down an over-excited class or wake up a sleepy one. It’s so easy you can’t go wrong. Ask all the children to take a deep breath and scrunch up their faces and fists. Tell them to stick their tongues out as far as they can, open their eyes as wide as possible, and breathe out all of the air in their lungs. Do this three times, and I promise there will not be a frown in the room! (Check out this video from Om Yoga to see it in action.
- End the day with a group hum. Sharing a hum draws a line under the successes and failures of the day and brings you and your students together for a fun and calming experience before you all go your separate ways. Tell the class to sit cross-legged on the floor. On the count of three, everyone in the class should sing the word “hum” as if they are a buzzing bee. Every child picks their own note and carries on their hum until they run out of breath. When they run out of breath, they can gently flap their hands like wings while they are waiting for the rest of the class to finish. Take a deep breath at the end and smile.
Interested in bringing yoga to your school? Yoga Activist, a D.C. non-profit, runs outreach programs and can get your class on the mat this fall.
Wenna Price is an independent education consultant with a background in teaching, teacher training, and curriculum design. She can be reached at enquiries(dot)wprice(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter (at)WennaPrice.