Move over, gym class. A new trend has arrived in schools, and this time it involves a centuries-old practice.
Yoga, a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, is now being taught to students in some U.S. schools, and has proven to be incredibly beneficial for many reasons.
The sedentary classroom
It’s no secret that kids in American schools spend most of their time sitting at desks. Coupled with the fact that many schools don’t serve highly nutritious lunches, it’s no wonder that more than a third of America’s kids are obese.
Of course, while those factors aren’t the only contributors to childhood obesity, it goes without saying that schools have a giant impact on a child’s upbringing. After all, kids spend about 7 hours a day, 5 days a week in the classroom. They’ll take many of the habits they learned in school with them in adulthood. Incorporating yoga into the classroom teaches children to take periodic “breaks” to clear their minds, move their bodies, and refocus their energies.
Physical benefits of yoga
Unfortunately, the occasional gym class often isn’t enough to help kids get active. In addition, some schools only offer gym once or twice a week. Gym class has historically focused on cardio exercise and sports, which can be too physically demanding for some children, especially those with disabilities. However, yoga is inclusive for all kids, and better yet, it is not competitive.
Yoga is a type of mind-body exercise that promotes proper breathing techniques, posture, and relaxation. Although it involves posing the body in different positions, the movements can be done in place, which means there’s no need to head to the gym necessarily. Yoga can take place right in the classroom, giving kids the chance to take a break from sitting at their desks.
Here are some proven physical benefits of yoga, according to many science studies and the American Osteopathic Association:
– Builds muscle strength and tone
– Increases flexibility
– Improves posture
– Helps maintain a balanced metabolism
– Promotes weight loss
– Improves respiration and energy
– Improves cardio and circulatory health
Mental and emotional benefits of yoga
Giving kids a break from sitting isn’t the only reason why yoga should be taught in schools. Researchers at Tulane University found that “participating in yoga and mindfulness activities at school helps third-graders exhibiting anxiety improve their wellbeing and emotional health.” Another study found that yoga helped adolescent students manage anger, stress, and fatigue.
Like adults, kids undergo plenty of stress. In fact, a survey recorded by the American Psychological Association found that teens experienced higher stress levels than adults during the school year.
All that stress can cause kids to act out in class, or even become violent. In San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley Middle School, gang violence and fistfights were the norm, until the staff implemented a special meditation program. With two 15-minute meditation sessions daily, students have learned to manage stress, and are generally happier and more productive. After just one year, suspensions dropped by 45%.
Here’s how yoga helps kids manage stress:
– It teaches better breathing. Proper breathing technique is essential not only for movement, but also for controlling stress. Yoga trainer Dana Santas teaches kids to perform simple exercises such as “rib riding diaphragmatic breathing” and “peace palm exhaling”. In the latter, children learn to exhale for 8 seconds in a controlled pattern in order to calm themselves during emotionally overwhelming experiences.
– It involves mindfulness. Kids can learn simple mindfulness techniques, such as closing their eyes and focusing on their breathing or another sound. Adding an element of fun, such as instructing kids to imagine that they are flying through the air on a magic carpet, keeps kids interested and helps develop their imaginations.
– It’s calming and soothing. Because of its non-competitive nature, children don’t have to worry about being compared to their peers. The object of yoga is for each person to get in tune with himself, and explore his or her own limits. Yoga is a gentle, peaceful, and relaxing discipline that can help students “take a break” from stressful math equations or History quizzes.
– It prepares them for the future. Learning yoga early in life provides kids with tools they can use as adults, including mindfulness, concentration, enlightenment, and compassion.Without a doubt, teaching yoga in school with simply result in happier healthier, more productive adults.
Check out this creative yoga session for kids:
Photo credits: Hcpl.net, Grimmly2007.blogspot.com, Flickr.com