Yoga in the Classroom
Yoga has been around for over five thousand years. The modern day school system has been around since the late 1700s. Merging the wisdom of yoga with the education of the next generation is a revolutionary idea in our country, but one that is spreading fast.
In addition to teaching yoga, I am a classroom teacher at a small democratic school in New York state. We value the ideas and opinions of students and offer them a voice in creating their own curricula. In this setting teachers have a great deal of freedom to teach students what they choose, what the parents want, and what the children want. It is a team effort to provide students with a well-rounded and self-motivated education.
About four years ago I began teaching yoga at the school to the various age groups. It has been a class for the elementary students and the high schoolers ever since. The elementary students loved the music, games, and projects we made during our yoga class. Calming jars, yoga socks, and monkey-mind pictures were favorites. Classes for this age group have ranged from 60 to 90 minutes, complete with movement, meditation, body awareness exercises, and craft projects.
A lunch break yoga class for the teenagers has been a welcome addition to my teaching schedule. As a smaller democratic school, teachers do not take "breaks" per se, and we eat with our students. Once each week, however, the other teachers cover my class so that I can practice yoga with the high school students. Some of the students are looking for yoga to fulfill a physical education requirement, while others are interested in learning to quiet anxiety, take a break from academics, or just be social. The reasons teens come to yoga class become less important as they fall in love with the practice. One parent recently commented that her son "loves this class!! He tells me each morning that he has yoga that day AND when he gets home he says how much he likes it.....every class!!" It is a beautiful thing to watch young people develop a personal practice.
Creatively, I worked fifteen to thirty minutes into our daily classroom schedule this year to offer yoga to my students in grades three through seven. We began the year discussing the breath and heart beat. Students come in from recess sweaty and out of breath. It was the perfect opportunity to focus on how the breath can calm the body and mind! Guided meditations are hugely popular, as are mindfulness exercises. After seven weeks of school, simply asking students to stand in Tadasana (or Mountain pose) brings the entire class to their feet with shoulders back, chests open, eyes closed. Some days we work on a specific posture, such as Vrksasana (or Tree pose), and other days we try partner poses, balance postures, Sun Salutations, etc. Mudras have been popular and offer stiff hands a chance to move and stretch. Some days while holding Padma Mudra (the lotus hand shape) we go around the room making statements of gratitude.
From the classroom perspective, I notice a quicker transition from recess to class time. Giving students fifteen minutes to refocus or center themselves prior to class helps us to achieve more in the classroom, settle in to work time with fewer distractions, and shift gears from play to work. Some students have commented that they enjoy the breathing as it helps them to calm down after playing outside. Others have noted that they can write more easily after doing their yoga. A parent of a third grader notes, "After working with college kids, who need to have more coping skills...I can see that that is precisely what you're teaching them!"
Like anything new, students can be reluctant to try yoga. After a few weeks of our short daily practice, there is no grumbling. No complaints when I ask them to stand for yoga. No sighs of annoyance or rolling eyes. The kids know that yoga is helping them both in and out of school. They feel better, calmer, and more centered on and off their mats.