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May 20, 2010

It’s About Time Yoga Goes to School. ~ Lisa Flynn

In case you haven’t noticed, many school-aged children are under extreme pressure to excel.

Some kids practically need a secretary (a.k.a. Mom) to keep track of their weekly commitments. Demands range from homework to language lessons and sports. And extracurriculars aren’t the only things stressing kids out. Bullying is on the rise. Constant stimulation and marketing messages come at them from all angles: T.V., radio, video games, computers, cell phones.

Kids aren’t allowed to play outside anymore because parents are afraid they’ll be abducted. And don’t look at us adults to entertain them—we’re also overloaded and stressed out, with less time, energy and patience for listening or spending quality down time our families. All of these factors make it tough for kids to relax, play and learn.

One solution? Yoga.

A well-known 2003 California State University study showed a link between yoga and better learning, improved behaviors, and higher self-esteem. Since then, dozens of additional studies have been completed, supporting those same results.

Overwhelmingly, research shows that children who practice yoga and mindfulness are better able to regulate their emotions, manage stress and calm themselves. They may also choose better foods to eat and engage in more physical activity than children who do not.  The studies also illustrate that centered, calm and focused children learn more easily, have better social skills and, in general, are much happier kids.

The following are some of the benefits of yoga to maximize the learning process:
> Provides students healthy ways to express and balance their emotions.
> Promotes a more relaxed, comfortable state of being – the perfect state for teaching and learning.
> Brings students into the present moment – the most basic requirement for learning.
> Encourages community and connectedness within the classroom.
> Helps to create an atmosphere of confidence, enthusiasm and non-competitiveness where everyone can succeed.
> Provides opportunities for beneficial motor breaks throughout the day.
> Eases anxiety and tension (such as pre-test or performance jitters).
> Enhances focus, concentration, comprehension and memory.
> Provides opportunities for reflection, patience and insight, reducing impulsivity and reactivity.
> Supports social and emotional learning.
> Improves listening skills.
> Wakes up sluggish minds and creativity as needed.
> Enhances organizational and communication skills.
> Improves posture, assisting students to sit comfortably for long periods.
> Enhances motor skills and balance.
> Improves mind/body awareness and connection.
> Improves confidence and self-esteem.
> Encourages respect for oneself and others.
> Creates a calm, harmonious classroom.

Science has shown, and educators have experienced first-hand, that when children are anxious, frustrated or stressed, it is nearly impossible for them to learn.  It is only from a relaxed, calm and present state of mind and body that our children can be psychologically and physiologically learning-ready.  Encouraged perhaps by the overwhelming pressures of “No Child Left Behind”,  teachers and school administrators around the U.S. are searching for a means to this end.

In France, South America, India, Italy and other countries where social/emotional learning is deemed as crucial as academia, yoga has been part of the school curriculum for over 25 years. After years of an increasing focus on results over process, the pendulum of American education is finally swinging towards a focus on the whole child, physical, social and emotional.

More and more schools are recognizing the effectiveness of taking a few minutes here and there throughout the day for yoga breaks—right in the classroom. A few deep breaths, physical movement or stretching to reconnect the body/mind, and moments for quiet introspection, are often a quick and easy way to ‘reset’ the nervous system to calm and focus.  Children are brought into the present moment, a place where they can pause, truly hear and feel, reflect and learn.

Though many teachers recognize yoga’s potential benefits in the classroom, many are not practicing yogis and therefore may initially feel uncomfortable leading yoga breaks.  That is where a trained yoga instructor with a child focused skill-set can become quite valuable.

A child who learns yoga, mindfulness and relaxation will not only be more learning-ready, but will also be developing essential skills he can use for lifetime of health and wellness in mind, body and spirit.  The pendulum of American education is definitely swinging in the right direction.

For more information, check out these sites:
Yoga 4 Classrooms
Yoga Ed
Mindful Schools
Bent On Learning
The Hawn Foundation

Article previously published in the March/April 2010 issue of YogaLiving Magazine

Lisa Flynn is the founder of ChildLight Yoga™ and Yoga 4 Classrooms™, two popular, effective programs for parents, teachers and yoga therapists to learn to share yoga with children.  Lisa trains and speaks at many locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.  For more information, visit ChildLight Yoga™ on Facebook, Twitter or on her blog, The Kids Yoga Resource.

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