by Lisa Flynn A 2003 California State University study, and a growing number of subsequent studies, show a link between yoga and better learning, improved behaviors, and higher self-esteem. Students quickly learn to use yoga as a tool, not just to increase physical fitness, but also to manage their feelings and behaviors, and to create a mental state ready for learning and taking tests.
The following are some of the benefits of yoga and movement to maximize the learning process:
• Partner and group poses require students to work together as a team, creating positive social interaction.
• Balancing poses build focus and concentration.
• Some yoga exercises can help students relax, calming pre-test jitters.
• Other, more invigorating yoga techniques are useful for waking up sluggish minds before class or after lunch.
• Yoga offers children healthy ways to express their emotions, rather than bottling them up or striking out.
• Slow, even, “belly breaths” short-circuit the fight-or-flight response to stress, and promote a more relaxed, comfortable state – a perfect state for learning.
• A non-competitive yoga atmosphere where everyone can succeed fosters a can-do attitude, confidence, and enthusiasm.
More and more teachers and schools are recognizing the effectiveness of taking a few minutes here and there throughout the day to practice physical asanas, conscious breathing and relaxation/visual imagery exercises – right in the classroom. However, most teachers are not trained to do so and therefore may initially feel uncomfortable leading these exercises. That is where a trained instructor (you!) can become quite valuable. Nearly any lesson plan you develop can be adapted for the classroom environment, though there are some challenges to consider.
There is limited space in a classroom. Most classrooms do not have a large open area in which to practice yoga. When developing a lesson plan, do keep this in mind.
• Most yoga poses and games will need to be practiced at or near one’s desk. Lying down on the floor may or may not be possible. Be creative in coming up with ways to utilize the desk or table and chair for modifications of poses typically done sitting or lying on the floor.
• Conscious breath exercises can be done sitting at a desk or table. Encourage students to sit upright with a long backs and necks, shoulders down away from the ears.
• Relaxation can practiced sitting in silence at a desk or with heads down on the desk. If space and cleanliness allow, students can lie on the floor with or without their legs up on their chairs. You might suggest that students bring in a towel on yoga days so that they can lie on the floor without concern.
Limited time. Before they realize how much it will actually help them in the long run, many teachers feel taking time out for yoga will be too time-consuming. After all, there is so much to be accomplished at school each day! Keeping this in mind, I often limit classroom yoga sessions to 20-30 minutes. Remind the classroom teacher that using the yoga-based activities need not take more than 5 minutes, if that is all the time he/she has available. In the end, any time spent on yoga is worthwhile – helping with transitions, test-taking, stress and overall learning-readiness.
Encourage the classroom teacher to participate in the yoga activities. Experiencing the beneficial effects of yoga first hand will help teachers to accept and even embrace it as a worthwhile part of the school day. As well, the more the teacher learns about and feels comfortable with the lessons, the more likely he will be to utilize them with his students when you are not there. You might even make it easy for teachers by typing up your lesson plans (with step-by-step instructions) to leave behind for their future use. They will love you for it!
Incorporate subjects of study. Find out the current areas of study and try and incorporate them into your lesson. For example, if you learn that the class is studying the American Revolution, you might devise a story about a soldier’s journey and incorporate it into your lesson plan. This might include marching in place (or around the room), Warrior Series, Triangle (Tent), Shavasana using a visualization about sleeping under the stars, and so forth. Ask the teacher if she has any other ideas for bringing the subject matter into the yoga lesson. She will appreciate that you asked and will enjoy helping you with this!
ChildLight Yoga’s own Yoga 4 Classrooms® Program offers a 5 hr. seminar for schools/teachers as a staff development item. As well, there is another seminar designed for Certified ChildLight Yoga instructors seeking to bring yoga into the classroom setting or sharing the seminar with schools in their community. Visit the website for more info.