Yoga helps students of all ages increase strength, flexibility, coordination, posture and endurance. It also improves concentration and can have a calming effect.
Yoga teaches us to look at challenges in a different way, and it helps us cultivate patience and perseverance in the face of struggle, instead of giving up.
Thousands of schools and other institutions worldwide are implementing wellness programs involving yoga. When I taught third grade in an Austin, Texas public elementary school, every morning in my classroom began with a few minutes of yoga postures on the carpet at the front of the room. I also taught my students how to meditate. We started with 30 seconds and built up to about three minutes. In Guatemala City, I practiced mindfulness at the beginning of each class with my ninth grade writing students, sharing various techniques with them, from breath awareness to visualization to focused meditation on a song.
Studies have shown yoga to improve behavior, physical health and academic performance, as well as self-worth and to reduce feelings of helplessness and aggression, and in the long term help emotional balance.
By learning and practicing the relaxing, attention-focusing techniques of yoga and meditation with students, we can give them tools for taking ownerships of their minds and enable them to concentrate on reading and writing, both for school and for pleasure.
My own history with yoga dates back to when I was just an adolescent myself. At twelve, going on thirteen, I started practicing, covertly, in my bedroom, by myself, in the evenings after dinner and before doing my homework. Yoga taught me body awareness. It taught me to pay attention. It helped me gain flexibility, balance and strength, not just of body but of mind, too. Of spirit… well, that would come with time.
In college, I started getting more into yoga. After taking my first yoga class, a one-hour Sivananda practice led by a woman named Brenda who is now known by her spiritual name, Lila, I decided, definitively, that I would become a yoga teacher, too.
Years later, when I become a professional elementary teacher, I naturally wanted to integrate yoga into my classroom procedures.
Why practice yoga with children?
Yoga enhances focus and facilitates meaningful learning and teaching moments.
A key factor in literacy is focus. Readers and writers must maintain their attention on the text, actively engaging with the words on the page as they read, thinking critically and processing information to express their ideas and feelings clearly as they write. Once students are calm, focused and engaged, they naturally become more receptive to learning and interacting with each other, as well as with the literature they are studying.
Yoga and literacy and learning go hand in hand.
Our modern world of rapid cross-cultural communication is the environment in which we now read and write, teach and learn.
Thanks to the Internet, the media and other communication technologies, we are exposed to more information than ever before in human history. With little to no training or formal education, we can see how we are different from other peoples in other cultures. However, only by reading, writing and developing literacy, can we understand why those differences exist — and that diversity makes life more, not less, beautiful.
Movement is about moving our bodies and moving our minds. Movement is yoga. Movement is mindfulness. Movement is moment-to-moment. Movement is a way of living.
Where have you traveled? What books have you read by authors from distant cultures? What are the most memorable foreign films you’ve seen? What international websites do you frequent?
By studying literature, students develop understanding of human conflict and have the chance to experience empathy for the humans that struggled so with negativity in the forms of prejudice, genocide and abuse.
By practicing yoga, we get to know ourselves and understand our range of emotions and experiences; it is a chance for us to develop compassion for ourselves and all beings.
Do you practice yoga? If so, why? How? What is yoga? What is mindfulness? In what ways can we empower ourselves and one another to slow down, focus and think critically?