Originally posted August 2, 2015
We’ve looked before at the relationship between physical activity and cognitive skills. The short version, as brain scientist John Medina has noted, is that our brains developed to work best while we’re moving in an outdoor environment.
This is one of the reasons why, for instance, teachers typically report that their students’ grades go up after putting Yoga Calm to work in their classrooms. It provides a way to keep both brain and body engaged throughout the day. The whole child’s needs are fed.
Yet the standard learning environment – like the typical work environment – isn’t designed to support optimum cognitive performance. It works against how our bodies and minds evolved to be. Throughout most of the day, children and teens are required to sit still and pay attention.
And any teacher can tell you a whole lot of stories about how that doesn’t go so well. The kids fidget. They act out. It’s not from rebellion or sheer “attitude.”
It’s a sign that their bodies want to move; that they’re trying to meet their deep-down need for movement.
Of course, this has implications for physical health and well-being, too – as pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom observed in a blog post republished by the Washington Post:
We quickly learned after further testing, that most of the children in the classroom had poor core strength and balance. In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 1980s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance. Only one! Oh my goodness, I thought to myself. These children need to move!
Ironically, many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today–due to restricted movement. In order to develop a strong balance system, children need to move their body in all directions, for hours at a time. Just like with exercising, they need to do this more than just once-a-week in order to reap the benefits. Therefore, having soccer practice once or twice a week is likely not enough movement for the child to develop a strong sensory system.
Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”
It’s hard to learn with a sleeping brain.
While Hanscom recommends the usual cures – restoring recess time and encouraging much more time for active free play outdoors after school – the current reality in K-12 education remains fewer resources and more mandates. Sometimes, the only practical thing is to weave physical activity throughout the day, in short but frequent segments.
And this is why we kept flexibility – no pun intended – in mind when developing Yoga Calm. Individual activities can be as brief as a few minutes and easily used as transition time between learning modules. The can also be combined and meshed within an academic curriculum so that the physical – and social/emotional – processes are there to support learning the concepts.
“Yoga Bits” is what Detroit area third grade teacher Jennifer Cory calls them – quick activities to wake up the students when their nervous systems wane or to calm them when they need to regulate their excitement. In a study of her implementation of Yoga Calm at her school, researchers from Wayne State University found that her students improved in overall attention and multiple domains: Dibel oral fluency scores, behavior at home and school, physical activity, and unprompted use of breathing and movement techniques in response to stressful situations.
Watch her students leading each other through classroom and afterschool Yoga Calm activities:
Here’s another great clip of Certified Yoga Calm Instructor and social worker, Greg Sicheneder, leading activities at H.O. Sonnesym Elementary School in Minnetonka, MN:
Even in crowded classrooms, these instructors created opportunities for children to move. And kids love it! They instinctively know they want to move. Their growing bodies demand that movement to grow up healthy and strong. Likewise, their minds.
For as Hanscom notes, “In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.”
Learn how to bring Yoga Calm into your school, home or therapeutic environment with our Wellness 1 introductory course or save money on our certification series with our in-person Intensives or online course bundles.
Image by woodleywonderworks, via Flickr