When Lynea and I first developed our Yoga Calm program at her elementary school in the year 2000, we had no idea that we were going to be part of such a large movement. We were just responding to student needs with the skills and tools we had on hand.
Fast forward 15 years, and now there are hundreds of yoga programs bringing outside yoga teachers into classrooms and thousands of school teachers, counselors, and psychologists training in various yoga and mindfulness programs they can bring into their schools.
From New Practices to Best Practices
As with any emerging field, of course there have been some problems bringing yoga into the classroom. But overwhelmingly, schools have reported – and continue to report – significant benefits to students and staff alike. This may be the biggest thing driving its growth, but there are others, as well.
- Scientific evidence suggests that school-based yoga interventions enhance positive behaviors, mental and physical health, and academic performance. Though the research field is still quite new, there’s been an explosion of academic interest through recent years.
- Today’s youth grapple with psychological and behavioral challenges at much higher rates than earlier generations. Student stress is at an all-time high, prompting keener interest in systemic, whole-child interventions.
- High rates of obesity and its related health problems have opened up opportunities for schools to nurture healthy life habits.
In Summer 2014, 28 of the nation’s leaders in school-based yoga met at the Omega Institute to develop a comprehensive set of best practices to share with others who are bringing yoga and mindfulness into the classroom. Lynea was honored to be among this multidisciplinary group, which included occupational therapists, counselors, yoga teachers, school teachers and researchers.
The resulting white papers have since been collected into book form by the Yoga Services Council, now available to all. We think schools will find it an invaluable resource in helping them develop standards for a practice that are in line with their education goals, the needs of their students, and the school’s overall culture.
I imagine we speak for many educators when we express gratitude to Jennifer Cohen Harper and Traci Childress for organizing the event and making the book a reality!
The Importance of Cultural Competence
One of the important sections in Best Practices for Yoga in the Schools is “Culture and Communication,” which addresses the need to be sensitive to both the school culture and local communities we serve. Such sensitivity is key to any successful implementation, and the white papers give good guidance on bringing yoga into the school in a professional way.
Here’s a brief clip of Lynea discussing this approach, which she calls “Cultural Competence.” The clip is from her video presentation at the recent national Kids Yoga Conference in Washington, DC, in which she shares her insights from implementing yoga programs for children in a Catholic preschool, an alternative school, and a rural public elementary school.
Creating a Wellness Culture
One other key to successful implementation is our recommended bottom-up approach of training school teachers and staff to support the shift toward a “wellness culture.” The emphasis is on helping both students and staff to reduce stress through the use of new tools to improve attention, health, learning and emotional resiliency.
This is quite a change from the typical top-down interventions via federal policy, testing mandates, or fiscal pressures!
By honoring each educator’s and therapist’s intelligence, training and gifts, and supporting their health, well-being and job satisfaction, we can create an environment where both staff and the youth they serve can truly thrive.
Buy your copy of Best Practices for Yoga in Schools through the Yoga Service Council.