Why Yoga Calm Is the Right Choice for Teaching Social-Emotional Skills

by | Jun 17, 2018 | Social-Emotional Learning

One day when our granddaughter was five and we were driving home from school, she told me about a recent interaction she’d had with her baby sitter. “You know what I noticed, Grandma?” Anna asked.


“I noticed that I was getting frustrated with her.”

Great, I thought. The self-awareness tools we’ve been teaching Anna are working!

“I asked myself why I was getting frustrated.”

“Good question!” I replied. “And what did you discover?”

“She was giving me a mixed message, Grandma! Her body was saying one thing, and her words were saying something else, and I didn’t know which one to listen to!”

Inside, I smiled, proud of her mindful awareness.

“So what did you do?”

“I told her. I said, ‘You are giving me a mixed message,’ and I explained it to her.”

“Cool!” I said. “How did it work out?”

“It worked good, Grandma. Can we get an ice cream cone now?”

SEL’s Place in K-12 Education

teacher with studentsTeaching social and emotional skills is a complex process. It requires so many things – self-awareness, communication skills, positive self-esteem, empathy, and more. It takes practice and modeling.

But while the process is complex, the skills can be taught even to the very young just as readily as math or reading. It’s just that, in general, we don’t teach them through regular practice like we do academic subjects.

Yet research suggests that social-emotional learning is actually a critical support for children’s academic success, as well as personal development. As the Collaboration for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) noted in their 2017 “Ready to Lead” report,

A 2011 meta-analysis found that students who receive high-quality SEL instruction have achievement scores on average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). Several individual studies reviewed for a 2017 meta-analysis found even greater long-term impacts of SEL, including decreased likelihood of mental health issues and dropping out of high school, and increased probabilities of college attendance and degree attainment (Taylor, Oberle, Durlak, & Weissberg, 2017). Surveys of employers found that they seek the very skills that social and emotional learning programs foster: problem-solving, communication, teamwork, and grit (Sigmar, Hynes, & Hill, 2012). Advances in neuroscience suggest that teaching social and emotional skills in kindergarten can have long-term academic benefits on students’ reading and vocabulary, including in high poverty schools, suggesting that SEL may assist in closing achievement gaps (Blair & Raver, 2014). In 2015, researchers at Columbia University concluded that for every dollar a school spends on social-emotional learning programs, it sees an eleven dollar return on its investment (Belfield et al., 2015).

We think that’s an investment worth making.

Yoga Calm Supports CASEL’s Core Competencies

CASEL core competencies graphicOf course, there are challenges, such as the lack of a solid, accepted definition of what SEL is. CASEL advocates a set of five core competencies:

  • Self-Awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior; to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”

  • Self-Management: The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself; to set and work toward personal and academic goals.

  • Social Awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures; to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

  • Relationship Skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups; to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.
  • Responsible Decision-Making: The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms; the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

Yoga Calm supports those core competencies, as well, while adding the additional dimension of physical health. Supported by decades of research on fitness and sports education, the 40+ physical poses and movement sequences of Yoga Calm develop a physical sense of self, tangible self-confidence, and self-efficacy that supports all other domains.

And more than 25 specific Yoga Calm activities uniquely support CASEL competencies. Here’s a sample:

  • Self-Awareness: Pulse Count, Calm Voice, Belly/Hoberman breathing
  • Self-Management: physical yoga poses, Changing Channels, Roots
  • Social Awareness: Compliment Circle, Conflicting Feelings, Volcano Breath/Heart Thoughts
  • Relationship Skills: Trust Walk, Tree Circle, Communication Game
  • Responsible Decision-Making: Tree Challenge, Block Creek, Partner Pull

Yoga Calm brings SEL into the classroom in a systematic way while also providing opportunities for physical activity and supporting children’s health. This is one reason why more and more school districts across the country are implementing it.

But as the story of Anna’s growing mindfulness shows, it can be used at home one-on-one as well (or anyplace else, for that matter). We practice listening internally, to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. We talk about what we hear in the outer world. We learn to communicate with others to resolve problems.

From this ground, positive self-esteem grows.

Teacher image by Ilmicrofono Oggiono, via Flickr

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