One of the main questions administrators ask when the prospect of integrating yoga into the curriculum comes up is, “Why?” by which they’re typically wanting to know how yoga connects with an academic mission and what the benefits of that connection are.
Of course, there are plenty of answers to this, depending on a school’s specific situation and needs. Perhaps classroom-based yoga is being pursued as a way of retaining physical education in light of budget cuts or increasing academic mandates. Maybe it’s being considered as a tool for character education or social skills building, or as a component of health education. Maybe the emphasis is on providing supports for learning preparedness and stress reduction. Regardless of the specific situation, there is a wealth of evidence showing measurable, demonstrable benefits to children in multiple areas, including physical fitness, academic achievement and psychological development.
But one needn’t cite just the scholarly literature. There are plenty of real world examples that show a key role for yoga in the lives of all of our youth, especially at school.
Consider Portland’s K-8 Lent School, which was recently featured in the Oregonian, due to its being named one of 15 Celebrating Student Success Champion Schools for 2010 by the Oregon Department of Education. What makes this achievement so remarkable? As the Oregonian reports, “More than 85 percent of the students are poor; more than one-third speak English as their second language; most come from families who struggle at times to scrape together food, clothing and rent.” Despite these real challenges, innovations at the school have created a learning environment in which 82 percent of 5th graders passed the state reading test and all passed in math – “a record that far outpaces similar high-poverty schools.”
While this success can’t be pinned on any one factor alone, yoga has played a role.
In every grade at Lent, students’ days are packed with reading, writing and math – as much as an hour or more of each of those subjects each day. Most eighth graders, even those strongest in math, take two periods of math each day. Fifth-graders can spend three hours a day on reading and writing.
But the school also engages students in hands-on science from the earliest grades. And every elementary student gets art lessons, drama or music class and library time with a specialist each week. Some even have regular yoga lessons to help them relax and feel successful.
RN Colleen Fleming, one of our Certified Yoga Calm Instructors, teaches weekly yoga classes at two Portland elementary schools, including Lent. Recently, she shared a letter with us that she had written to her supervisor and the head of Health and Social Services describing her use of Yoga Calm in the classroom. With her permission, we share the following excerpt, showing how programs like Yoga Calm can indeed make a very big difference in the lives of students and educators alike.
The students see me in the hallway and ask excitedly if I am coming to their class and when I say yes, they are so excited – about yoga, not just me. I have had first graders stop in my office after school to share how much they feel that yoga is helping them and that they are teaching some techniques to their families. The principal at Lent came to me and told me that another first grader was having anger problems on the playground and ended up in the office. When the principal asked him how he could make a better choice for next time, and how he could calm himself down, the boy responded by saying, “I could do belly breathing that I learned in yoga – that helps me to feel better,” and then proceeded to share it with the principal. Teachers share with me that they love the weekly class, and that the class is focused and ready for learning at the end of yoga, and that they use some of the techniques of Yoga Calm to transition the class throughout the week. Bringing yoga to the classroom has also affected my relationship with the staff of my schools. It is creating a much more collaborative environment, and I love feeling like I am a part of the school community.
Beyond the physical experience of doing yoga poses, we talk about health a lot in the yoga class. The need for better sleep, good diets, exercise, stress management and making healthy choices are all talked about, as are things that the students bring up. Yoga is teaching them to notice how they are feeling, to be in touch with their bodies and emotions, and to calm themselves when needed, as well as it is building muscle and strength and bettering balance. It is offering them a coping mechanism that is free and can be carried with them throughout their life. For example, students learn to take deep breaths before a test and also learn why it is helping them to feel better. Or a child with a stomachache comes to my office, and we talk and do some belly breathing, and they say, “I am feeling better and ready to go back to class.” I am passionate about it and feel like it can help with physical and mental health immensely.
Bravo, Colleen! We need more nurses like you – and teachers, administrators and staff like those at Lent and other schools that have added yoga to their curricula – to keep on helping and making such an important difference in the world.