Yoga Health Foundation

Yoga in Schools - Article by Jack Belk (a 15 year old high school student)

Way back in the Stone Age, when my parents went to school, they played things like dodge ball and flag football. Yoga didn’t even exist yet.  And after having a first-hand experience of high school P.E., it appears to be a typical case of “more of the same.” However for the up and coming generation of kids, good ol’ P.E. class may be a thing of the past. With some new (and not so new) research showing the benefits of yoga, kids may be about to experience a whole new world of physical education.

Hugo Navas, the health and fitness director of a charter school in South Side Chicago, has worked to incorporate yoga into students’ daily routine.  One year since the program’s beginning, the results are amazing. Mr. Navas commented, “The students are ready and open to learn after yoga class”. Hugo says that teachers are constantly coming up to him, raving about how much more focused and attentive the kids are.  Mr. Navas states that after harsh cuts to schools budgets, several years in a row, physical activity programs are becoming a rarity. His recent findings on how exercise such as yoga benefits more than just the physical aspect of these high school students may have resounding consequences.

Mr. Navas is by no means the first to find that extra-curricular programs such as sports and music have benefits that reach into the classroom. However the most current research is leaning towards yoga as the best option for implementation in schools. Here’s why: Yoga provides a whole body approach to the academic, social, emotional, and physical aspects of kids without getting children overly energized.

Aggressive, high energy sports such as basketball or football definitely address the physical and social (maybe even emotional in some cases) sides of the child, but they leave the academic facet largely unaddressed. In addition, those competitive sports leave kids hyped-up and not ready to sit down and study Shakespeare or Algebra. On the other hand, when you look at activities such as chess or band, the academic benefits are undeniable, they’re a good way to make friends, and some kids might benefit emotionally, but sitting still for long periods of time does nothing good for the physical aspect of the child.

Now we get to Yoga; it provides nearly all the benefits of any other extracurricular activity without most of the drawbacks. Yoga enhances focus, attention, comprehension, and memory. It provides opportunity for patience and reflection which in turn reduces jitters and impulsivity. And it also wakes up sluggish minds and inspires creativity.

Secondly, anyone who has really done yoga knows that it’s no cake walk. During an hour of even beginner level yoga, the average number of calories burned is the same as if you had walked two miles. And the main reason that yoga is possible in the middle of the school day is due to the fact that yoga doesn’t involve many sharp and aggressive movements; it’s all about finding your balance, staying calm and breathing well. This works to keep the students calm in spite of the fact that they are getting good exercise.

Third, yoga eases anxiety and jitters, promotes a relaxed attitude, and brings kids into the present moment. It calms the entire class down, and there are no winners and losers. All of these things work together to advance the emotional aspect of the classroom.

Lastly yoga has been shown to increase confidence, to increase self-esteem (two things that can help kids feel more comfortable when making friends) and provide a noncompetitive way for everyone to work together. And do you want to hear the best part: Yoga is almost completely free. After the cost of instructing teachers on how to lead a basic 15 minute class, all that’s needed is some open space and time.

If you still aren’t convinced of the benefits of having yoga programs in schools by now, then take it from the people who have actually participated in some school yoga programs:
"You have made such a difference at Central School! Thank you so much for all you’ve done for our staff and our children. One of our 3rd grade boys was frustrated yesterday – he used his breathing strategy, slowed down (even cried a little bit) and then was able to share about his frustration and return to the activity. Being aware of his body/tension and knowing what to do – what a relief for him! That never would have happened at the beginning of last year. What a gift you have given him (and all of us!)"–V. S., School Principal

“The kids and I are really enjoying the yoga AND they are really getting that it is something that they can use anytime – how exciting is that?! I think their showing their learning to parents is indicative of the carry over. This is such a fabulous program!” –A.C., Grade 2 Teacher

“I like taking yoga breaks because I can focus and concentrate better afterwards.” –A.G., Grade
3 Student

“I just got back from my yoga class and my son Jack asked what poses I did, I told him "Warrior pose, do you know what that is?" and he said: "Warrior I, II or III?" HAA! I also wanted you to know that my daughter (Pre-K) and son (1st grade) and I practice yoga at home where we play--"do you know this one?" and show each other yoga poses we have learned and then all try them out. Every time we play this, I always learn something new from them! My son particularly likes the breathing exercises he has learned and uses them when he is feeling upset or having trouble sleeping. Thanks so much to you and Sharon for bringing yoga to his school.” –L. Jones, Parent of Grade 1 Student

With all the research supporting yoga, you may be wondering why all schools don’t have yoga programs. The answer isn’t a simple one. But in essence it’s because yoga doesn’t have enough support from the community yet. There is a simple solution though; all it’s going to take is a grassroots movement to make a change.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. –Dr. Seuss

About the author: Jack Belk is a 15 year old high school student who swims for his school, runs in Spartan Races, and practices yoga regularly. He enjoys reading as well as writing and hopes to study neuroscience in college.


Works Cited

Harrison, Rosanne. "Yoga in Two Chicago High Schools: Lessons to Be Learned." Yoga in Two Chicago High Schools: Lessons to Be Learned. N.p., July-Aug. 2005. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. http://www.yogachicago.com/jul05/highschool.shtml
Seuss. The Lorax. New York: Random House, 1971. Print.
"Testimonials." Yoga 4 Classrooms. ChildLight Yoga, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. http://www.yoga4classrooms.com/testimonials
"Yoga 4 Classrooms Supporting Research." Yoga 4 Classrooms. Childlight Yoga, Sept. 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. http://www.yoga4classrooms.com/