The benefit of Yoga is more than being able to do a head or handstand. The physicality of yoga and breathwork are the tools that allow a person to develop awareness and mindfulness. While the poses and movement are physically beneficial, it is the concentration on breath and body that brings the most significant benefits.
These benefits have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and improve other mental health issues in adults. Now, these benefits among others are why yoga is increasingly showing up in schools across America.
Yoga in Schools
There are no exact numbers on how many schools have yoga programs. However, a 2015 New York University survey identified 36 programs teaching in 940 schools. From elementary to high school, yoga is becoming either part of the classroom or offered as an elective.
The benefits of yoga for children are both physical and psychological. And early research shows that its particularly helpful for children who have emotional and health conditions, such as hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It helps them to focus and control impulses.
Physical and Psychological Benefits
Physically, children gain confidence and strength from doing the postures, yoga flows, and games. Yoga also improves their balance, and it also increases their endurance and heart rate. Research shows that yoga strengthens students’ abdominal and other muscles. Kids taught breathing exercises learn to breathe correctly. Also, breath work helps them to learn to observe and control their breath which is helpful in stressful situations like taking a test.
Psychologically, through mindfulness and meditation, studies show that yoga improves focus and memory. They also learn self-acceptance that helps to improve self-esteem and confidence. Also, skills learned in yoga encourages compassion that helps to build better peer relationships.
Yoga in the Classroom
While yoga is often taught in physical education classes, many teachers integrate simple yoga techniques in the classroom. Techniques such as meditating, breathing exercises, or simple stretches are done instead of the more common practice that involves a yoga mat.
A review of several research studies found that yoga in schools helped the teacher-student relationship, student-peer (community) connections, and student-self relationship. In the classroom, yoga was seen to produce these benefits:
- Students’ academic performance improved.
- Test anxiety is reduced.
- Teachers report better classroom behavior.
- Social skills are improved.
- Students cooperated more often.
Benefits of Yoga for Kids in the Classroom
The survey published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences showed that yoga provided a variety of benefits to adolescents and younger students. On the personal level, yoga was seen to help kids in school by:
- Increasing working memory
- Improving focus and concentration
- Helping to cope with stress
- Giving them the ability to plan and execute tasks related to cognition
The positive effects go beyond the classroom. As Jessica Mei Gershen founder of Yoga For Needs says, “‘Through yoga, kids start to realize that they are strong and then are able to take that strength, confidence, acceptance, and compassion out into the world….”
Approximately 80% of children and adolescents are predicted to have psychological problems by the age of 21 according to recent research. Chronic stress is seen as the cause of the mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Offering yoga in school is seen by many experts as one way to help students cope with stress and improve their health.
One of the obstacles, though, that many school districts face when introducing yoga in the classroom is that many parents think yoga is a religion. While yoga originated in India, it developed before Hinduism. Yoga is not affiliated with a religion, especially how it is practiced in the U.S. So, for many schools it will take getting beyond this bias.
Bullock, Grace B., PhD, E-RYT 500. Yoga In Schools Improves Health Research Shows. Retrieved from https://www.yogauonline.com/yoga-for-kids/yoga-schools-improves-health-research-shows
Wei, Marilyn, MD, JD. More than just a game: Yoga for school-age children (August 30, 2016). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/more-than-just-a-game-yoga-for-school-age-children-201601299055.
Yoga in School Research. Retrieved from https://kripalu.org/yoga-schools-research.
Wei, Marilyn, MD, JD, More than just a game: Yoga for school-age children, August 30, 2016. Web.