By Michele Bacigalupo
Photo courtesy of Amanda Hirsch.
Yoga and mindfulness instruction serve as excellent opportunities to educate students on the vitality of leading a healthy lifestyle. By imparting such knowledge on children at school, it’s possible that students will bring the lessons home to their parents, who may, in turn, begin to stock the kitchen with healthier options.
School is a big source of stress for children, but through the practice of mindfulness, kids learn strategies for coping with stress. Consequently, mindfulness meditation is an essential tool for kids to learn. It is also equally important for adults to do the same, especially for those who work in high-pressure environments.
The concept behind mindfulness is to hone in on the present moment. Too often, people cause themselves to suffer from unnecessary stress and anxiety by allowing their thoughts to wander toward events that occurred in the past or that may happen in the future.
Mindfulness training prepares students to better combat stress and anxiety. It also presents them with a tool to navigate through negative thoughts and emotions. In fact, 88 percent of students report having a more positive outlook of themselves after participating in a yoga class.
Teaching mindfulness increases a person’s ability to focus–an indispensable skill for a student of any age. Tree Pose, for example, is a common yoga pose in children’s classes because it requires intense bursts of focus. The move demands that a person concentrates on balancing the weight of the body. By improving focus in this way, children are better equipped to pay close attention in school and concentrate on studying at home. These skills, absorbed at such a young age, will continue to help them later in life as they pursue future goals throughout adolescence and into adulthood.
Bent On Learning, a nonprofit located in New York City, makes yoga accessible to students in grades Pre-K through 12 in public school classrooms. Simple poses and breathing exercises deemed appropriate for a child’s age level are taught in a classroom setting. The environment is supportive, and each student is encouraged to practice to the best of their ability.
The mantra behind Bent On Learning is to help “inner city kids find inner peace.” The organization places an emphasis on incorporating yoga into the normal school day schedule. At one point throughout the regular day, desks are moved aside to make room for mats. Classrooms convert into impromptu yoga studios.
Lyn Aldridge, a fourth grade teacher at a Brooklyn charter school, spoke to BTR about the influence of yoga instruction on her students. Where she teaches, yoga is offered as an after school enrichment program.
“It’s beneficial to expose the kids to fun ways to exercise and be healthy,” Aldridge tells BTR.
Yoga instruction also provides students with opportunities to socialize. “They enjoy doing yoga because they get to interact with other kids who aren’t in their regular class,” she explains. “They also get to let loose from all the hard work of the school day.”
Aldridge admits, “It’s funny to think that 9 year olds have stress, but it’s a good skill for them to know how to reflect and decompress.”
BTR also had the chance to speak with Sarah Loveland, a teacher at a public charter school in New Orleans. According to Loveland, the school schedules 45 minutes of arts education for the students each day, and offers an after school yoga class.
“The programs help the children learn how to be calm and center themselves. It gives them an outlet for their hyperactivity,” Loveland explains.
After the conclusion of a yoga session, 96 percent of students say that they act with more kindness toward their family, friends, and people in general.
With the practice of yoga and mindfulness becoming more popular than ever throughout the country, it only makes sense to share its advantages with others, especially children. The earlier that yoga and mindfulness are introduced, the faster a child will learn to manage sources of stress and adversity. By practicing mindfulness, feelings of negativity are calmed, and eventually transformed into a more positive outlook.