Over the past few decades, yoga has become extraordinarily popular. Many individuals use it as a means of exercise and health while some use it to aid in relieving stress, and others use it as a form of spirituality. According to an article by Amanda Stanec, stress, “may be defined as a state of psychological pressure influenced by three main sources: (a) personality mediators … (b) environmental factors … and (c) emotional responses” (2010, p. 17). Many students of all different ages practice yoga either in the classroom or outside of school. This paper will address how yoga is used with elementary students both in a classroom setting and as an extracurricular. It will also address how yoga reduces the stress of elementary students and the medicinal proof of such stress reduction.
Variations of Stress Levels in Elementary Students
Many Americans are highly stressed individuals. They are constantly working, running errands, and are constantly on the move, which creates a stress-filled way of life. Many Americans at almost any age are stressed in one way or another, which is why, “stress is a growing public health concern, affecting many individuals both physically and psychologically” (Rizzolo, 2009, p. 79). Americans use different means of reducing stress, yet in many instances it is, “overwhelming and a person begins to suffer from its adverse consequences” (Rizzolo, 2009, p. 79). These effects can include, but are not limited to, “anxiety and depression, multiple somatic complaints without an organic cause, or engaging in unhealthy behaviors including smoking, poor dietary habits, and poor sleep habits” (Rizzolo, 2009, p. 79).
Although the majority of Americans become stressed at one point or another in their lives, the way in which their bodies handle the stress and the way the individuals deal with that stress differs from person to person. Individuals can perform worse academically, have, “poor relationships with peers and family members, and overall dissatisfaction with life” (Rizzolo, 2009, p. 80). Stress is not a condition that one can simply medicate to get rid of. It takes relaxation in mind, body, and the individual’s environment in order to reduce stress and keep it from coming back.
People do not tend to believe that elementary aged students get stressed in the same way adults do. That is not the case; there are many stressors on children such as, “pressure in school, busy parents, fast-paced video games, competitive sports, and the demands of an overly active world” (Toscano, 2008, p. 16). Incorporating yoga into children’s lives gives them ways to, “relax, teach self control, and instill a sense of peace in their daily lives” (Toscano, 2008, p. 16). Yoga aids students in feeling good about themselves through the practice of yoga poses and breathing techniques which can instill attributes necessary later in life.
How Yoga Aids in Stress Relief
It is widely known that yoga helps significantly in reducing stress; however, the knowledge of how yoga reduces stress is not as widely known. The different poses help with different ailments and issues in the body. When people practice yoga, their bodies, “deactivate the sympathetic division and stimulate the parasympathetic system resulting in a sense of calm, emotional balance, tranquility and increased concentration” (Peck, 2005, p. 417). Through holding different poses focused for different parts of the body, your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems get stimulated or unstimulated which aids in your body feeling more calm, relaxed, and stress-free.
According to Granath’s article studying cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga, yoga combines, “muscle relaxation, meditation and physical workout,” which helps to attain a more relaxed, stress-free state of being (Granath, 2006, p. 3). When individuals practice yoga, it helps to, “modify stress responses and a person’s attitude towards stress, while improving self-confidence, increasing one’s sense of well-being, and creating a feeling of relaxation and calmness” (Rizzolo, 2009, p. 80). Not only does yoga aid in reducing an individual’s stress level but it helps increase confidence and a positive attitude. By increasing confidence and attitude, individuals then become less stressed since there are less environmental and/or personal factors weighing down on them, causing them stress.
Yoga in the Elementary Classroom
During recent years, yoga has started to be implemented in classrooms of all ages. Teachers have started to use breathing techniques to help calm and focus students. Yoga has also been implemented into physical education. It has been used in classrooms to help students stay on task and attentive. Many teachers who use yoga in the elementary classroom use it after recess so that all of the students excess energy gets regulated so they can sit calmly through the rest of the day.
Yoga aids students in taking a break from their work and gaining focus as well as reducing stress. Certain exercises such as, “belly breathing,” in which students inhale so they feel their stomachs expand with each breath, aid students in regaining a positive attitude in school. When this is done in the classroom, it is important to have the students imagining that with each inhale they are, “inhaling all the attributes that they wish to obtain – strength, intelligence, kindness, etc,” and as they exhale they need to, “let got of all the negativity in their lives: bullies, worries, anxieties, etc” (Crupi, 2005, p. 18). This creates a comfortable and positive learning environment for students and teachers alike. This environment helps students focus on the lessons and benefits student learning.
Another way yoga can be used in the classroom is by using, “energizing breaths,” where students take deep “breaths and exhale the air rapidly” (Crupi, 2005, p. 18). This is beneficial to use in the classroom because it relaxes and focuses students due to the expulsion of stale air in the lungs. It is important for students to rid themselves of negativity while in the classroom especially during elementary years. These are crucial years for students and it is important for them to be in a positive stress-free learning environment since it makes focusing and learning easier; and yoga is a great way to create such an environment. When yoga is practiced in the classroom, it helps to, “refresh and refocus your students,” as well as, “cultivate concentration skills,” amongst students (Sroka, 2006, p. 1). Letting students relax and perform some yoga exercises in between lessons can aid in a more relaxed positive learning environment.
Many integrations of yoga in elementary school classrooms contain different aspects of stress-management. These techniques include, “drawing, breathing and massage techniques, imagery techniques for children [fantasy journeys], meditation and relaxation by music)” (Stueck, 2005, p. 372). It is important to educate students not only on the content areas that are covered throughout school, but to educate students on stress management techniques as well.
When using yoga in the classroom, it is important to have students relax, practice yoga poses, and meditate. These do not all have to be performed consecutively but incorporating all three of these aspects into the classroom is important. It helps to create the most stress-free environment possible for students and teachers alike.
When students execute the relaxation process, there should be a focus on, “different concentration tasks on single body parts,” to help relax each muscle in the body as well as using “breathing techniques from yoga” (Stueck, 2005, p. 372). Deep breathing and muscle relaxation alone can help in calming students down as well as start to help students reduce stress. When students are relaxed and breathing deeply they are able to focus easily on the teacher and their class work. This helps students succeed in their academic performance.
It is important to practice yoga poses in the class since in the long-run the aim is self-relaxation (Stueck, 2005, p. 372). In turn, self-relaxation can help students focus in the classroom and since they are calm and relax it reduces stress. Practicing yoga in the classroom aids in loosening up student’s muscles, which help relax the students even more than they did prior in deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises.
Meditation is another way to incorporate yoga into the classroom. When using it in the classroom it helps, “to create a transition from the sensual-motor action regulation of the Yoga exercises to a cognitive-behavioural and imaginative self-regulation process” (Stueck, 2005, p. 373). Students can all meditate in the classroom together, creating a quiet and tranquil environment in which they can create an, “inner experience of calmness,” within themselves (Stueck, 2005, p. 373). Meditation in the classroom is important since it can help each student become more calm and focused which enables each student to learn to the best of their ability.
Yoga aids students in building positive relationships with both their peers and teachers. Through a study conducted, it was concluded that students who practiced yoga amongst other relaxation techniques had an increase in, “self confidence, social confidence with teachers, communication with peers, communication with teachers, and contribution in the classroom” (Powell, 2008, p. 408). Having strong relationships and communication skills with those whom you spend almost everyday learning academically and socially with is imperative. Practicing yoga can help forge a bond between peers and teachers which helps create a positive and comfortable learning environment. This usually results in a more positive academic record in students since they are not afraid to ask questions to their teacher or their peers.
Yoga does not have to be a time consuming daily exercise within the classroom. It can be introduced in the beginning, middle, or end of the day just as a warm-up exercise. This enables all students to feel successful in physical activity since some students feel as though they are unsuccessful in that area (Toscano, 2008, p. 15). Pausing class-time to, “breathe, relax, or stretch will leave students calm, alert, and ready to learn” (Toscano, 2008, p. 15). It does not take a long period of time to have students perform breathing exercises to regain focus, and is a great way to re-center the class and continue with the day.
Medical Proof of Yoga Reducing Stress
Medical studies have been performed on the reduction of stress levels on elementary aged students through the practice of yoga. One study which followed, “ten elementary school students with attention problems,” concluded that yoga benefits students (Peck, 2005, p. 417). It was found that there was an, “improvement of children’s concentration,” as well as a, “reduction of children’s state anxiety, heart rate, headaches, and general tension and stress symptoms (Kalayil, 1988); and the correlation with academic performance, positive student attitudes about themselves, physical fitness levels, and behavior” (Peck, 2005, p. 422). This study concluded that the use of yoga helps students focus and perform better in school as well as physically feeling better and feeling less stressed.
Another medical study comparing stress management through cognitive behavioral therapy and Kundaliniyoga was performed. The findings from this study showed that from the, “yoga group, the noradrenaline levels decreased significantly between pre- and post-measurements” (Granath, 2006, p. 7). Other tests such as heart rate and blood pressure were run, but neither were significant. However, the test on heart rate almost resulted in a significant lowering of the individuals from the yoga group. This test concluded that the, “specific contribution of yoga is physical relaxation” (Granath, 2006, p. 8). This study shows that after practicing yoga, individuals are physically and mentally relaxed and then stress reduction can begin.
Another medical study on the “Clinical Aspects of an Ancient Mind/Body Practice” was performed. In their research prior to conducting the study they found that, “Yoga interventions are beneficial to emotional wellness, with improvements demonstrated in stress management” (Salmon, 2009, p. 60). Emotional wellness can indefinitely lead to a reduction of stress and lead to an improvement in emotional well-being and these outcomes can occur through yoga practice.
This study used Hatha yoga, in which they state that it, “involved physical activity, and in general both physical activity and exercise have been linked to a variety of neurophysiological effects including β-endorphin release and altered brain neurotransmitter levels, especially dopamine and serotonin, which have emotion-enhancing effects” (Salmon,2009, p. 61). When the body is relaxed, which occurs through yoga practice, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins are released into the body which makes the individual feel emotionally well and stress-free.
It was also found that yoga postures, “restore and entrain the rhythmicity of biological functions that are often disrupted during times of stress” (Salmon, 2009, p. 62). This perfectly exhibits how stress is reduced through yoga practice. When an individual is stressed their bodily functions are disrupted and through practicing yoga they are regulating these functions which in turn aids in reducing their stress. When practicing yoga and using, “slow repetitive movement patterns,” it aids in modifying the, “physiological factors (breathing, synchrony, heart rate, etc.) easily disrupted by stress” (Salmon, 2009. p. 69). Yoga helps regulate and keep the body functioning without disruptions such as increased heart rate and stress.
A study testing if yoga is in fact beneficial for elementary students in reducing stress as well as other issues such as aggression, anxiety, and introversion was performed. Children meditated, performed yoga poses, and practiced relaxation through breathing. The study concluded that there were significant differences in the reduction of children’s aggression and helplessness in school (Stueck, 2005, p. 374). A significant increase in stress-coping abilities was also found through this study (Stueck, 2005, p. 374).
This study also found less significant but strong evidence in other areas such as anxiety and introversion amongst others. When students practiced yoga, there was an increase in emotional stability amongst each individual (Stueck, 2005, p. 374). After practicing yoga, students had a decrease in anxiety, shyness in social settings, feelings of defeat, and impulsivity (Stueck, 2005, p. 374). Yoga clearly benefits students in many aspects alongside stress reduction. Through practicing yoga, “improvements in eye contact, self-control, being calmer in class, and use of relaxation techniques (e.g., self hand massage) during stressful situations in school,” occur (Powell, 2008, p. 405). It is important that yoga is implemented in classrooms so that students can have a positive and productive learning experience.
The use of yoga in both the elementary classroom and extracurricularly aids significantly in the reduction of stress. Children can perform yoga as a class, enabling all students to regain focus and expel excess energy. Yoga in the classroom benefits students and teachers alike through reducing stress and feeling better about oneself physically and emotionally. Creating a stress-free classroom is important in order to have all students succeed academically and gain self-confidence in their studies as well as in their personal lives. Yoga, either the poses, breathing exercises, or meditation, should be practiced by people of all ages. It is important to have children start practicing yoga as they advance through school since the more they progress through school the more stressful situations they encounter. The ability to practice yoga and acquire these techniques of stress reduction will aid students academically as well as socially which will help them to succeed in all of their future endeavors.
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