Monday, December 13, 2010

Yoga in the Classrooms: Bringing Focus to Students in a Diverse Manner by Niladri Sinha

In today’s day and age students of all ages are pulled in numerous directions because of other commitments and family obligations, limiting the amount of focus each student has. This is more expected in higher grades, however it is found more in elementary schools than expected. Because of this limited focus, students are not gaining as much of an education at once as students were once capable of. Not only are students being drawn in many different ways stretching their talents, many students are from an unstable home life. With all these different factors playing into a student’s life, there is only so much energy he or she may have to devote to academics. That leaves the question, is it possible to grasp the attention of these students through a quick yet meaningful process?

These days students are feeling stress at an earlier age, facing many more challenges than ever imagined and expected. Not only are students expected to make good grades, they are also doing many things outside of school. For example, many students come from single parent households, where the student is held responsible for younger siblings, as well as occasionally needing to prepare dinner (Fallin 2001). This makes the idea of a carefree childhood nearly impossible, with an exception to the academic aspect. Students in these cases sometimes end up picking fights with other classmates, or try to relieve stress by watching television. Neither of these methods are appropriate, because they allow for more tension among peers, or less time to get an assignment completed. Though it may seem like a good idea to change some of these stressors, more often than not it is not feasible to change them. Instead, it is good to find ways to cope with, or relieve some of the stress.
Stress is a factor not only for students to worry about, but also for teachers. Those who face stress risk many other health issues. With stress comes less agility, poor digestion, and also slower blood travel (Yoga Ed. 2005). However through yoga, students are able to conquer many of the potential stress related health issues. By having designated time in one’s classroom for movement, yoga allows for students to be less hyperactive, and more focused on the tasks at hand, among many other benefits (Yoga Ed. 2005). Not only are there physical benefits, there are also numerous social stressful situations which are eliminated through yoga.
English Language Learners
English Language Learners have many stress factors in their lives, but many more social stress factors. These students are not only trying to handle the various aspects of life as their classmates, but also they are simply trying to learn the English language. Knowing this, people may wonder how adding yoga to the classroom would be beneficial. The truth of the matter is that though there are parts of this practice suitable to the dominant language in the classroom, there are many other forms which may be done by following along by watching (Wilson 2008). For one thing yoga is supposed to be non-competitive (Yoga Ed 2005), no matter what any magazine cover makes someone think. Another benefit of yoga in the classroom, especially for English Language Learners, is that yoga brings a different feeling, after practicing, not only to one’s self but also to a group. Especially in an elementary school setting, this could This in itself can relieve stress in students learning English, for there is no need to communicate in this practice, yet the students are doing as their classmates are doing.

As popular and fun as yoga can be for many people, not all postures are suitable for all body types. Elementary school aged children should not be doing the same type of yoga as their parents might be, no matter how flexible the children are. This is because children under the age of 12 have softer bones than those who are older (Wilson 2008). Instead of the strenuous physical maneuvers of yoga, many yoga educators recommend focusing on the different breathing and relaxation methods, as well as lighter physical portions when practicing yoga in the classroom.
That being said, one pose that may work well in a classroom is what Wilson calls “Palm Tree Balance.” In this pose, “students stand with their arms above their heads, palms together and balance on their toes. This is a yoga asana that...stretches all the muscles and bones in one upward direction.” (Wilson 25, 2008). This form of yoga is suitable for students of many abilities, no matter what their dominant language may be. This pose, as well as many other poses benefit the students in various ways. In a time and age where it is likely many physical education classes are cut due to financial reasons, yoga is making a bigger appearance in schools. Not only are the physical poses one of the numerous ways to lessen stress through yoga, but it is also a way to stimulate circulation throughout the whole body (Yoga Ed. 2005). Through this process one is able to be both relaxed and energized at the same time.
A form of yoga which would function better for focusing a classroom would be through breathing exercises. These exercises need further explanation than the previous, this would be suitable in a classroom where there is one dominant language. Crupi (2005) discusses various breathing and relaxation methods which would be beneficial to use in a classroom. He describes an exercise called “Belly Breathing,” which uses both relaxation as well as breathing. Crupi says that a teacher should demonstrate by “placing a hand over your stomach and ask your students to do the same. Next, everyone inhales so that their bellies expand (you’ll see the hand on your stomach moving outward). Exhale slowly drawing your navel closer to your spine. Repeat for 10 times,” (Crupi 18, 2005). Crupi goes onto to give the teacher further instructions to aid the students, that a teacher should be “encouraging [students] to envision inhaling all the attributes they wish to obtain...When the kids exhale, they can let go of/exhale all of the negativities in their lives” (Crupi 18, 2005). This is similar to forms of yoga older yogis practice, only put into a simpler wording for a younger group of participants. This, and other breathing exercises, are thought to be useful for many reasons. For one thing, these practices allow students to relieve a lot of tension, as well as balance the nervous system (Yoga Ed. 2005). As student’s lives become busier, this simple way of reduce stress is very beneficial, and something the children can learn to do in many other settings.
Another form of yoga that may be beneficial for students is laughter yoga. Though there appears to be no evidence of this being used in a classroom, it seems to be a form of yoga that is appropriate for all ages interested in yoga. There are over four hundred clubs in the United States dedicated to laughter yoga (Barovick 2010). This rather different form of “mind-body therapy” does not rely on any jokes, but is in fact a fake laughter, which soon becomes real laughter. It has been shown that laughter, “provide[s] benefits that include improving blood flow, lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol and boosting the immune system,” (Barovick 54, 2010). As students spread themselves thinner into many more activities at a younger age, it is important that they are able to focus on everything. If through laughter, the hormone cortisol is controlled, in that sense alone students benefit tremendously. For one thing, students will have a different way of handling stress, as cortisol is a hormone used to respond to stress (Li 2009). Though some amounts of this hormone is beneficial, too much is not good for anyone, especially at a young age. Too much cortisol can lessen the ability of one’s bone formation, and weakens the immune system. For students from kindergarten through the sixth grade, both of these elements are very important. Without them, it would be difficult to do as many things as the “typical” student is doing these days. Therefore it is apparent that the saying “laughter is the best medicine” has a lot of truth to it.

Not only does the ancient practice of yoga reduce stress among students, they also “develop listening skills, focus, and the ability to go from an active state to a calm one whenever they want," (Michaels 4, 2005). This benefits the students in a variety of ways. For one, the students are able to learn the material presented in a more thorough manner. As Michaels states, by practicing yoga, students are more apt to listen and focus in class. Yoga also creates a way for students to go from an active state of mind to a calm and focused state of mind. Students start to see the classroom as a productive and comfortable environment where learning happens with more ease. Hopefully students will be able to figure out if yoga is a meaningful way of relieving stress, or a good focusing tool for themselves. In that sense, the student will not only be doing yoga in the classroom, but also learning that it may work well in other settings as well.
The practice of yoga benefits students academically, but it can also be used to bring “self-awareness” to these students (Douglass 2010). In taking a few moments each day to become more self aware, students “[increase] self esteem and determine behavior, perception, cognitive skills, moods and emotions, personal relationships, creativity and the environment we create.” By ways of yoga, students are capable of realizing a lot about how they function. Not only does this benefit the classroom academically, but also improves in behavior. If students are more aware of their behavior, and how they function around their peers, many incidents, such as bullying - violence, rumors, name-calling- would become avoidable.
In some classrooms, yoga has started to replace the traditional ways of handling misbehavior. In a kindergarten classroom, instead of getting a “time-out” students receive a “time-in” (Douglass 2010). Upon a time-in, “students are encouraged to close their eyes, gage how fast their minds are moving, and try to get in touch with what is causing them to be unable to participate...effectively.” Yoga Ed. says that a time in can be used “[t]o develop awareness and connection to one’s inner life and resources,” (Yoga Ed. 2005). This tactic enforces the idea of each student being self aware, and capable of managing his or her own behavior. Not only does this practice give students the ability to focus on self behavior, but also on one’s self. Mores specifically, this gives students the chance to assess what may be bothering him or her, and causing the outburst in the first place. Another way that this breathing and focusing tactic is beneficial for students is prior to an examine. By becoming self aware, students are able to mitigate, if not eliminate their stress (Douglass 2010). The idea of a “time-in” also wants students to be able to “rest and recharge,” (Yoga Ed. 2005). This wording, of “rest and recharge” might make many teachers wonder “why should a student recharge if they have been misbehaving?” What many instructors, both parents and teachers, forget is that students often act out when they are tired.
Yoga postures also make their way into classrooms. Some teachers bring postures into their classrooms to “relieve the tension students experience from sitting for long periods of time...[hoping] that students [are] more learning ready.” (Douglass 2010). As students progress in grade levels, teachers tend to forget that because a student is older does not mean that the student has a greater attention span, in fact it might mean just the opposite.
Firsthand Exposure
Upon visiting the Joseph Lee Elementary school in Dorchester, MA, one could see the assorted stress coming with students into the classroom. Students often have a difficult time focusing, and need reminders to continue to work. Third grade teacher, Sarah Gallgher, expressed that in her own philosophy of teaching movement is important. She says with the busy schedules her students have, often it is expected students to be working at their desks from 9:30 in the morning to 3:00 pm, with one measly lunch break. On days like this, she says she encourages movement, starting with a focus on yoga. Gallagher admits that this year in particular, with a class of predominately boys (seventeen boys and five girls) more often than not, what starts as yoga turns into any sort of movement. She also said that in the few years that she has implemented yoga in her classroom, she has had several students come back to tell her they teach these steps to their families. She said another reason why she started using yoga in her classroom is to expose students to another philosophy other than what they are typically surrounded by. Finding a teacher who believes in the practice of yoga in the classroom, and learning firsthand as to why she uses it is much more powerful than reading about all of the benefits listed in numerous journals and documents.

Despite all of the benefits that many people have found, there are still people in the world who do not want to see their children practicing yoga at school. Many parents are furious with this teaching, thinking it introduces religion into the classroom, and that is unconstitutional (Healy 2002). Though yoga is something used in classrooms across the nation, parents find reasons to not support its ideas. Parents believe that yoga in the classroom would require teachers to teach students about Transcendental Meditation, which in 1979 was found to go against the first amendment (Healy 2002). Some superintendents find this concern of parents to be “legitimate,” yet schools continue to teach yoga in classrooms, taking out words which may be considered attached to religious beliefs.
If this is the only issue parents have with yoga in the classroom, parents should do a little more research on yoga. As yoga is not something that is considered to be religious in itself, but only rooted in religion. These practices that occur in many classrooms do not go far in depth to unroot the religious philosophies behind it.

Yoga clearly has many benefits in classrooms, especially in today’s struggling economy. where physical education is often eliminated from schools. For students to be able to move around, or practice particular methods of breathing allows for greater focus and less fidgeting. These practices also allow for students to have a greater grasp on their self awareness, and how each person functions as an individual. Many parents are opposed to introducing their children to yoga in school settings, fearing their children will be introduced to a different religion. If parents would take a moment to understand which exact practices their children were learning, they could see how much benefit was coming from this. Not only does yoga benefit the students in the classroom on the individual, it helps all of them get along better, as well as allowing for teachers being able to cover more material in less amount of time.

Barovick, H. (2010). What's so funny?. Time, 176(11), 54. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Crupi, J. (2005). Inhale, exhale. Teaching Pre K-8, 36(3), 18. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Douglass, L. (2010). Yoga in the public schools; diversity, democracy and the use of critical thinking in educational debates. Religion and Education, 162.

Fallin, K., Wallinga, C., & Coleman, M. (2001). Helping children cope with stress in the classroom setting. Childhood Education, 78(1), 17. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Gallagher, S. (2010, December 1). Personal Interview.

Healy, Rita. (2002, September 23). School’s In: Yoga’s Out? Time Magazine.

Li, X. (2009). Umami taste receptor. AccessScience. ©McGraw-Hill Companies. Retrieved June 29, 2010 (

Michaels, M. (2005). Getting grounded. Chronicle of Philanthropy, 17(23), 4-5. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Wilson, C. (2008). Poised for learning. English Teaching Professional 58, 24-25. Retrieved from Educator's Reference Complete.

Yoga Ed. (2005). Yoga Ed. for Teachers and Schools. Retrieved from

1 comment:

  1. I have never heard about including yoga in the classroom before reading your paper. I babysit an eight-year old who suffers from separation anxiety. She broke her arm in kindergarten and had to miss school for several months during kindergarten as well as first grade for surgery, which has caused her to be very anxious during school and anything involved with school. I feel as though incorporating yoga into her daily routine at school would allow her to relax and actually enjoy school rather than fear it. With the stress of standardized testing beginning earlier each year, spending an hour a week would be beneficial to the students as well as the teachers.