Back to School Yoga

Written by Sarah English.

The association of yoga with chic boutique studios tends to confound the possibility of the practice being applied to other populations in other environments. We say yoga and think first of lithe adult bodies in contortion after work; it's an unfortunate reality that we don't often consider how the world in sirsasana might look according to smaller perspectives.

school yoga

Children benefit enormously from yogic practice, which can be taught in such a variety of ways that the demand for differentiation in modern schools would easily be fulfilled by competent instruction. What one observes immediately when participating in children's yoga is the amount of fun that students have - there is an irreverent enjoyment in total opposition to the solemnity of typical classes. With very young children, strict attention to form can be somewhat difficult to encourage and enforce; however, even informal yogic exercises are beneficial. Yoga is noncompetitive physical activity, which is difficult to find elsewhere in the curricula of many schools.

The individual-in-tandem aspect of yoga, which is working individually, side-by-side one's peers, the development of awareness of limitations and abilities, the slow, self-directed understanding of when and how to forge ahead - these facets of yoga hone skills that otherwise atrophy in many educational and work environments. No matter how constructivist the leanings of a school, mainstream education retains an infrastructure that rests upon standardized test scores.

Scoring, by its very nature, is hierarchical; there can be no justification of what is right for me at this time, if what is right for me puts one at the bottom of the class at a critical juncture. There are pressures on children in school, as there have always been, that encourage the neglect of considerations of internal development and internal outcomes. It has never been more obvious that yoga, as a system of holistic, very personal development, is an ideal way to promote balance.

One of the ways in which yoga can immediately be implemented in schools is to incorporate it slowly into various parts of the school day. This can involve diaphragmatic breathing before the day begins for children who experience school-related anxiety. One method that is particularly effective and playful for teaching this to children involves having them lay down, on their stomachs, on a firm surface. Putting a favourite blanket down on the floor is ideal. Get right down on the floor beside them; you don't want to appear to be a drill-sergeant. Instruct children to imagine breathing air in - slowly - all the way from their noses into the very bottom of their stomachs.

Alternatively, you can have them envision drawing the air in and filling up their bodies, right from the toes. Have them practice this a number of times and then move on; draw their attention to the fact that when they fill their stomachs up, their stomachs will expand and push them off the floor a little. The trick here is to have them notice that their stomachs are expanding, not their chests. This is where the floor becomes a useful tool; when a child is breathing diaphragmatically, his/her stomach will inflate and push his/her body upward, away from the floor. If a child is chest-breathing, this rising will not occur.

In a sense, this exercise borrows philosophically from biofeedback; there is a concrete reaction that will occur once the child is breathing properly. With practice, the child will come to understand what is required to cause his/her body to rise, and can then begin to practice diaphragmatic breathing in seated and standing positions. It goes without saying that this would be an excellent way to conclude gym classes or mandated DPA (daily physical activity) in schools, as well.

I'm hoping, in future articles, to continue to introduce ways in which yoga can be introduced informally in schools and in the home, primarily with younger children. It is surprising how much of a difference these little tricks can make!

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