One question many people ask me in reference to teaching Yoga in the classroom is “Are the benefits of yoga significant enough to bring them into a classroom?” I think what they mean is, Sure, Yoga would be great for kids, but is it really WORTH IT?
As a middle school teacher myself, I know first-hand the issues that schools and students face that are addressed, eased, and even resolved through yoga practice. In fact, our State Board of Education requires schools to have and implement a plan to address student behavior, based on the understanding that safe schools are effective schools. Yoga’s basic foundation is one of safety (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), critical thinking (svadhyaya), and peacefulness (shanti). So it would seem that yoga would be a powerful plan to implement indeed.
However, due to the complex nature of yoga, many schools cling instead to a system of rules, extrinsic incentives, conformity, emotional stress, physical lethargy, and the pressures of “rigor“. Although some of these systems do, in fact, curtail certain types of misbehavior, the long-term effect can be one that builds a dependence on external motivation, manipulation of the system, and resentment. If a child is rewarded for insignificant effort, is tied tightly into a structure, and is expected to renounce his unique personality, talents, and needs in order to conform, then in the long run (maybe a year, maybe 5 years, maybe 20 years) he will lose the most important reason to learn — to find one’s purpose in life. That does not come about through multiple-choice tests or common curriculum or data reviews or school-wide celebrations.
Purpose comes through self-reflection, compassion, failure, pain, love, forgiveness, creativity, exploration, inquisitiveness, and most of all patience. Yoga provides opportunity for all of this. To bring yoga to your students is to light a bonfire under the feet of the future. So, do you think it’s worth it?
Yoga can be a fun activity for children and can teach them how to deal with stress. However, just as it is true with adults, a little yoga here and there doesn’t have the same kind of impact that a regular practice does. Many classroom teachers have good intentions in teaching students to use yoga breathing before a test or to stretch their backs and legs after sitting for a long while. But if the teaching is isolated from any other yoga practice, or is contrary to the environment that is being created in every other aspect of the student’s day, then it loses much of the potential benefits.
So, just like a math class is taught by a trained and certified math teacher and not just someone who knows how to add up a row of numbers and tell time, so, too, should a yoga teacher be accessed for teaching yoga to kids. This doesn’t mean that someone else CAN’T teach yoga — it means that a yoga TEACHER has the training and certification to do so.
Yoga can be taught during a weekly PE class, or as a before-school activity. Some schools offer a Yoga Club or an intramural Yoga activity. Many home-schooled children can benefit from intense study with a yoga teacher, or with a group of other home-schooled kids. All school social workers should know at least one reputable yoga teacher who they can recommend to work one-on-one with students with ADHD, anxiety, emotional or behavioral stress, or physical limitations. Yoga is not a substitute for proper emotional or psychological treatment, but can be a very powerful support to such treatment.
The best yoga teacher for school-aged children is also one who has lots of experience with kids, maybe even has classroom teaching experience. Teaching yoga to kids is not the same as teaching yoga to adults, and teaching in a school setting is even more unique. A yoga teacher needs to understand the students, their general levels of interest, classroom management, and most importantly, should be able to inspire the students, both as they practice yoga, and as they continue with the rest of their day.
After all, knowledge is useless without inspiration. Yoga is that inspiration!
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