Parents and school districts all across the country are evaluating the pros and cons of including yoga in school curricula from preschool all the way to high school. Yoga’s benefits are well-documented, it seems, when applied to adults. Why should there be any difference for children?
Some of the resistance might be due to the fact there is no one definition for yoga or one style. Is it a lifestyle? Is it a philosophy? Is it a form of exercise? Is it a religion? Yes, yes, yes and no. In terms of lifestyle, yoga promotes moderation and balance. At its most basic, a yoga philosophy revolves around the unity of mind, body & spirit; they are one and cannot be separated. As a form of exercise, yoga will improve flexibility, strength and coordination. Religion implies a unified organization around core, moral values; a dogmatic structure that does not exist in yoga.
If yoga's being introduced in your child's school, relax with these ABCs.
A is for Acceptance. Yoga emphasizes being in the present momentum; not worrying over what was or what is to come, but paying attention to what ‘is’. Acceptance does not mean stagnation however. There is effort in yoga, but effort without pain or self-criticism. Yoga initially fosters self-acceptance, but a general acceptance umbrella soon opens as an awareness develops: an awareness of the individual’s connections between and with others. Think what impact acceptance would have in a school setting. If there was an acceptance for students as they are what is the need for teasing or bullying? Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self.
B is for Breath. The respiratory system works automatically with the opportunity of some control. In life-threatening or stressful situations, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the Fight or Flight response. Breathing becomes shallow and quick, vision narrows with muscles tensed in a self-preservation mode actions guided by the limbic brain or emotional brain. In the Rest and Rejuvenate response of the para-sympathetic nervous system, the breath lengthens and becomes deeper. A sense of calm and tranquility arises as more oxygen is delivered to the body and the heart rate and blood pressure lowers. The field of vision opens and access to the area of the brain used for higher level thinking is available. The breath is key in yoga. It is the mind-body connection. It can be a way to self-comfort and soothe, as well as ease stresses. School can be stressful. Knowing ways to counter that stress—and improve the school experience and performance—is useful.
C is for Concentration. Yoga cultivates an awareness of self. Throughout yoga practice, that awareness is realized through constant evaluation and adjustments. Yoga imparts strategies for finding the ease within the effort. Utilizing the physical postures, requires great attention. Harnessing the ability to focus during practice carries over to other situations. Yoga improves concentration which in turn can increase the ability to learn. With better learning skills, students have the opportunity to glean more from lesson plans and broaden their knowledge base.
Parents have plenty of occasions to worry over their child’s education. Instead of asking why yoga here are other (and truly worrisome) concerns they might want to unite over:
- Ask for answers on why 25% of students entering high school in the United States will not graduate
- Ask what’s being done to change the fact US students are ranked 25th in math and 17th in science out of 31 countries
- Ask why the average student in the US does less than one hour of homework on average at all grade levels
Parents should be demanding more of their schools, their students but mostly of themselves. Parents are expected to support their child’s education—send them to school rested and fed. (Note: Every public school has a free meals program) Parents need to enrich their child’s education—visit local libraries, museums, parks, zoos. Parents need to show the value they place on their child’s education—volunteer in the class (especially dads), attend school functions, ask specifics about their school day. For example “What book are you reading for American Lit?” or “Describe the procedure you used for the color experiment”; questions or statements that invite dialogue.
Parents have plenty of occasions for worry; yoga in schools just shouldn’t be one of them. Relax—and breathe—then invite your student to share yoga with you!