EDITOR’S CORNER – Yoga and Education

Yoga and Education: Get Your Act Together!
~Abha Gupta, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief YSN

(YSN Vol. 3, No. 1 – Jan. 2015)

“Alex, you’d better get your act together, or else (be prepared to face the consequences)!” Such phrases are commonly heard across classrooms in schools today. Many of our students (and adults) need strategies to deal with their anxiety, anger, frustration, rage, depression, temper and stress. We recognize that time-out, suspensions, and other methods of penalization are not the answer to the situation. Rather than telling children “to get your act together,” which has very little meaning for them, we need to provide strategies to show students how to get in control of their charged emotions and reactions ensuing risky behaviors. Addressing the underlying cause for precarious behavior is needed.

Kristie Patten Koenig, a professor of Occupational Therapy at New York University conducted research at a school in Bronx and found that daily yoga program reduced autistic students’ aggressive behavior, social withdrawal and hyperactivity. Teachers reported that kids doing yoga showed fewer problematic behaviors. Koenig notes, “We know that anxiety fuels a lot of the negative behavior, so the yoga program gives them a strategy to cope with it.” The yoga program is being implemented in more than 500 classrooms across the city of New York among students ages 5 through 21 with significant disabilities.

Yoga is increasingly being used in schools and classrooms across the U.S. to help children behave and perform better in school. Students spend 20 minutes practicing yoga poses at Susan B. Anthony Middle School in Minneapolis, just one of the many Minnesota schools embracing yoga as word spreads about its benefits for students. More than 100 schools in the state have staff members trained to teach yoga to kids of all ages.

Classroom management has always been a challenge for a majority of the teachers. Chelsea Jackson’s classroom of 3rd graders at the Title I school in Atlanta struggled to pay attention with general behavior problems frequently interrupting instruction in the classroom. Jackson, who had turned to yoga to help manage her own stress, showed her students how to focus on their breathing. Within a few weeks, she noticed increased attention span, and minimal interruptions in lessons. She had her students do a few minutes of breathing exercises before standardized testing, and her students’ scores were among the school’s highest.

More educators are embracing yoga’s principles and methods and reporting its benefits: improved self-esteem; focus and retention; increased self-awareness and acceptance; learning to quiet the mind and shift to positive, clear thinking; better posture, flexibility, balance, and coordination; and an increased ability to cope with strong emotions and a restless mind. Studies have linked yoga in schools to better grades, behavior, health and relationships among students.

It is time that we educators get our act together!

Further details can be found at:
Koenig KP, Buckley-Reen A, Garg S. 2012 Sep-Oct; Efficacy of the Get Ready to Learn yoga program among children with autism spectrum disorders: a pretest-posttest control group design. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66(5):538-46

[For more information, see Gupta, A., Sinha, S., Pribesh, S., and Maira, S. 2014. A fresh breath into student achievement: pranayama and educational outcomes. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention, Vol. 3, No. 10, pp. 38-46. This innovative study explores using breathing techniques to boost the reading performance of students and describes how teachers can foster the technique in their classrooms. The researchers examined the differential impact of therapeutic breathing exercises, called pranayama, on students’ reading skills and academic performance. The paper introduces approaches to therapeutic breathing exercises as an additional means for improving school performance as well as the self-regulatory behavior, the latter being known to correlate with academic performance.]