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Yoga could make your child a better student

Calm down, refocus and reduce stress with yoga

Yoga could make your child a better student

I was apprehensive when it came time to send my son to full day Kindergarten - would he be able to adjust to the long hours in the classroom? Would he meet the common core requirements? Although I was thrilled when he began learning to read so quickly, there were plenty of tearful mornings when he was stressed and exhausted and simply did not want to go to school. For better or worse, students at all levels face higher academic expectations, increasing amounts of homework and testing, along with the increased use of technology and over-scheduled extracurricular activities.

Yoga and meditation are known to help adults focus and alleviate stress and anxiety; could these practices help children in the same way?

Try a pose, see the difference

Sandy Sooknanan is the founder of Dutchess Yoga Studio in Wappingers Falls, where she offers yoga classes for children. She sees a noticeable difference in her students after they have finished a class. "I have seen that after practicing yoga consistently, children become very alert, they concentrate better and their self-esteem improves," Sooknanan explains. "They learn that persistence brings positive results."

Sooknanan believes that these positive results could easily translate to school classrooms. She suggests that teachers could implement a five minute breathing exercise before they begin class.

"Teachers could also stop a class for two minutes and ask every student to get into tree pose or a pose that will ground them if there is a lack of concentration during that class. Kids will lighten up, calm down for a moment and they might even laugh and the energy will definitely move towards a more peaceful and positive transition back to the studies," she says.

Schools giving it a try

At Montessori of New Paltz, a school for grades pre-K through third, yoga and meditation practices are built into the curriculum. Students practice yoga at school in two different ways. During the week, they have group yoga lessons as one of their "specials" for the week.

In the classroom, there is a yoga mat set up at all times that children can choose to use. Near the mat is a stand with a book of various yoga poses that the children have learned throughout the week in their group lessons. Children can use the yoga mat if they are feeling frustrated, but they may also choose to use it for a variety of other reasons.

"Yoga lets children do purposeful, controlled movement," says Joy Trapani, director of the school. The classroom also has a "peace corner" which is a place for the children to relax and center. The teachers instruct the students how to use different tools for success including breathing exercises.

Trapani feels that yoga is incredibly beneficial for children because it incorporates so many things: mind, body, muscles, and spirit. She sees that her students concentrate significantly better when they are relaxed. "It is so healthy and important for them to destress," Trapani explains. "As a preschool teacher, I'm looking to teach the children skills and habits while they are young that they can carry throughout their life. We all need tools to self sooth whether we're 3 or 63."

Michelle Moroney, a first grade teacher in Wappingers Central School District, agrees. "I think yoga and meditation are useful practices to refocus students between lessons or before starting something new," she says. In Moroney's own classroom, she uses a brain break program called "Go Noodle," which includes different elements such as exercise, dance, yoga, meditation and singing. "I use the yoga and meditation piece at the end of the day to gather our thoughts before heading home," she says. "I see in my classroom that these little people are working so hard all day long, often for longer periods of time and they need a release - a time to stop, focus, laugh, breathe and just recharge."

Moroney feels that with a little creative thinking, yoga or meditation could successfully be implemented in classrooms. "I think incorporating it in quick bursts between lessons helps children calm and refocus," she says, "I have a 10 year old son with special needs and in his classroom the teacher uses it to calm the children and help them focus after lots of changes or transitions."

The class, the gym and beyond

Kirschen Jerrick, a mother of two in Wappingers Falls, practices yoga herself and has taught her daughter deep breathing exercises and a few stretching poses to use when she is feeling overwhelmed. "Yoga and meditation allows students to have a daily practice focused on physical discipline and peaceful breaths to clear the mind," she says.

Andrea Kozak, a mother of two girls in Wappingers Falls, feels that yoga practice would be a good fit for physical education classes in schools. "If yoga or meditation would be beneficial to the stress of the increased workload that we are asking of our children, then it should be something that the physical education department should take on," Kozak insists. "Our children are expected to do so much in the classroom as it is right now, they do not need to add something else to their daily schedule."   

There is increasing research showing the benefits of yoga in a school setting. Along with calming the mind and body, and alleviating stress, these practices may also help students with their academic studies. A 2015 study determined that fourth and fifth grade students who participated in a four month mindful meditation program showed greater emotional control as well as higher math grades.

Does it work? Try for yourself!

Armed with this new information, I headed to our local library to check out some books on yoga. During the busiest time of our night - think cranky baby, homework, dinnertime and fights breaking out over the TV remote - we cracked open the books and my kids eagerly tried some of the poses and breathing techniques. I was surprised at how receptive they were and after a few attempts we were all collapsing in a fit of giggles.

Here's a list of the books we tried:
Caren Bennett lives with her husband, 3 children and rambunctious Labrador.