Yoga in Schools: Pre-Quiz Stretches and Breathing

Yoga programs in schools, how helpful are they?

Stretching before tests? Breathing exercises after recess? For happy evidence of yoga’s increasing mainstream influence, consider that yogic techniques are beginning to pop up in after-school programs, gym classes and K-12 classrooms around the country.

Yoga’s popularity among the grade school set is getting a boost from programs like NYC’s Bent on Learning, which provides yoga and meditation to students in New York City public schools and youth centers from Brooklyn to Manhattan and the Bronx, and LA-based Yoga Ed, which provides a detailed educational curriculum for teaching yoga to kids (K-12), and offers ways for teachers to use movement as an integrative method for learning. More than 100 schools in 26 states have adopted the Yoga Ed program and more than 300 physical education instructors have completed the training.

After completing a Yoga Ed training in 2006, Katherine Priore, a yoga instructor and former inner-city schoolteacher, started Headstand, a Bay Area nonprofit dedicated to helping schools implement yoga programs. “Yoga can help children learn how to focus their energy and concentrate better,” says Priore. Headstand recently partnered with KIPP Summit Academy, a middle school in San Lorenzo, CA. For the 2008/09 school year, KIPP Summit students and teachers will practice asana (yoga poses) and pranayama (breathing exercises) to help students improve concentration and to aid teachers in managing classrooms and on-the-job stress.

To substantiate the benefits of the new program and give doubters something to chew on, Priore is joining forces with Stanford researcher Nick Haisman, who will gauge the effects of the yearlong program on learning, discipline and overall school culture. If Headstand is deemed a success, Priore hopes to expand it to other schools in the Bay Area and beyond.

Priore says that the Yoga Ed curriculum and teaching tools enable students and teachers to be more present in the classroom. For example, Breath of Fire (short inhalations through the nose and a long exhale through the mouth, which Yoga Ed renamed the more kid-friendly “bunny breath”) can help energize sleepy students in the morning.

Trish Vance, an LA-based Yoga Ed instructor was a math teacher in an urban middle school for 10 years. She has led trainings in LA, Baltimore, Connecticut, Denver and Nashville. “The Yoga Ed curriculum is great for a diverse population because it’s realistic in terms of time and space restraints,” says Vance. “It’s also clear about promoting the health and wellness benefits without bringing spirituality into the picture.”

In 2003, researchers at California State University Los Angeles studied test scores at the Accelerated School, a charter school where students practice yoga almost every day. Researchers found a correlation between yoga and better behavior and grades, and they said young yogis were more fit than the district average from the California Physical Fitness Test.

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