Monday, October 19, 2015
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Monday, October 19, 2015
According to recent national surveys, there is
currently a large and growing burden of
psychological disorders such as depression,
anxiety and substance abuse in our youth that is
almost universal. In addition to this, a
significant percentage of youth are obese and at
risk for lifestyle diseases such as type 2
diabetes. Furthermore, behavioral problems such
as physical inactivity, bullying, and school
dropouts are becoming commonplace. Key factors
contributing to these problems are the inability
of youth to cope with the chronic stress of
modern society and a lack of mind body
awareness. Unfortunately, the focus of our
school system has been exclusively on academic
performance and preparing children to succeed in
the adult job market, and it has essentially
ignored the teaching of life skills such as
stress and emotion regulation that would
represent an education of the whole child.
Remarkably, the implementation of grassroots yoga programs in public schools by both individuals and by formal yoga in school organizations offering school-specific yoga curriculums has actually become a movement. In a paper recently accepted for publication in the journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine (School-Based Yoga Programs in the United States: A Survey by Butzer B, Ebert M, Telles S, and Khalsa SBS), a survey of these yoga in schools programs across the U.S. was conducted. The study identified and characterized 36 programs, which have been offering yoga in over 940 schools and have formally trained over 5,000 instructors in their curricula. To be included in the analysis in this study, yoga in school programs had to include yoga physical postures and exercises and/or yogic breathing practices, but virtually all also included relaxation techniques and meditation/mindfulness practices. The study analyzed each program’s scope of work, curriculum characteristics, teacher certification and training requirements, implementation model, mode of operation, and primary geographical region.
All programs were designed to be secular and teach universal values or life skills, which makes them suitable for public school settings. Most programs also included aspects beyond the physical by incorporating ethics or philosophy in their lessons. Several additional activities were also included in a number of these programs. Games, songs, journaling, crafts and team building exercises that would not typically be considered yoga per se are common auxiliary learning tools that have been seamlessly woven into the yoga lessons. The inclusion of those non-traditional components allows the yoga programming to be integrated with school values and social and the few social and emotional learning programs already in existence. In recognizing the need for this social and emotional component, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has been promoting the inclusion of social and emotional learning in schools. Although the majority of the yoga programs have no formal relationship to the CASEL, many of the program goals are aligned with the core CASEL competencies of enhancing students' self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
While some programs focus exclusively on school programming, others also run their yoga programs at mental health organizations, community youth programs, or at-risk community youth organizations. The Kundalini Yoga-based Y.O.G.A. for Youth program based out of Los Angeles offers yoga classes to urban youth, giving them tools for self-discovery, discipline, self-respect and community engagement (see: http://www.yogaforyouth.org). Since its inception in 1993, Y.O.G.A. for Youth has served over 16,000 young people in Los Angeles county alone. Y.O.G.A. for Youth offers opportunities for youth to practice yoga and relaxation in schools, community facilities, hospitals and detention centers. Its unique programs have been designed to combat a myriad of issues that plague our youth today including stress, anger, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor concentration and obesity. A recent research study was conducted on Y.O.G.A. for Youth programs in L.A. charter schools, in which notable improvements in stress, resilience and mood were noted. An ongoing research study is evaluating the benefits of an after school Y.O.G.A. for Youth program in North Carolina.
Traditional bureaucratic structures and misunderstanding amongst parents about the secular nature of yoga has led to some reluctance in the implementation of yoga in schools. Future research should examine the most effective and feasible avenues for delivering school-based yoga programming given these unique challenges. The yoga in schools movement is an appropriate countermeasure for the current challenges in our youth’s health and behavior and should lead to improved social and emotional skills, classroom behavior, and academic performance. There is also a critical need for research studies to quantify and document these benefits in order to provide policy makers with the justification to support the widespread implementation of yoga in our school curricula.
This article was reprinted with permission. It was originally published in the Kundalini Research Institute Newsletter, September 2015, written by Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer, Nikhil Ramburn and well-known yoga researcher, Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D., co-author of our published research study. Visit Nikhil's blog.
Friday, April 10, 2015
Teaching Yoga to Teachers
Are you working with a unique population or perhaps you are on a personal mission to make a difference through yoga and mindfulness education? Let us know how we can help!
Friday, March 27, 2015
We're excited to share the recent Yoga In My School podcast featuring special guests Lisa Flynn (Yoga 4 Classrooms), Leah Kalish, MA (Move with Me Yoga Adventures) and Kelli Love (Girls Prep Bronx Elementary).
These women have a passion for sharing yoga and mindfulness with students, educators and families. In this interview, they discuss how to help build integrated self-awareness and regulation in our young people.
Learn what's happening with yoga in education, including how school-based mindfulness practices are helping students with test anxiety, supporting family health and prompting research.
As host Donna Freeman notes:
“The mindfulness revolution has begun in classrooms everywhere. Students and educators from California to New York are discovering simple and effective tools that promote calm, clarity and peace of mind.”
Also, be sure to check out the following resources referenced by the participants in the discussion…
Please share this post with friends and colleagues who care about whole-child health and development. Let’s continue the conversation and support one another as we strive to create positive change in our schools. Contact us today!
Written by Amy Taylor, Ph.D., Director of Communications and Licensed Trainer, Yoga 4 Classrooms
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
As a school psychologist, I’m lucky to get to share yoga and mindfulness education every week in an amazing elementary school in Indiana. This school isn’t amazing because it has wealth or prestige. Quite the opposite, in fact; many students at this school have had few privileges or perks in their young lives.
The other day, a first-grader tugged at my sleeve.
“Guess what? I don’t have any parents.”
I fumbled for a reply, finally settling on, “Well, I’m really glad you are here today.”
And I was, because we were getting ready to do Yoga 4 Classrooms. We were learning how to breathe and move and calm ourselves. We were learning to be mindful, gain the ability to regulate our emotions while creating a safe, productive classroom climate.
The teachers at this school are significantly challenged on a daily basis, but they are just as amazing as the kids. Last week, several told me they planned to use techniques from their Yoga 4 Classrooms Activity Card Decks to help their students get through ISTEP+, our state’s version of the annual, high-stakes assessments. Of course, the “new and improved” version of the test is longer and more rigorous than the previous one. My understanding is that most adults would be lucky to pass the assessment for third-graders!
So, yeah, stress levels at this school have been high of late. A little girl plucked out her eyebrow hairs, one at a time, due to anxiety over these tests. Many students wither and fade. Some lash out; others engage in serious self-harm.
I sometimes wonder if we are fueling a mental health crisis in our children. But no one asked my opinion on the value of the new mega-assessments. If I were asked, here's what I'd say:
While we try to find more reasonable ways to assess student growth and progress, we must give young people the tools needed to thrive in a fast-passed, high-pressure world. I'm talking about real-life, in-the-moment things they can do when anxiety begins to peck.
Many educators out there are working to shift the climate of their classrooms and schools to a more positive place. At my school, I help equip my beloved teachers and students with self-regulation techniques which help improve their resilience and well-being short and long-term. Whatever demands the state hurls at these good folks, I believe they will be okay.
Here are a couple of inspiring stories from educators who took action in their schools:
Jacqueline Killorin is a kindergarten teacher and Licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer who decided to do something about assessment time stress in her home state of Massachusetts. She offered before-school yoga classes to 3rd and 4th graders to help prepare them to cope with the stress of upcoming state assessments.
Afterwards, she asked students for their feedback via surveys. All agreed that yoga helped reduce their stress. Why did they choose to sign up for the class? Of the possible answers offered, 85% answered “to reduce stress and relax”. Ninety-two percent said that they used the tools they had been taught and 96% said that yoga helped them with the assessments.
Other studies have found similar results. Students (and educators) tell us that yoga helps them feel better and manage their stress more effectively. In addition, teaching students strategies for relaxation and self-care has been linked to improved academic performance. Reducing stress and improving self-regulation ability bolsters learning.
This year, Jackie is volunteering her time again at the request of the students who want to start off their mandatory testing days with yoga. She's hoping to continue to "plant the seeds" that will grow into a garden of yoga and mindfulness in her school. Her survey results show that her students would like to see this happen.
Licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer and special education teacher Jennifer Griest Hayes recently made the local news in Ohio for the second year describing the week of yoga and mindfulness she designed to coincide with testing week at her school (read also our blog post about Jen's efforts last year). During the week, Valley View students did physical activities during gym class and in their classrooms during art and music class they did quieter activities such as making Zen gardens or making stress balls. And, because yoga is just as much about taking care of the mind and our relationships as it is the body, students and staff reflected on a special word each day of the week, many of which were inspired by the 'Be Well' section of the Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck. Her principal was thrilled.
“I am very excited to see we have something that helps our kids learn to relax especially this week when we have testing,” said Valley View Principal Paula Trenta. “This is the first time for the testing and teachers and students were stressed. I see this being a good benefit for our kids.”
Second-grade teacher Mari Beth Tinley agreed.
“I feel like they are more focused and ready to learn,” she said. “You can see the difference on the days when the students do have yoga compared to the days when students don’t.”
I was fortunate to have my school approach me about Yoga 4 Classrooms, viewing it as a natural part of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Some mindful educators won't be so lucky. Like Jackie and Jen, you may have to start small and be creative in order to show what a big difference yoga and mindfulness practices can make to the educational process. But these efforts will pay off. Before long, you may have administrators singing your praises and wanting more for the benefit of their students and school.
As Yoga 4 Classrooms founder, Lisa Flynn, says often, "Have a mindset of planting seeds and just do what feels natural for you and your students." Inevitably, those seeds will sprout and grow. Let us know how we can help!
Written by Amy Taylor, Licensed Trainer and Director of Communications for Yoga 4 Classrooms
Sunday, February 15, 2015
To help combat the winter blahs, I decided to design a yoga-focused winter Field Day. Many teachers and students in our building had already learned about Yoga 4 Classrooms so a yoga-themed spirit day felt like a natural fit. When I realized that I could not pack all the desired events into a single day, I changed my vision to a week-long yoga and mindfulness celebration culminating with Yoga Recess Day. Yoga Health Foundation sponsors Yoga Recess Day and Yoga 4 Classrooms is a proud educational partner of the annual event.
Daily themes included:
Events and activities included:
An Antidote to Teacher Burnout: How Yoga and Mindfulness Can Support Resilience In and Out of the Classroom
Thursday, June 26, 2014
It’s no secret that teacher burnout is a pressing issue in our educational system. A shocking statistic: nearly one third of all newly recruited teachers are either resigning or reporting burn out in their first 3 to 5 years of professional experience. Gallup’s State Of America’s Schools 2012 Report says nearly 70% of K-12 teachers surveyed do not feel engaged in their work. The study said they are likely to spread their negative attitudes to co-workers and devote minimal discretionary effort to their jobs.
Even more so, 8.7 percent of educators reported major depression symptoms in the NSDUH study. "Teachers have to deal with low starting pay, stressed parents, misbehaving kids, and demanding administrators, all of which are potential threats to emotional health”.
Besides the effects on teachers personally, the teacher stress has also been linked to student achievement, making this an even greater concern. The classroom can be a challenging environment, and everyone in this environment contributes to the success of the educational system. As a society, we need to be more insightful and proactive in addressing the challenges faced by educators today. After all, a teacher's role cannot be underestimated.
In his classical 1971 book, Dr. Ginott powerfully noted: "As a teacher, I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal".
What does research say?Among many studies linking yoga and mental health, there is a significant research agenda studying the effects of contemplative practices specifically on teachers.
A recent study published in the Mindfulness Journal by Dr. Patricia Jennings, examined data from early childhood educators on indicators of well-being, mindfulness, and self-compassion. The results from the teachers' self-report surveys, independent observations of classroom quality and interviews about the most challenging children in the classroom, suggest that teachers' self-care practices significantly impact their ability to create and maintain effective and supportive classrooms.
A randomized controlled trial led by Dr. Margaret Kemeny found that teachers who participated in an eight-week intensive meditation and emotion regulation training intervention experienced less negative emotions, depressive and anxious thoughts, and were more positive and mindful as compared to the group of teachers who did not take the course. “What’s more, after beginning to meditate, the teachers were also more compassionate and empathetic to others."
In a great video, Dr. Richie Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, reports on his team’s recent study showing that mindfulness meditation fights teacher burnout. "Imagine a teacher in her classroom attempting to teach material that he or she is focused on, and a child has an emotional outburst," Dr. Davidson said. "To some teachers that outburst would really jangle their performance. But others are able to respond appropriately - with the help of mindfulness training”.
Another study published by Drs. Mark Greenberg, Patricia A. Jennings, Jennifer L. Frank, and others, is a randomized controlled trial on the program called Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE for Teachers), which is a mindfulness-based professional development program “designed to reduce stress and improve teachers' performance and classroom learning environments” . Teachers who participated in the study viewed CARE as a feasible, acceptable, and effective method for reducing stress and improving performance.
What can yoga and mindfulness practices do for school teachers?
Here is a summary of benefits backed up by research, which were also echoed at the 2014 Yoga in Schools Symposium at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health:
- Improved self-awareness of thoughts, emotions, and causes for behaviors
- Improved conflict resolution ability
- Improved empathy and compassion, for self and others
- Reduced stress, burnout, depression and anxiety
- Reduced reactivity and negativity
Many anecdotal accounts also confirm that education professionals long for stress reducing, emotionally balancing self-awareness and mind-body practices. After every school Yoga 4 Classrooms residency program, we ask the participating teachers about their experiences with our program, including the impact of yoga and mindfulness on their own well-being and professional and personal development. Here are just a few quotes from school teachers who attended a Yoga 4 Classrooms Professional Development Workshop and/or who had classrooms where the Yoga 4 Classrooms residency was implemented:
"Teaching is so stressful and hard sometimes. This helps both myself and my students feel more joy and less stress every day. Thank you for sharing this gift!"
“Now I am interested in taking a few yoga classes. I love the idea of taking a moment with the class and finding Zen within the day. I find that shared experiences build community."
“Y4C has helped many of my students with anxiety be calmer in certain subject areas and before tests - especially math. It has helped many of my students to be more aware of what helps them be the best they can be. It has really helped me be more patient and calmer, have more energy in the afternoons."
"Practicing yoga in the classroom helps me feel more relaxed. I am more patient with the children. I am able to remain calm during stressful and anxious situations that may occur during the day."
The bottom line is this: it is not enough to teach mindfulness to students - at Yoga 4 Classrooms, we believe school leaders, teachers and other school professionals need to nurture themselves. Embodied contemplative practices can provide an amazing opportunity leading to personal transformation, providing the foundation for systemic transformation. Embracing the concept of self-care and personal mindfulness, teachers will not only improve their own well-being, but also support their classrooms and the larger community.
From our standpoint, there is no doubt teacher health and resilience should be made a priority in education policy. What are your thoughts?
For more information about contemplative practices for educators:Developing Mindfulness for School Leaders - Education Week
Garrison Institute’s CARE for teachers program
Marina Ebert, MA serves as Director of Research and Relationship Development for Yoga 4 Classrooms. She also is a research assistant at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
Lisa Flynn, E-RYT, RYT 500, RCYT, is the Founder and Director of ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms. Lisa's books include the Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck (2011) and Yoga for Children: 200+ Yoga Poses, Breathing Exercises, and Meditations for Healthier, Happier, More Resilient Children (Adams Media, 2013).
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Did you know that only 4% of elementary schools provide daily physical education and less than half of US schools offer recess? While in its Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report (2008) the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity for all school aged children, only half of kids meet this guideline.Shocking as it is, those are the results of two nationwide studies. That is the reason why, last week, the Society of Behavioral Medicine released a powerful statement advocating that elementary schools provide as many of the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to vigorous physical activity during school hours as possible.
In their statement, the SBM provides an impressive list of references to research on benefits of physical exercise on children development, well-being, and academic outcomes. Not only does exercise help children stay healthy, but it also aids kids achieve school success.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in a report that showed the positive associations between school-based physical activity and academic performance, has delivered a similar powerful message in 2010. Studies reviewed showed that the in-classroom brief physical activity interventions improved the kids’ “indicators of cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behavior, and academic achievement” (p.6).
Supporting the studies on the benefits of physical exercise in general, the studies on school-based yoga for children show improved coordination, focus, and academic achievement.
Recent attempts have been made to investigate the effects of yoga on pediatric obesity and weight management.
A review paper published in 2012 in the Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice journal summarized the research on benefits of exercise on such outcomes as obesity, chronic illnesses and mental health among children. The studies reviewed included yoga and tai chi interventions. “A potential underlying mechanism for the positive effects of exercise, yoga and tai chi may be the stimulation of pressure receptors leading to increased vagal activity, decreased stress hormones and increased production of anti-pain and antidepressant neurotransmitters such as serotonin”.
Among the recommended ways to incorporate physical activity into the daily school routine, the SBM mentions “brief bursts of classroom physical activity breaks”, which have been scientifically shown to “improve response time and accuracy on cognitive tasks both during and after physical activity”. Another approach that the SBM enlists involves implementation of the curricula that incorporate exercise as a means for learning, that is, integrate activities with academic learning concepts. This kind of intervention has been shown to improve attention and reading, math, spelling, and composite scores in elementary school children.
Bringing simple and effective yoga curriculum to over 65 schools, Yoga 4 Classrooms fits with both kinds of programs as prescribed by the SBM. Our curriculum is flexible so that teachers can choose to spend as little as one minute or as many as 30 minutes on yoga-based movement in their classrooms. With over 200 activities in the Y4C manual and card deck, there are ample opportunities to boost kids’ learning readiness and infuse yoga fun with basic language learning and math concepts, with the added benefit of social-emotional learning skill building. Once implemented in the school, the program could be expanded to offer both short in-classroom activities, and longer classes during recess and after school.
In addition, Yoga 4 Classrooms meets the national standards for health and fitness education, including National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the CDC's National Health Education Standards (NHES).
The Society of Behavioral Medicine is a multidisciplinary organization of clinicians, educators, and scientists dedicated to promoting the study of the interactions of behavior with biology and the environment, and the application of that knowledge to improve the health and well being of individuals, families, communities and populations.
Thursday, June 05, 2014
Shelly McGrath, a retired preschool and kindergarten teacher, had been teaching yoga for many years when she decided to research ways to expand her practice. She came across Yoga 4 Classrooms and knew she had found her answer.
“As a retired classroom teacher and yoga teacher, Yoga 4 Classrooms immediately made a lot of sense to me. It is a clear and concise program that can be implemented in the classroom, as needed, without any special equipment,” says McGrath.
With the training and support she received as a Licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer, McGrath has been inspired and empowered to share what she has learned with educators and children's health advocates in Canada. She sent out over 200 letters to schools and area health organizations along with Yoga 4 Classrooms educational materials. She was also pro-active and successful in obtaining media coverage with the mission of educating the public about the power of yoga and mindfulness in the classroom to support learning, behavior, attention and classroom climate.
While facilitating the Yoga 4 Classrooms residency curriculum in a Grade One class at Buena Vista School in Saskatoon, which is in the Saskatchewan province of Canada, she contacted the local paper. The result was an article in the Star Phoenix.
"While participating in the Yoga 4 Classrooms training I learned that Lisa Flynn, its founder, is a rare person in that she has the yoga heart and a sharp business mind. She has done all the hard work needed to make Yoga 4 Classrooms trainers successful. No detail has been missed. Anyone who is interested in helping children, educators and schools simply and sustainably integrate yoga and mindfulness techniques into the class day should consider learning more about the Yoga 4 Classrooms program.”
McGrath's outreach led to an invitation by leaders of the federally funded Health Promoting Schools project to offer Yoga 4 Classrooms as a health program option to schools in the city of Saskatoon. To date, she has provided professional development to the staff of four Health Promoting Schools. She also shared the 10 lesson residency component of the program in each classroom, sometimes teaching five classes per day. "It was a tiring experience at times, but extremely rewarding!"
“I know I can’t help the children I work with with many of the challenges they face, but it feels good to be able to give them the tools to cope with whatever comes their way,” says McGrath. Recently, her work with Health Promoting Schools was featured on a local TV news channel, Go! Saskatoon.
Learn how you can attend a one-day professional development workshop held in 50 locations across the country or online, become a Yoga 4 Classrooms Licensed or Schoolsite Trainer,
or bring Yoga 4 Classrooms to your school.
Sunday, May 25, 2014
The first Yoga in the Schools Symposium was convened on April 23-25 at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Lenox, MA. The Symposium was an opportunity to be together with others who are working to bring yoga and mindfulness practices to children and teachers in the pre-k-grade12 schools, including:
• Pre-K-12 Teachers, who are integrating yoga practices into their daily classroom routines
• Yoga Practitioners, who are teaching yoga to children
• Developers of yoga programs for children and yoga programs for the classroom
• Principals and Superintendents, who are integrating yoga practices into their school and /or district curriculum
• University Professors, who are conducting research studies focused on the questions of: What are the outcomes of integrating yoga and mindfulness practices into the classrooms in public, private and charter schools? In other words, what are the benefits for children and youth (and for teachers)? What are the best practices/approaches for bringing yoga practices into the pre-k-12 classrooms, as well, for integrating the practices into the school culture?
The first morning’s small group focus questions were: What is your aim regarding yoga in the schools? What are the guiding principles that shape your work? What are the most important guiding principles the group should take away?
On the first afternoon there was a Research Panel. The panel included Researchers from Western Illinois University, University of Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education, John Hopkins University School of Public Health, Research Triangle Institute International, University of Virginia’s School of Education, and Sat Bir Khalsa, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School. (Sat Bir Khalsa, Ph.D. and Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. collaborated with Lisa Flynn and the Yoga 4 Classrooms team to complete the Yoga 4 Classrooms pilot research study: Effects of a Classroom-Based Yoga Intervention on Cortisol and Perceived Behavior in Second- and Third- Grade Students.)Mark Greenberg, Pennsylvania State University, moderated the panel. Mark and Tish Jennings, University of Virginia are conducting the CALM (Comprehensive Approach to Learning Mindfulness Practices) pilot study. Mark and Tish are testing whether a short daily intervention involving yoga, somatic breathing, intention-setting and caring practices results in reduced psychological and physiological symptoms related to stress and burnout among school teachers.
Andrea Hyde, Professor at Western Illinois University has been conducting qualitative research. Both quantitative and qualitative research approaches are critically important to contributing to the development of evidence-based yoga practices. Qualitative research is focused on the narrative— listening to the stories of the research participants— and noticing the patterns and themes in the stories to form hypotheses that can be applied and potentially generalized to a broader population. Andrea shared the importance of conducting qualitative research that works towards honoring and being informed by the data from teachers’ stories. To hear the essence of each story that can inform the practices we are teaching children and youth, and the essence of each story that can inform the way school yoga programs are framed and developed.
Andrea’s thinking brought to my mind Lisa Flynn’s story of how she developed the Childlight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms programs. As well, it brought to mind Susan Kaiser Greenland’s story of how she began developing mindfulness practices for children. To paraphrase from Susan’s book, The Mindful Child—How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder and More Compassionate, Susan began developing mindfulness for kids on a day when she was watching her own child and his friend lose their ability to be calm. She took a snow globe down from a bookshelf and began winding up the music box at its base. She shook the snow globe, put it down on a table, put her hand on her abdomen, and asked her son and his friend to put their hands on their tummies. Together they felt their breaths move up and down as they watched the snow settle in the globe. When the snow settled to the bottom, she shook it again. As they watched the water in the globe gradually clear, they felt themselves breathing. After a short while, the boys’ breathing had slowed; their bodies had relaxed and calmed. Then they could talk about what had upset them…Susan is the founder of the “Inner Kids” program affiliated with the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.
On the afternoon of the second day there was a School Leader panel. The panel included: Tracy Affonso, Newton Public School System teacher and Yoga 4 Classrooms Licensed Trainer, Timothy Baird, Superintendent, Encinitas (California) Union School District, Scott Himelstein, Director, Center for Education Policy and Law at University of San Diego and former deputy secretary of education for the State of California, Deborah Hoffman, Principal, Lincoln Elementary, Madison, Wisconsin School, and Alan Johnson, Superintendent, Woodland Hills School District, Pittsburgh, PA
Tish Jennings, Associate Professor at the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia, moderated the panel. Tish, Mark Greenberg, Richard Brown and Christa Turksma developed the CARE (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Educators) for teachers program. Tish is a former Montessori early childhood teacher.
It was a comprehensive discussion that brought together stories of the strategies and approaches of school leaders who have developed and integrated yoga programs into their schools. Given that Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer, Tracy Affonso, was representing direct service in the classroom, I thought her stories were particularly grounding. She shared stories of how yoga practices have effected her children’s ability to self-regulate, to focus, to plan and to problem solve. She shared how integrating the practices of yoga into her classroom community have affected both her ability to teach and her children's ability to learn. Her stories related how incorporating yoga into the daily life of her classroom has effected the children’s relationships with each other and her relationship with the children.
In closing, I would like to summarize the threads of discussion from the symposium that noted the importance of:
• Defining yoga: creating a common description of the components and the intentions of the practices being offered in the secular school setting, for research, implementation, and sustainability purposes.
• Honoring /respecting the authority of teachers’ voices as they share stories of their experiences and their students’ experience.
• Seeing yoga, mindfulness practices, contemplative practices, and social emotional learning (SEL) through a lens of their similarities, rather than through a lens of their distinctions or differences, i.e. as approaches for supporting the growth and development of the whole child rooted in the mind-body connection.
• Seeing yoga, contemplative practices and SEL* curricula as approaches and/or teaching strategies, which can contribute to creating the conditions that can foster a culture of well being for all children and youth. In addition, as approaches that can promote a school culture that supports teacher self care.
• Bringing this work to pre-service student teachers.
Esther Brandon, M.S.Ed
Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer
* The Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning (C.A.S.E.L), has developed SEL competencies that are available on the C.A.S.E.L. website.