Yoga 4 Classrooms®

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Yoga in the schools movement: defining success

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How do you define student success? Can it be positioned as “positive social, emotional, physical, ethical, civic, creative, and cognitive development"? The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's Commission on the Whole Child (ASCD, 2007) does think so, and frames education within the context of nurturing the whole child. The movement to include yoga and mindfulness in schools is an important piece of the new paradigm, and we are proud to be a part of it at Yoga 4 Classrooms.

We wanted to share that our program, along with our foundational program, ChildLight Yoga, have been mentioned in the recently published book chapter, “The Yoga in Schools Movement: Using Standards for Educating the Whole Child and Making Space for Teacher Self-Care”, written by Dr. Andrea Hyde of Western Illinois University.

In her chapter, Dr. Hyde offers specific examples of how yoga programs are impacting students, teachers, and communities in K-12 schools across the US, and shows how these programs can become important standards for a wider social transformation. She argues that contemplative education has the potential to improve students’ and educators’ individual well-being, as well as to “eradicate systemic barriers and forces causing oppression in schools and in the wider society”.

Her main point is that the yoga in schools movement should be taken seriously by social and educational advocates because “it has the potential to change the purpose and structure of the unjust institutions” from within. Incorporating yoga into public schools can change the nature of the education, especially because these programs are designed to meet the needs of teachers, counselors, administrators, and students alike, by offering yoga instruction for students, yoga curriculum instruction for both physical education teachers and classroom teachers, and yoga for self-care of school staff.

Dr. Hyde writes: 

ChildLight Yoga, in Dover, NH, will help schools write grants to pay for their modestly priced training for schools to implement the Yoga 4 Classrooms curriculum, which is aligned with the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) standards and the CDC’s National Health Education Standards (NHES). This organization acknowledges the goals and purposes of No Child Left Behind: “to expand local control and flexibility of education, to do what works based on scientific research, to have accountability for results, and to have more options for parents”. The point to be taken is that ChildLight helps schools to accomplish these goals; it does not represent efforts in addition to these goals. This is a major rhetorical success for school yoga programs and the specific point at which academics can help the movement.”

Overall, the main argument is that yoga programming in the schools is consistent with the goals schools have in increasing teacher effectiveness and student outcomes. Moreover, yoga programs not only develop, but ‘empower’ teachers in their work. Other important points made are that yoga is not a religious education, but an evidence based practice for increasing strength, flexibility, and balance for the body and the mind.

Defining yoga as “a noncompetitive self-care practice of physical, emotional, and psychological wellness”, Dr. Hyde calls for the transformation of the educational system through the internal change process. Each child, each teacher, each school matter in this grassroots movement toward social change.

Reference:

Hyde, A. M. (2012). The yoga in schools movement: Using standards for educating the whole child and making space for teacher self-care. In J.A. Gorlewski, B. Porfilio, & D.A. Gorlewski (Eds.), Using Standards and High-Stakes Testing for Students: Exploiting Power with Critical Pedagogy (pp.108-126). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.


To learn more about yoga in schools movement, visit our website here and here.  
For more on research supporting yoga and mindfulness in schools, visit this page, and learn about our own study conducted by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell – stay tuned for a detailed report of the study results coming out next month!




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Research report: bridging yoga practice and scientific research

Monday, May 20, 2013

The most recent peer-reviewed International Journal of Yoga Therapy published by the International Association of Yoga Therapists highlights the dominant idea in the yoga world these days: constructing a collaborative bridge between yoga therapy and scientific research.

Dr. Marshall Hagins of Long Island University and Dr. Sat Bir S.Khalsa of Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women’s Hospital offer their perspective on the importance of conducting research to boost the credibility of yoga as a safe and cost-effective intervention and to provide evidence base required of incorporation of yoga into education and healthcare systems.

Although there are people on both sides of the debate in the yoga community who are either unsatisfied with the current research strategies or imply that yoga is beyond conventional scientific study, these esteemed researchers and yoga advocates enthusiastically state that “the bridge connecting science and yoga therapy is under construction”. And they encourage for that bridge to be a sturdy one.

How does one study the change in health and behavior that occurs as a result of a yoga practice? The gold standard for conducting research in biomedical science is the randomized controlled trial (RCT), where participants are randomly assigned to either a standardized yoga intervention or a control condition (e.g. exercise, or treatment as usual). In addition, case studies, observational research, single subject multiple baseline designs, qualitative investigations, and other strategies are suggested as complementary. These methods are also well established in biomedical research and can provide unique and important information, in addition to being less expensive and complex and easier to perform. However, although these types of research add to the rich tapestry of information providing the clues and insights that can inform the design and execution of subsequent more complex studies, they are limited in establishing the yoga therapy as the main cause for any observed changes in a study.

The authors move on to discuss the issue of securing funding for the research on the effectiveness of yoga. The majority of researchers in this field are scientist-yogis with a personal practice that inspired them to undertake scientific research. Yet obtaining research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is extremely difficult, even with the establishment of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of NIH whose grant proposal review panels include scientists with yoga expertise. NCCAM also recently produced a report on the yoga research, available here.

With these considerations in mind, the same IJYT issue features a systematic review paper discussing the peer-reviewed publications on the yoga in schools research. This report reviews twelve published studies (pilot studies, single cohort studies, as well as RCTs) in which yoga and a meditative competent (breathing practices or meditation) were taught to youth in a school setting.

As stated in the paper: “As there is an increasingly urgent need to develop and test cost-effective, evidence-based wellness programs for youth that can be delivered in school settings, recent school-based interventions that include yoga suggest a link between yoga practice and positive academic, cognitive and psychosocial outcomes… Participation in a yoga program was associated with decreased body dissatisfaction, anxiety, and negative behavior and increased perceived self-concept and emotional balance”.

At Yoga 4 Classrooms, we also believe that although the primary goal of traditional school programming may be academic education, the skills such as coping with stress and tools for maintaining physical and emotional health are invaluable both in and outside of the classroom.

With these findings, the authors of the report conclude that although showing generally supportive results, a lack of methodological and statistical rigor, small sample sizes, absence of systematic randomization are the limitations that need to be improved in the future studies. This is consistent with the issues that Drs. Hagins and Khalsa addressed in their article. For more on this topic, view our past blog post, Why do we need science to prove the effectiveness of yoga-based programs in education.

But even with these challenges, the field is still growing and expanding, thanks to the efforts of researchers, editors and thought leaders, such as IAYT board members and CEO John Kepner, who have promoted the value of the science of yoga across multiple platforms, such as research conferences.

Upcoming in June 2013, the annual Symposium on Yoga Research (SYR) and the Symposium of Yoga Therapy Research (SYTAR) are both taking place in Boston, MA, providing a forum for the latest scientific research on yoga for researchers and therapists to present recent findings, interact with colleagues and develop collaborations and initiatives.

The bridge between yoga practice and science is not being built overnight, but the foundation is being well laid, and certainly we will all continue to contribute to it brick by brick.




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Mindfulness in Education: Foundation for Teaching and Learning

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mindfulness: Foundation for Teacher and Leaning was the title of the conference organized by the Mindfulness In Education Network, that took place this March at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. 

This three-day event explored the uses of mindfulness in education based on the growing research evidence that mindfulness enhances learning and attention for both children and adults. Many educational institutions, including UCLA, Stanford, UCSF, and PENN have embraced mindfulness as an educational intervention by introducing it into their curricula and conducting research in the field.

Among the researchers and educators in the field were Jon Kabatt-Zinn, the founding director the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Arthur Zajonc,the president of Mind and LIfe Institute, Lisa Flook, a research scientist at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds a the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Chip Wood and Pamela Siegle of the Center for Courage and Renewal, and many others.

A great blog post about the conference and the diverse perspectives on furthering mindfulness in education has been written HERE.

The 2014 conference is being scheduled in the Spring of 2014 at American University in Washington, DC. We hope you'll join us in participating in this educational, rejuvenating professional development opportunity for educators and others interested in learning more about contemplative practices in education.

To join the Mindfulness in Education Listserve (highly recommended!), send a blank email to: MiEN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com




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Yoga 4 Classrooms expands its online professional development offerings to bring yoga and mindfulness tools to more educators

Saturday, March 02, 2013

There is no replacement for attending a workshop or training in person as the experience is always going to be more interactive, engaging, informative and beneficial. However, for educators and schools who are out of range of a qualified trainer or otherwise unable to attend a workshop in person, online / self-study options can provide a wonderful alternative for professional development.

In an effort to bring the tools of yoga and mindfulness to more school professionals, parents and students, Yoga 4 Classrooms now offers 3 online training opportunities:

1) 10 Tips to Bringing Yoga in Schools: One Hour On Demand Webinar
Hosted by Kids' Yoga Academy

Lisa Flynn, founder of ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms and author of the Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck (published in 2011) and Yoga for Children (Adams Media, May 2013), leads webinar participants through must-know tips and techniques for organizing and implementing a successful school yoga program. Best practices for approaching schools, appropriate curriculum, lessons learned and “secrets to success” are shared from her extensive experience working in school settings. In addition, attendees receive three classroom friendly lesson plans which illustrate her advice and experience as well as help on how to address “the religion question.”

If you are a kid’s yoga teacher, educator, school counselor, or other school professional, this webinar is for you. If you hadn’t considered bringing yoga and mindfulness education into the school setting, you will not only be motivated to do so from this webinar, but you will be armed with the right preparatory tools.

Rated as "highly recommended" by 100% of those who attended the live webinar recording.

"Great info from people who actually do the work. Thanks!"
"Professional and interesting presentation!"
"Wow, thanks for all the tips!"


Tuition: $29 USD, Includes BONUS resources  and is valid for .5 CEUs.

REGISTER NOW


2) Online Professional Development Workshop for Individual Educators
Similar to the on location workshop, this online / self-study alternative is designed for K-12 classroom teachers, administrators, school counselors, phys ed teachers, school nurses, health educators, therapists, paraprofessionals and other school professionals seeking to bring simple yoga and mindfulness techniques into their work with children for a more peaceful, productive class day. 



100% of online workshop attendees agreed that the material learned in this workshop will be beneficial to them both personally and professionally, as well as beneficial to their students.

In addition, an overwhelming 95% of attendees stated that they feel prepared to implement the Y4C® activities in their professional routine after the online workshop.
 Read what previous participants have said about the online format here.

Tuition: $199
Includes Online Training, 230 pg, full-color, fully illustrated manual, Y4C Card Deck, shipping (addt'l charges apply to locations outside of continental U.S.), certfiicate of completion and possible CEU's from your credentialing organization.

LEARN MORE


3) New! Online Professional Development Workshop for School Staf
f

As an alternative to the On-Site Staff Professional Development Workshop facilitated in person by a Licensed Y4C Trainer, a video-based format is now available to schools located in an area where a Licensed Y4C Trainer is not presently available.

This online workshop can be completed in one full day by viewing 18 video segments (5 hours) in a group setting on a projector screen. Alternatively, week-long access can be granted to all school staff members such that they can view the video segments individually at their convenience. At the end of the viewing, the group will gather for an interactive follow-up Q&A session online with Lisa Flynn, the Founder and Director of Yoga 4 Classrooms or with another qualified Y4C Trainer.

The workshop utilizes the 230 pg, fully-illustrated, full-color Yoga 4 Classrooms Manual, ensuring the program is both easy to use and sustainable for long-term use. A Yoga 4 Classrooms Program Manual must ordered for each classroom teacher and specialist attending the workshop. Though not required, it is also highly recommended that the Yoga 4 Classrooms Activity Card Deck be ordered for each classroom. School discounts are available for quantity orders of each item.


LEARN MORE


Whether you are just beginning thinking about incorporating yoga and mindfulness tools in your own work with children, or ready to implement the program in your school, we have an option for you, on location or online. Please visit www.yoga4classrooms.com for a full spectrum of our trainings or contact us directly so that we can assist you in choosing the best option for your particular interests and location.




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Garrison Institute assembles a comprehensive database of contemplative education programs

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Yoga 4 Classrooms is honored to be a part of the Contemplative Education Program Database, featuring most of the well-developed and proven programs in the field.

The Garrison Institute's Contemplative Teaching and Learning Initiative (CTL) developed this database of US and Canadian K-12 contemplative education programs in order to encourage networking between programs;enable educators to locate contemplative education programs in their geographic area; allow funders, researchers and the media to track the growth of the field of contemplative education; and assist researchers and graduate students in identifying programs to study.

Guided by a distinguished leadership council composed of leading educators and scientists, CTL identifies, convenes and networks field leaders, hosting cutting-edge professional gatherings and offering actual and virtual hubs for exchanging information among researchers, educators, policymakers and funders. Garrison's CTL disseminates their work widely through presentations, published reports and studies, journal articles and other media.

LEARN MORE about the contemplative education field our recent article reflecting on the Garrison Institute’s symposium “The art and science of contemplative teaching and learning: exploring ways of knowing” that took place in November 2012. You can also watch the videos from the symposium to get a feel for it and get as inspired as we were to be a part of the contemplative education movement.

Interested in joining the contemplative education movement by implementing yoga and mindfulness curriculum in your classroom and other education settings?  Learn about Yoga 4 Classrooms Professional Development Workshops and Trainer Intensives.




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Practicing Peace Breath to help children cope with school tragedy

Saturday, December 15, 2012

This may be a tough week for schools and students around the US. The news of the shooting tragedy in Sandy Hook School in Newtown, CT is horrifying to anyone, and although the feelings of sadness, empathy and compassion are prevalent and natural responses, so are the feelings of anger, helplessness and fear.

To help empower children (and ourselves) to ease feelings of helplessness, we would like to recommend starting each school day this week with PEACE BREATH: sending peace and love to the children and families of Newtown, CT, and to the world. This exercise could be done in the classroom or over announcements with your entire school.

Peace Breath activity is one of 67 from the Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck. The instructions on the card are simple and easy to follow - we hope you will use this wonderful tool and share it with anyone in need of a helpful guide to managing the myriad of emotions associated with such tragedy. Peace Breath inspires self-regulation while generating immense compassion, connectedness and community with the power to help heal ourselves and the world.

Many blessings to the Sandy Hook and Newtown, CT community, to the beautiful children they have lost and to the many heroes who tried to protect them. Our thoughts of peace and compassion are with you.





We would like to also share other useful resources on how to help children cope with frightening news:

CASEL: Explaining and Coping with School Violence

PBS Parents:
Talking with Kids About News [ages 6-8]

National Association of School Psychologists:


Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers K-12

Helping Children Cope with a Crisis

Helping Children with Disabilities Cope with a Crisis


BAM Radio Network:
Coping with School Tragedies: What do we do now?




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Yoga 4 Classrooms Joins Yoga Recess as an Educational Partner

Friday, December 14, 2012

Yoga-Recess in Schools is a national campaign coordinated by the Yoga Health Foundation to bring yoga-based health education into classrooms. By providing free online resources like instructional videos and lesson plans that will make it easy and fun for school teachers to integrate yoga into their teaching schedule. This allows children to benefit from balancing their body and mind through breathing and stretching exercises.

The national campaign will peak with Yoga-Recess Day, Friday January 25, 2013 with hundreds of school teachers and organizations participating.

Learn more HERE.

Featured educational partners this year are: Yoga 4 Classrooms, Yoginos, Next Generation Yoga, Playful Planet.

“Since we started Yoga-Recess 2 years ago over 10,000 school teachers expressed interest in bringing yoga into their classroom. With the new Yoga-Recess in School campaign we encourage school teachers to integrate breathing, stretching and other short yoga exercises into their daily class schedule.” says Johannes R. Fisslinger, president of the Yoga Health Foundation.

Considering budget cuts in schools across the country and the elimination or reduction of physical education, school officials are looking to find cost-effective ways to bring PE back into their schools. Physical exercise alone does not seem to be enough anymore. Children of all grades are more stressed then ever and yoga seems to be the perfect form of exercise to balance the body and mind.

According to the University of Indiana’s Sound Medicine, children who practice yoga, often experience healthier sleep patterns which allow them to relax more than children who don’t practice yoga. A study conducted by the Journal of Attention Disorders found that ADHD children who practice yoga are much more likely to remain focused and are less hyperactive, which in turned reduced the amount of emotional outbursts and their oppositional behavior.

Learn more about the benefits of yoga and mindfulness in classrooms and download free research resources.

How to get involved?

Schools, Parents and Organizations: Raise funds for your school by engaging your community through building a fundraising team. It's simple - learn HOW now!

Register your school or classroom (to start a team) and opt in to raise funds for your school using the convenient online platform, which allows to reach out to your community via email and social media and keep track of your team supporters. Note that all net proceeds (minus 10% expenses and hard costs for credit card transactions, platform, hosting, server expenses) will reach your classroom. The funds raised are to be used for yoga related programs in your school, such as Yoga 4 Classrooms! 

Additional Resources for School Teachers: Access free educational resources to bring yoga into your classroom. The national campaign is funded by passionate school teachers, principals, parents, yogis and people wanting to improve the quality of life for children and youth.

Yoga 4 Classrooms is proud to support the mission of Yoga Recess and provide school professionals with a great downloadable resource incorporating the teaching tips and specific yoga and mindfulness activities through a selection of visuals from our acclaimed Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck.

Also, see an inspiring review from the 2012 Yoga-Recess Grant Recipient - The Bright School in TN!

Enter your school to become the next grant recipient HERE.




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Top 10 Take Aways from the Contemplative Teaching and Learning Symposium at Garrison Institute

Friday, December 07, 2012

Heading back from the weekend spent at the Garrison Institute’s symposium “The art and science of contemplative teaching and learning: exploring ways of knowing”, filled with information, energy and contemplation, we couldn’t help but feel the profound sense of validation and encouragement in the work that we do bringing yoga and mindfulness to the classrooms.

The amazing group of scientists, researchers, authors, educators and others presenting and present at the symposium created the atmosphere of ‘being seen’, supported and reassured that secular, developmentally appropriate and proven contemplative practices shared in school settings are bound to make a difference in the minds and hearts of children and those who support them.

Although it is impossible to provide an all-encompassing overview of the ideas shared during the weekend’s gathering, we noted some recurring themes that substantiate our mission and efforts and also aid in demystifying the field of contemplative education, or as Garrison Institute titled it, Contemplative Teaching and Learning (CTL).

1. Take care of yourself.
On the path to sharing life-changing contemplative ways of learning with others, it is important not to let your personal practice become non-existent or weakened. As obvious as this is, the pace of the modern world often absorbs our best intentions in the name of service. This is bound to backfire, though. Do take time for yourself to connect with your inner self, nourish your body and soul so that you can more authentically share with and model for others.

2. Invite.
Offer the children, colleagues, parents or anyone else around you a non-intrusive way to join you in your own contemplative practice. Perhaps it's a yoga class before the start of a school day, a lunch-time meditation, mindful eating or walking, engaging in arts or reflective journaling at the end of the workday, or other ways to engage and monitor the inner world. The simple act of inviting someone may be life-changing: your open heart and hand may lead to someone’s mind to open to transformation, thus gradually changing the fabric of the school, and ultimately society. Importantly, such hands-on experience helps to lift the veil of unknown and perceived esoteric at times and demystifies contemplative practices for those whom it may be unfamiliar.

3. Share ideas.
Engaging in conversations with like-minded people and colleagues, attending conferences, reading relevant literature and being an integral part of the overall discourse and dialogue in the field of contemplative teaching and learning is necessary and quite rewarding. This was felt on the deepest levels during the Garrison Institute’s event: the atmosphere educed collaboration, not competition, among the contemplative education programs (just to note, representatives from Yoga 4 Classrooms, Niroga Institute, Inner Resilience, Bent On Learning, CARE for Teachers, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and others were present among the attendees). A powerful yet simple idea of interconnectedness can be described by what Dan Siegel dubbed the “MWE” (ME + WE). The move to integrate the identities, acknowledge the fact that we are all profoundly interconnected and let go the delusion that we are separate was evident during this symposium. Healthy integration while honoring the differences – this motto sums this idea up, and can be applied to all complex systems, from individuals, to organizations, to countries.

4. Go slow to get there faster.
The idea of taking “time in”, calming the racing mind, allowing time for mindfulness and reflection, thus creating the coherence and harmony in order to see the world and the self clearly, is at the core of the contemplative mind. According to neuroscientists, our brain must slow down to differentiate before integrating and getting ready for action. We'll accomplish more by taking our time, rather than forcing or racing to some imaginary 'finish line.'

5. The classroom can be a sacred space.
Many programs similar to our own Yoga 4 Classrooms share the mission of creating a peaceful, calm and trustworthy classroom. Teachers often create a “peace corner” or “quiet place” in their classrooms to encourage “time in”.  Silence can give us a sense of protection, and that physical space in the corner where a child can come for calm and peace can help him embody this peace in their minds and hearts. This can help prevent the new emotion term called “overwhelmedness” from becoming the default state of mind.

6. Don’t hesitate to take action.
A wonderful point made during the symposium encompasses this idea: the majority of the wonderful things happening in classrooms right now has never been and will never be scientifically validated. If we apply the logic of always needing scientific evidence to take action in the classroom, then saying “Good Morning!” to our students each day must have an evidence-based foundation before we can believe in its positive effect!  Silly, right? Anecdotal evidence, centuries of tradition, personal subjective experience and yes, the scientific research as well, -  all are important when considering integrating new techniques in schools. We wrote about the importance of research on the effects of yoga for school children, however there is no need to wait for years before all the research is completed to start improving the classroom climate now!

7. Start small, keep it simple.
Doing “balloon breathing” is one of the simplest, most beneficial ways to promote mindful awareness, providing a great option for someone just starting out to share yoga and mindfulness practices in the educational setting. Let’s lose our attachment to needing to change the world overnight. (See #4 above)

8. Give them the nut, not just the shell.
While encouraging the action and simple steps on this path to transform schools with contemplative techniques, we need to remember the depth and the breadth of these practices. Simple doesn’t mean superficial, hollow or mechanistic. A beautiful South African greeting used a lot during the symposium: “ I see you” – “ I am here” allows children and school staff members to “be seen” and to learn “ to see”. This is a holistic approach in action, to be able “to feel felt by” your teacher. And this is argued to be the most important moment in the contemplative education – the moment of being SEEN. No reductionist approach can create these moments, and we must remember that the practices and strategies we utilize are only the vehicles that carry these underlying ideas.

9. Bridge sacred and science.
The renowned scientists presenting at the symposium, Dan Siegel, Mark Greenberg, Tobin Hart, Linda Lantieri and others, like Adele Diamond, Patricia Jennings, Jennifer Frank showed that contemplative education has been receiving considerable academic attention and validation. The accounts from the fields of neurobiology, developmental psychology, health science, cognitive social neuroscience all contribute to the scientific study of yoga, mindfulness, empathy training, contemplative art, music and writing, among others. Yet the roots of these practices are very deep in various spiritual and mythological traditions. We have the ability to witness the beautiful architecture bridging the sacred and the science.

10. Disciplinary crossover is key to success.
“Integration is a fruit salad, not a smoothie”, noted Dan Siegel during his keynote talk. The academic disciplines, classroom pedagogies and various teaching and learning approaches addressing the whole person through social-emotional learning, emotion regulation, mind-body alignment, mindfulness, attention training - all have common grounds. Being aware of the commonalities, translating the various languages used by these disciplines, and creating ways to integrate them is important for bringing the mission forward.

Overall, the symposium promoted secular and accessible presentation of mindfulness, yoga and similar contemplative practices, with an emphasis on compassion, reflection time and stress reduction. Bringing these essential life skills to as many young people as possible has always been our goal and we were delighted to partake in sharing this vision with so many others. Using Dan Siegel’s words, we believe that “paying attention to your intention” is important to stay focused on this vision. While there are several approaches to cultivating the healthy inner world and fruitful relationships with the outer world, we feel empowered as we continue our work under the umbrella term “contemplative education”.

 

Lisa Flynn, E-RYT, RYT 500, RCYT, is the Founder and Director of ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms, and is author of the Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck.and Yoga for Children, to be published Spring, 2013 by Adams Media, an F+W Media Company.



Marina Ebert, MA serves as Director of Research and Relationship Development for Yoga 4 Classrooms. She also is a research assistant at Khalsa Yoga Research Lab at Brigham and Women's Hospital/ Harvard Medical School. 





You can also view the videos from the 2011 inaugural symposium, “Advancing the Science and Practice of Contemplative Teaching and Learning”,  which brought together teachers, principals, researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists, health professionals, professors, graduate students, non-profit organizations and others. The 2012 videos will be available soon. 




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Interview with Y4C Advisory Board member Dan Huston: bringing contemplative education to all settings, from preschool to higher education

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I recently had the good fortune of sitting in on one of Professor Dan Huston’s communication classes.  Upon arrival, I could feel the sense of trust Professor Huston and his students had established after just four weeks of classes.  They were beginning with their usual routine: discussing portions of students’ “Awareness Notebooks”–a journaling activity that encourages students to direct attention to present moment sensations, feelings and thoughts as they go about their daily life. “It’s amazing what focusing on our breathing can do!” – exclaims one student. Others shared more personal experiences, such as using awareness of physiological sensations to avoid an anxiety attack, or using mindfulness to help deal with a family member’s recent death. Dan’s students also say mindfulness allows them to experience a feeling of awe, for example, noticing the beautiful snow fall as if seeing it for the first time.

The Awareness Notebooks activity is part of the Communicating Mindfully curriculum Professor Huston has been developing and implementing over the last fifteen years, which infuses mindfulness into the standard communication course offered to students at NHTI, Concord’s Community College.  His unique approach includes mindfulness meditation, which is useful in all life situations and scientifically studied in research laboratories. In fact, Dan is one of these researchers, having co-authored a peer-reviewed paper, “Mechanisms of Mindfulness in Communication Training," on the results of a controlled study on his Communicating Mindfully curriculum.

During the class I observed, Dan and his students explored the cause-and-effect relationship between self-talk and communication behaviors. “What we say to ourselves has a big impact on how we communicate,” Dan points out, “but we’re not always aware of that inner monologue.  As we become more aware of it, one of the things we often notice is the contribution it makes to habitual patterns of communication that aren’t serving us very well.”  As his students begin to discover their unproductive habits, Dan invites them to consider the communication concepts they have studied to help them “think of alternatives to those habitual behaviors that manufacture our reality.”  Opening to the moment more fully can help, too, in order to avoid ruminating on unproductive thoughts.  His students know that opening to the moment means becoming more aware of both the pleasant and the unpleasant experiences in their lives.  “When we wake up to life, we wake up to both the smell of flowers and dead mice…But by making a commitment to experiencing even the unpleasant experiences of life, we make room for important observations and insights,” Dan notes in his textbook, Communicating Mindfully, which he created for the course.

At the end of the class, Dan leads students through an optional 15-minute Loving-Kindness Meditation.  All of the students choose to participate. Completely secular, this practice is offered to all without assumptions or required postures. Some students decide to use their yoga mat to lie down, some are sitting at their desk with heads down on their hands, some are standing with eyes closed. This time is taken as an opportunity, not always present in students’ daily busy lives, to connect with their inner selves and generate the feelings of peace and compassion. Those are especially needed when we allow ourselves to notice things we don’t like about ourselves, which observation of our self-talk often reveals.

Dan has been incorporating mindfulness, meditation, and emotional intelligence into his communication curriculum for fifteen years. His work is informed by training he received at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn. In addition to fulfilling his teaching responsibilities as a Professor of the English Department, Dan works tirelessly to increase mindful communication throughout NHTI’s campus community: advising the student meditation club, providing training to faculty and administrators, leading workshops at the Business Training Center, and working to infuse mindfulness throughout a variety of curricula.


Serving on the Yoga 4 Classrooms Advisory Board, Dan Huston is inspired by the movement to bring the techniques of yoga and mindfulness to the younger generation in order to set the groundwork for a lifetime of learning through careful, mindful observation and mind/body awareness.

We met with him to ask a few questions about his vision for contemplative practices in education, encompassing the lifelong learning from preschool to higher education institutions.

 

 

Q: The field of contemplative education is slowly starting to gain grounds in traditional educational settings. A lot of programs focus on just one or two guiding philosophies or practices. Do you believe it is possible to create an integrative approach taking into account the concepts of Social-Emotional Learning, emotional intelligence, character education and mindfulness?
 
Dan Huston: 
That’s a good question.  Yes, I do believe it’s possible.  However, about ten years ago when I began going to conferences for educators who were bringing contemplative practices into their classrooms, I realized that people were often using the term “mindfulness” in very different ways.  One of the keynote speakers at one of those conferences, Amishi Jha, who studies the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain, expressed concern about that phenomenon--at least that’s how I took it.  She pointed out that the field is in its infancy and that it’s important for educators and researchers to join forces and to be very specific about the application of contemplative practices and the outcomes.  At NHTI, I have provided training to over sixty full-time faculty members (some more than others).  We now have a common foundation on which we can build.  With that common understanding, common vocabulary, common experience, we are now beginning to explore a variety of contemplative practices.  Teachers from a wide range of disciplines have studied mindfulness with me.  Those disciplines include literature, human services, information technology, math, biology, dental, nursing, and orthopedics.  I am very excited to see where things go from here, and I’m encouraged by how thoughtfully and deliberately people are moving forward with their ideas.  I suspect Y4C is establishing a similar kind of foundation in the schools with which you work.

Q: Generating compassion, empathic concern for others and subsequent prosocial behavior is an ongoing theme in contemporary school settings (especially in light of bullying prevention). How do you see self-communication skills such as self-awareness and emotional competence being related to improving interpersonal communication abilities?

Dan Huston:
That’s another great question.  The answer could fill up an entire book…as a matter of fact, that’s pretty much what my book is about.  However, I will emphasize how useful Paul Ekman’s work has been to me.  He states very clearly that human beings interpret situations so quickly we don’t even notice it’s an interpretation: it feels like we’re simply noticing “reality.”  However, as we all know, our perceptions aren’t always accurate.  Nevertheless, accurate or not, they can stir strong emotions within us, and we can often be very reactive, irrational, self-righteous, judgmental…the list goes on and on.  Ekman points out that mindfulness can help us notice emotions arising in our body—quick heart rate, tense muscles, etc.  When we feel those things happening, it might be an indication we’re about to be reactive based on the way we unconsciously interpreted something.  That’s our opportunity to reappraise what just happened and make a choice about how to respond.  When we respond with that kind of awareness, we can ask ourselves, “What could I say or do right now that has the best chance of making this experience satisfying for everyone involved?”  I believe that reappraisal process helps us develop self-awareness, flexibility, self-regulation, resilience, and empathy, all of which help us communicate more effectively.  We begin to realize that each of us interprets situations differently—we each have a different set of experiences that influence how we appraise situations.  When we get to know ourselves at that level, observing our emotions and reactivity, we develop the ability to empathize with others at a deeper level as well.  Consequently, we speak with more respect, we listen better, we choose our words more carefully, and we are less judgmental.

Q: What has been the most often mentioned benefit of mindfulness among your students?

Dan Huston: “Most often?” That’s hard to answer.  Students frequently say the course helps them succeed in college in general.  Surprisingly, many students have mentioned that it helps them with math.  I think part of what’s happening there is that applying mindfulness to the study of self-concept helps them recognize self-fulfilling prophecies that have been holding them back; they learn to focus on the math problem itself rather than being engulfed by panic.  They also discover and modify unproductive habits when it comes to doing (or not doing) homework in general.  Students comment on how the class has helped improve their relationships with family members, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, etc.  They realize they have the ability to manage life’s challenges; they’re less afraid and more confident. It’s not uncommon for students to say the course helped them manage their ADHD or stop abusing alcohol and drugs.  Oh, and many younger students become nicer to their moms, too.

Q: What do you think is the key difference in teaching mindfulness skills to children versus young adults? Where does the physical aspect of mindful yoga, or the embodiment of mindfulness skills, as in Yoga 4 Classrooms curriculum, fit in?

Dan Huston: As you know, I don’t have experience working with young children.  I can tell you, however, that many of my students express that they wish they had been introduced to mindfulness at an earlier age.  “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?” is a common sentiment expressed in my classes.  I have a bit of experience with yoga, though, and it certainly can nurture mindfulness: “stretching” to one’s limit becomes a kind of metaphor for growing naturally, at one’s own pace by virtue of dedication and commitment; “sitting with discomfort” teaches us that being uncomfortable from time to time is part of life—we don’t have to run away from it; and yoga can help us notice our self-talk and emotions, too: “I’ll never be able to do that!” we might say, tempted to compare ourselves to the person next to us, rather than recognizing our own limits and abilities.  It’s not about who can stretch the farthest; it’s about being present with and respecting our minds and our bodies.  I imagine children who gain that ability at an early age will be more confident in themselves, less likely to be persuaded to do things they don’t want to do, more in touch with their natural abilities, more aware of their interests, less reactive, and maybe more fully engaged in everything they do, more focused.



As a Yoga 4 Classrooms Advisory Board member, Dan Huston believes that introducing mindfulness, self-awareness and emotion regulation skills and strategies to young children helps them develop better self-care habits as they transition to adulthood.  It also helps them develop focused attention, confidence, and critical thinking skills.  We share the vision that modifying the techniques proven effective with adults to be developmentally appropriate for younger children and creating the learning environments conducive to contemplation, reflection and creativity early on in educational process are keys to making a profound change in the fabric of our society.

Learn more about Y4C Advisory Board members and stay tuned for more interviews with each of them.




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Lessons from Peterborough Elementary School - how to ensure sustainability of Yoga 4 Classrooms in your school

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Peterborough Elementary School can be named one of the exemplar schools implementing the innovative programming for better learning and healthy lifestyle. We are excited to highlight how the school managed to create an open and conducive environment to embrace Yoga 4 Classrooms.

A Licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer, Sarah Aborn, has just completed her 10 week residency at the school with amazing success and support from staff and parents. It was the excited, motivated teachers and administrators who made all the difference in setting the right tone and helping children internalize the curriculum. The support of the in-classroom program also lead to Sarah now offering an additional, after school yoga club - “because I have 260 kids hooked on yoga” in Sarah’s words.

“This is enriching mine and all the students' lives to no end! I cannot stress enough how many kids are just soaking this material up, on such deep levels”, - says Sarah Aborn.

How did Peterborough Elementary School manage to engage the staff, the students and the parents during the implementation of the Y4C program? Below are some valuable tips!

• The school offered the Staff Development Workshop to everyone working in the school before the start of the 10 week residency, and also incorporated the Parent Education component of the Y4C. This is the best decision a school can make to ensure sustainability of the program after the residency is over!

• From the very beginning, the Principal was committed to informing the parents of Sarah’s residency lessons on weekly basis, incorporating pictures, Y4C cards and the newly developed Y4C Family Letters into his weekly Friday Parent Newsletter. Here is an example of what he shared with the parents:

“Yoga 4 Classrooms started this week. Sarah Aborn, certified Yoga 4 Classrooms instructor, worked with every class in the school. The theme for the week was mindfulness. Sarah taught the students strategies for relieving stress about homework, tests, and other challenging parts of their days. The practice of putting breath, body, and mind together creates an environment of mindfulness to decrease stress. The students learned about Magic Focus Points, Silent Seconds, and Balloon Breath. They also learned the tree pose along with sitting and standing mountain. Ask your child to share some of the exercises with you. You’ll be amazed at how calm you feel afterwards”.

• Another great example of the school staff embracing the program is the wonderful use of technology to help students pay attention and enjoy what they’re learning. Mr.Rothaus, a second grade teacher, utilized the Smart Board during the Y4C residency lessons. All Y4C Cards used in the lessons were scanned and uploaded into the Smart Board, allowing Sarah to “flip” electronically through the cards that are a focus of the day’s lesson. The images are then are enlarged on the Smart Board for the whole class to easily see and follow the instructions as modeled by Sarah.

The same teacher also created a "magic focus point" which is labeled as such and just a big, colorful dot, on the Smart Board page next to the Y4C Card the class is working on, for those students who choose to use it.

• The school engaged the students to create videos as a sort of “thank you” note to the PTO, interviewing Sarah, their teachers and other students about the Y4C program. Some of the questions included inquiring about the change in students’ well-being, emotions, coping with anxiety and anger, and asking teachers about their impressions about changes in classroom climate. Encouraging self-reflection on the part of the students in this creative activity is a great way to tie-in the mission of Y4C.


Finally, to build excitement about the program, the school’s Yoga 4 Classroom residency has been featured in the local newspaper, Monadnock Region Ledger-Transcript, highlighting the techniques taught within the curriculum that help kids cope with stress and negative emotions and lead to better school outcomes.  As featured in the article:

The School’s Principal Ben Loi said the program, which is partially sponsored by the Parent Teacher Organization with other funding coming from the school’s cocurricular activities budget, fits well with the school’s mission. “Our goal is to create opportunities for kids to be successful,” Loi said. “This program teaches kids to let go of things — stress, anxiety — and move on. Math and reading are important, but students need these life skills as well.”

Read the full story here.


For more on parent involvement in educational programs, read this resource roundup by Edutopia.

Interested in learning how your school can become a Yoga 4 Classrooms school? Learn more about bringing the Staff Development Workshop and Y4C Residency to your school, and about Y4C Trainer Intensives for yoga teachers and education professionals.


To purchase the Yoga 4 Classrooms Activity Card Deck visit our online boutique.




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