After class a while ago, one of my yoga students approached me for advice. She’s a school teacher in a large classroom with a significant number of “high-energy” students (my words, not hers. Hers wouldn’t get past my editor). She comes to my yoga class to decompress after long days working with kids who have a hard enough time just sitting still, let alone absorbing information. She asked if I had any tips to help her find some serenity in the midst of the chaos.
“Well, you can slip off to the break room and spend your planning period doing pranayama (breath control). Or you can just stay in your classroom and teach it to your kids. Sounds like they need it.”
Experts agree. A growing number of schools are exploring the idea of offering yoga and meditation practices to their students. They’re finding many positive benefits: a decline in behavioral issues; improved decision-making and problem-solving skills; heightened self awareness; increased academic achievement; and a calmer classroom environment. Add to that the health benefits — reduced anxiety, lower blood pressure, improved concentration and deeper sleep — and it’s hard to see why schools wouldn’t want to include it in their daily schedules.
A sticking point may be the perception that yoga and meditation are religious practices. For some people, the idea of any exercise involving mind, body and spirit crosses the Separation-of-Church-and-State line. A guided meditation that encourages students to feel a connection to all living things, for instance, might be seen as an attempt to impose a belief system on children, and that would clearly violate education law. Yet while meditation and yoga are tools used by many religions to achieve a heightened spiritual state, they do not promote any one faith and are widely practiced in the secular community. A properly trained yoga teacher knows not to cross any boundaries.
So what can a teacher (or parent or coach) do when the kids go feral? Here are two exercises that work well:
Breath in the Rainbow — Have the children sit down and close their eyes. Ask them to slowly breathe in and out through their nose, sending the air all the way to their bellies. Invite them to imagine that they’re breathing in each color of the rainbow; with deep breaths of red, then orange, then yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and ending with clear. You can prescribe a certain number of breaths per color, or simply ring a small bell when it’s time to change to the next color. This practice will help them center their thoughts and engage their parasympathetic system, reducing their anxiety and channeling their energy to be more productive.
“Isn’t that Interesting?” — This is a creative way to help children develop a growth mindset and combat polarizing thoughts. It’s human nature to judge the world and others as good/bad, right/wrong, friend/foe. What’s more, our brains like to make up stories to go along with every sensory experience, so we often disregard new information because it conflicts with the story our brain already contrived. This makes us rather close-minded and unwilling to learn. To help your students break that pattern, have them sit and close their eyes. Ask them to listen closely to the sounds they hear, but challenge them to try NOT to define the noises. Explain that, instead of, “There’s a door slamming. I bet someone is mad. I wonder what happened. A student must’ve gotten into trouble …”, students should train their brain to stop at one word: “door” or “slam”. If practiced for a few minutes every day, students learn that they have some control over the constant inner dialogue. And once they know that, they can actually change the thoughts they tell themselves, rewriting negative thought patterns into positive ones.
And that goes for our thoughts, too. Stay positive, my friends. Namaste.