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Yoga and Mindfulness

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Overview

Kids Stretching in GymnasiumYoga is for every body! It’s often assumed that one must already be flexible and physically fit to participate in yoga. One of the many great aspects of yoga is that it can be modified to fit the age, goals and abilities of almost anyone. Its inclusive nature and ability to be practiced almost anywhere and with very little equipment makes it a great fit for classrooms, play spaces, recess, before and after school programs, and even at home.

But, what exactly is yoga? Yoga is an activity that includes breathing techniques, yoga poses and mindfulness. One of the most common breathing techniques used in yoga is diaphragmatic breathing. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment. In yoga, participants often use breathing and yoga poses to help the mind reach a state of mindfulness. Yoga has the ability to help kids and adults be more active, flexible and mindful for an increase on overall well-being!

Take Action

Yoga creates a safe, modifiable and inclusive environment for creative, physical movement allowing all participants to be successful. Here are some simple take action steps to get started!

  • Share the many benefits of yoga and mindfulness to demonstrate its positive impact on kids and learning. Did you know that yoga can help to increase academic readiness? The physical movement and mindful exercises associated with yoga can help to prepare the brain for learning! Yoga has shown to enhance focus, concentration, comprehension and memory. The poses help to improve physical fitness by improving posture, balance, coordination, and body awareness. Yoga can also help to create an atmosphere of confidence, enthusiasm and non-competitiveness where everyone can succeed. It provides opportunities for reflection, patience and insight, reducing impulsivity and supports social and emotional learning.
  • Consider introducing students and staff to yoga through age-appropriate books and stories. When participants know what to expect, the transition to new activities can be less confusing while creating an element of excitement.
  • Designate a predetermined time for a practice. Yoga can be incorporated at any time during the school day. To make it easier, consider the goals of the practice and then pick a specific time of the day to incorporate the routines on a regular basis.
  • Start with a short 3-5 minute session. Keeping the session short helps the students to stay actively engaged and ready to learn. Add more time as the students become comfortable with a more advanced practice.
  • Prepare the classroom environment. Consider turning the lights down, moving items off of desks and tables, playing music, and rearranging any classroom furniture.
  • Use helpful tools! Facilitators do not need to create yoga-based lessons and activities on their own. There are many amazing and useful tools, books and resources to help you along your journey. Consider using music, yoga deck cards, books and stories, coloring pages, and yoga props.
  • When creating a yoga-based lesson plan, teachers may want to consider the following:
    • The learning objective of the activity. What do you want the students to know and be able to do? For students to be calmed down, energized, or focused? Let the postures you choose reflect the goals and flow of the lesson plan.
    • Dedicating a few minutes of your yoga lesson to breath work. You may have heard the saying ‘Take a deep breath.’ While this is wonderful suggestion based on simple wisdom, it can be harder than you think when you are feeling a little challenged – it’s one of the main reasons why we practice it in yoga!
    • Visualization and mindfulness activities. Through visualization, we invite students to use their imagination. This can help students to release tension and become calmer.
    • Appropriate yoga postures. Consider the age and developmental level of students as well as other constraints and opportunities.
    • Brain boosting and creative, community-building games. Yoga doesn’t have to always be an individual practice. Consider partner activities, small and larger group games and team-building exercises.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple technique to promote relaxation and mindfulness that focuses on the expansion of the abdomen and diaphragm instead of the chest. This allows students to focus on longer, deeper breathes, rather than short and shallow breaths. Individuals will sometimes count to four or five for the inhalation and then back down to zero with each exhalation. This can help to match each breath.

Sample Breathing Activities:

  • Simple Practice: Sit tall in your chair. Breathe deeply through your nose, into your belly. Imagine that your abdomen is a balloon. Fill up the balloon with air as you inhale, letting your belly, ribs, and then your chest expand. Exhale completely, letting it all go. Repeat several times.
  • Hot Air Balloon Practice: Sitting in a comfortable cross-legged position, start by cupping your hands round your mouth. Take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly start to blow out through your mouth, growing your hands outwards in time with your exhale as if you are blowing up an enormous hot air balloon. This long deep exhalation as you blow up your hot air balloon has a relaxing effect and the image is incredibly vivid for students’ imaginations.
  • Bumble Bee Breathing: Sitting comfortably with your legs crossed, breathe in through your nose, then with fingers in your ears hum out your exhalation. The comforting sound and vibration has a calming effect.

 

Yoga Poses

While there are many yoga postures to choose from, here are five simple postures that are appropriate for any age or ability level and can be performed without any special equipment or props.

Seated spinal twist

Benefits: Good for restoring and maintaining normal spinal rotation; perfect for students who have been sitting for long periods of time.

Seated rainbow pose

Benefit: Provides a nice lateral flexion to stretch out the sides of the body and to engage core strength.

Airplane pose

Benefit: Increases overall balance, coordination, strength and mindfulness!

Frog pose

Benefit: Strengthens the legs, opens the hips, and increases balance.

Star pose

Benefit: This is an active, invigorating yoga pose that energizes the body and improves posture. Its open stance feels expansive, and it is often considered to be a pose that brings joy.

 

Sample Yoga Activities

  • Relate yoga poses to animals, animal sounds, characters and stories. This may be from books, songs or curricula items that you already have.
  • Allow children to create and name new yoga poses and then demonstrate to the class. Allow students to explore their body and use their body in new ways and then creatively name these new yoga poses.
  • Play freeze dance. When the music stops, have students freeze in a yoga pose.
  • Have students pair up and mirror one another using yoga poses. This can be helpful for those students who need to see a pose before they can do it.
  • Create a personalized class set of yoga pose deck cards by having each student pick, illustrate and name a yoga pose on an index card. Teachers can then use these cards for both small and large group activities.

Tips

Practice and model the movements. As with any activity, the facilitator should practice the movements and activities ahead of time. Remember that we are all “learners” and that there is no perfect yoga pose. When appropriate, teachers are also encouraged to share their own limitations with students as a way to demonstrate the inclusive nature of yoga!

Keep it simple – when starting, choose 2-3 beginner postures or activities that allow students to feel successful with a new activity.

Emphasize breathing. When starting, remind everyone to breath comfortably throughout the practice.

Empower students. Be the captain of the ship but offer choices and modification. Get involved and be part of the fun.

Encourage students to explore how their body moves and to only move their body in a way that feels good and comfortable. Try to find various modifications to determine the right variation of the pose to fit his or her body. If the pose invokes any sensations of pain or significant discomfort, encourage the student to stop the pose entirely.

Appreciate that different students have different capabilities and needs. Be patient, provide encouragement, and offer modifications for all movements so that every student can be successful.

Have fun! The intention is the keep it simple and enjoyable. Use your imagination. Encourage the students to explore their body movements and to connect with the joyful feelings associated with physical activity and breathe awareness.