Q: I recently heard an author of a book about yoga say that studies show it helps people relax. So many of our kids get totally stressed during testing, I wonder if yoga would help. It would be more productive than the scary hype and pep rallies we have the week before our big state tests! Do any schools teach yoga to help students chill?
A: A growing number of schools offer yoga. While some do it as part of "the new P.E." that engages kids in physical activities they can enjoy for a lifetime, others do it for the stress-reduction benefits many kids seem to find in the practice.
Several schools in Broward County, Fla., began incorporating yoga lessons into the schedule after seeing how a yoga-based curriculum called "S.T.O.P. and Relax" helped teach self-calming to children with autism spectrum disorders. (Find out more at stopandrelax.net.)
Is there truth behind the claim that yoga reduces tension? Yes, says William Broad, author of "The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards." "If yoga does one thing," he says, "it slows you down. It relaxes you." (To learn more, listen to Broad's interview on NPR's "Science Friday," www.sciencefriday.com.)
Several California schools started incorporating yoga lessons into the school day after a 2003 California State University, Los Angeles, study showed that kids who participated in yoga classes had better classroom behavior and grades. And, based on scores from the annual California Physical Fitness Test, they were more physically fit than the control group.
In visits to elementary schools in Florida, California, Texas and New York, I've observed yoga being adapted and practiced joyfully and confidently by kids of all abilities. The key is crafting a program that fits the culture of the classroom and the developmental levels of kids.
Don't expect to replicate the serenity of your local studio, nor should you envision kids holding poses for long stretches in their Lululemons. Kids are still wiggly, and the "attire" is what they wear to school.
One program many schools follow is Yoga 4 Classrooms, created by Lisa Flynn and piloted for three years at the Central Elementary School in South Berwick, Maine. Flynn's mission is "to teach strategies that help children develop resilience, positive perceptions, good health habits and mindful awareness." YoKid, a Virginia-based nonprofit, offers programs and certifies parents and teachers in the Mid-Atlantic States.
Yoga appeals to cash-strapped schools because it doesn't require expensive equipment or special space. Educators appreciate that yoga can lower tension and help students relax.
"What's not to like about a program that can teach self-calming, reduce stress, improve circulation, flexibility, blood flow, digestion, respiration and posture?" asks a California teacher who leads her third-graders in stretching and breathing poses each day. "Just don't call it yoga or you'll be fighting a religious battle. I learned the hard way, which is why you can't use my name. Now we call it our 'out of seat work,' and it works just fine!"
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)