“Anybody can do this,” says Leah Kalish, program director for Yoga Ed., a Los Angeles-based organization that offers workshops and resources to help preK-8 teachers use yoga-based techniques in the classroom. (A high school program is in the works.) The breathing exercises, postures, games, and visualizations don’t require a background in yoga—or even the ability to do a backbend.
A 2003 study by researchers from the Charter College of Education at California State University, Los Angeles, found that yoga can improve students’ grades, behavior, self-esteem, and physical health. And, according to Kalish, the methods also help teachers have fun and stay inspired.
That’s why, she says, Yoga Ed.’s “Tools for Teachers” program has spread quickly in just three years; it is now being used in about 30 states.
The techniques take five to 15 minutes each and are designed to be used during transition times—first thing in the morning, for example, or immediately after recess. The activities are more playful than standard adult yoga (some activities encourage kids to croak like frogs or wag their tails), though many are intended to help students settle down and focus on learning. Others aim to reduce test stress or reenergize the class.
For example, Kalish suggests a simple breathing technique to use when kids are rambunctious, stressed, or unfocused: “Have them breathe in through their noses and then hiss—making a gentle ‘s’ sound—for as long as they can, inviting them to slow down their inner speed.”
A visualization also works. “What I always say to kids is that there’s a vertical and a horizontal,” Kalish says. “When we’re learning and talking and doing, all of our energy is going horizontally. So when we pull ourselves back in and we reconnect with the vertical, it’s like letting the umbrella rest. Let it come down and just, whew, pull itself back in. You create imagery where kids lengthen their spines, relax their bellies, start breathing deeply. They root down.”
To energize students, Kalish uses a Yoga Ed. game called Yogi Benders in which the teacher tells students which body parts can touch the ground—one hand and one foot, for example, or two elbows and one knee (and nothing else). “So now kids are laughing and having fun,” she says. “Then you can pair the kids up, and you say, ‘Between the two of you, two feet and one hand.’”
Sometimes, though, students just need to rest. That’s when Kalish recommends having them lie down with their legs up on a chair, turning the lights down, and perhaps using aromatherapy or visualization. “You have to know when,” Kalish cautions. “Sometimes it’s not about pushing them.”
For more information, visit the Yoga Ed. Web site at www.yogaed.com, where you can find sample tools and lesson plans after completing a free registration (go to “materials”), or purchase manuals, CDs, and decks of activity cards. Yoga Ed. also offers training for PE instructors who want to teach yoga in gym class.
A version of this article appeared in the January 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as Do Your Omwork