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Linda Mah
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Strong Mountains, Peaceful Minds

Indian Prairie Teacher Takes Students on Yoga Journeys

Every other week, Jessica Taylor’s first-grade students at Indian Prairie Elementary School go on a hike.

They hike up a mountain, take a few deep breaths of fresh air, pet the dog they brought along with them, hop into a boat to cross the lake and stand as still as trees.

This is their yoga session.

Yoga practitioners will recognize the trip in terms of popular poses: mountain, downward dog, boat, and tree.

Taylor’s students recognize the yoga breaks as a time to move and to be still as each session ends with a relaxation exercise in which the students practice taking calming breaths and letting tension release from their bodies.

Taylor is one of a handful of teachers who have completed training through Yoga Ed to integrate yoga and mindfulness exercises into her daily lessons. Training was paid for through a Kalamazoo Community Foundation grant.

“I practice yoga frequently,” Taylor said. “I experienced positive results from practicing yoga on a weekly basis. I started reading articles about the power of yoga with children and the developing brain. Then, one day, I received information from WMU about a workshop to become yoga certified through the program.”

Her students have responded enthusiastically to the activity.

“The students love yoga,” she said. “There are squeals of excitement when they read yoga on the daily schedule. Many begin jumping up and down stating that they can’t wait for yoga time.”

Candis Ogilvie, a Grand Rapids-based trainer for Yoga Ed, said yoga can be used in regular classrooms as well as in physical education classes. Teachers have the option of training for chair yoga or mat yoga through Yoga Ed. Training includes an introduction to yoga games, relaxation techniques, mindfulness, self-awareness and self-management. The yoga training helps teachers supplement their traditional methods of classroom management, with a practice that students enjoy.

“A lot of schools are starting to implement yoga education, noting that kids have better self-regulation skills,” Ogilvie said. “The goals for student is to help them make the right choices. This is about self-reflection and letting them know that when they're feeling angry or just out of control, now they have tools to bring themselves back in control.”

Ogilvie said that according to brain research conducted at the University of California at Los Angeles, breathing exercises have been shown to help calm the brain. Research conducted at Harvard University suggests yoga and mindfulness can help children with issues of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Taylor said parents have been supportive and have reported their children doing yoga at home.

She said she’d encourage other teachers to explore the possibilities of using yoga in their classrooms. She said she’s lucky to incorporate a yoga lesson into her schedule every other week, but she thinks the basic strategies such as calming breaths and some simple yoga stretches done at the classroom desks could be used during short classroom breaks.

While she doesn’t have empirical data on how yoga has affected her classroom environment, Taylor said she does know one thing for sure: her students like yoga and it is unlike most of the rest of their school day.

“Honestly, they like it all,” she said. They really like the yoga story (about going for a hike), the game and the partner activities. It gives students time to use their imagination and take part in an activity that is not graded.

“Academics and sports tend to be very competitive. Yoga is very unique in the fact that it’s not competitive in the least bit. In fact, yoga stresses the fact that students do the poses and the breaths which feels right to them. It is truly a nonjudgmental zone.”

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