Why Kids – and Schools – Need Yoga
Adopting a yoga regime in schools could improve student mental health – and even reduce bullying and drug use.
This article is based on reporting that features expert sources.
A yoga and mindfulness program at Mountain View School District, a small K-12 public school in Kingsley, Pennsylvania, is helping students become less stressed, anxious and even perform better on exams.
Like many schools, Mountain View’s curriculum focuses strongly on their students scoring well on state-issued exams. This added pressure not only diminished how their students perform on their tests, but it also took a toll on their overall well-being. Faculty and administrators at the school decided to take action. They wanted to adopt a more holistic wellness strategy to help children manage their stress.
“This is what our education system lacks,” Stephanie Anuszewski, director of special services, says. “We give them all of these standardized tests, and we just expect them to know how to cope, and it’s not fair. At least with yoga, mindfulness and breathwork, they will have something in their toolbag to help them cope with stress.”
Why Kids – and Schools – Need Yoga
According to Anuszewshi, the school’s new yoga initiative helps at-risk, severely depressed and suicidal children make remarkable strides in their health.
Science also aligns with Mountain View’s experience. A 2016 research review of yoga in school settings conducted by Sat Bir Khalsa, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital was published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. While more research needs to be done, it found that yoga has great potential to help students deal with stress and anxiety – and also develop life skills.
“Yoga provides behavioral strategies that could not only prevent the onset of these conditions, they could also improve human functioning, including cognitive and academic performance, well-being and quality of life,” Khalsa says. “This research can demonstrate that yoga belongs in the school curriculum as a mandatory behavioral practice to improve socio-emotional learning. This has been referred to as the education of the whole child, not just education to prepare children for an occupation.”
Khalsa’s yoga research provides hope that yoga can be an efficient proactive measure to tackle the pressures of school before they become debilitating.
“Our focus was on prevention of mental health conditions,” he says. He and his colleagues saw improvements in stress, resilience, anxiety, emotional regulation and risk of substance abuse.
Mountain View first offered yoga to their most at-risk students and found such positive results, they decided to initiate a school-wide yoga program.
“In high school, we (initially) targeted the most disruptive students,” Anuszewski says. “We have these burly male students that you wouldn’t think would enjoy yoga, and they loved it. And you could see self-regulation has increased and behavior disruption decreased. It’s noticeably different and definitely beneficial.”
The Benefits of Yoga in the Classroom
At the beginning of the 2019 school year, Mountain View started a district-wide yoga initiative, with the help of a grant they were awarded from the Pennsylvania Association for Rural and Small Schools.
Within the first few months, the school district of around 1,000 students had 100 who voluntarily attended yoga.
“Every week we get 10 new participants,” Anuszewski says. “The kids and the parents love it. They have all bought in to the yoga concept.”
The school’s yoga program has gotten so big, they divided the yoga classes into three groups by grade levels and made designated mindfulness rooms.
Classes are held weekly for 50 minutes during the school day, without interfering with their academic schedule. If a student decides they don’t want to attend yoga, they have an option to receive personal help with their homework instead.