As a new teacher, my greatest concern and worry was how to keep a classroom of eager and busybodied second graders focused and attentive. I was very nervous on implementing my behavior management techniques, not knowing if the students would respond in a positive or negative manner. At times, I find keeping students attention and interest in the subject matter challenging. I teach students with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities, as well as students that are constantly moving around in their seat or on the carpet. I quickly lose their attention and focus, and regaining their interest in lessons is a difficult task. My reactions and behavior management techniques are predictable to the students; therefore I need a different and fresh approach to capture and hold all students attention.
Moreover, my unit will address internal issues that can challenge change in young children. These challenges include outside stressors (in the home/community), peer pressure, and mental health illnesses. Yoga will provide an inward calmness to allow students to focus on class assignments, homework, and positive interactions with others. My unit will integrate health and social development with concepts in literacy (retelling fables and meanings).
The Benefits of Yoga
The benefits of yoga have been described by Freeman in the book Once Upon a Pose.
Yoga safely stretches the muscles and releases lactic acid that builds up with muscle use. Stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue can result without stretching. While practicing yoga, flexibility increases rapidly as opposing muscles are trained and work together. Yoga increases range of motion in joints. Additionally, it stretches muscles and soft tissue in the body, including ligaments and tendons.
Strength and Resiliency
Yoga poses (asanas) build core strength that develops a healthy body. Muscle tone is improved by requiring the support of body weight in different ways that include standing poses, balancing poses, and inversions. Yoga develops long, strong muscles. Yoga poses involves muscle control by activating large and small muscles, and a full body workout by holding poses. Yoga renews, invigorates, and heals the body. Energy levels and endurance are increased.
Yoga develops balance and creates symmetry throughout the body: right and left, front and back, high and low. Several asanas focus on balancing on one leg at a time. In younger children, the need to develop and practice is essential. Older children have acquired a basic skill of balance and therefore needs a challenge on a more difficult level. Older people seek more mental and emotional balance. In her book Once Upon a Pose, Donna Freeman states, "Learning when to push, control and be assertive and when to yield, submit, and be passive, is a part of the yoga experience."
Yoga centers on the present, which develops focus, concentration, and discipline. It increases the attention span, memory, and learning efficiency, which can lead to improved academic development.
Yoga helps train the mind and builds attention to detail by mindfully performing breathing exercises and meditation. Eye-hand coordination, reaction time, dexterity, and fine motor skills are enhanced. Moreover, guided relaxation contributes to the relaxation response to allow the body to release stress while the mind focuses to define and fulfill personal destiny.
Yoga places great emphasis on deepening and lengthening the breath. The chest wall expansion and forced expiratory lung volumes are increased. Lung capacity improves and respiratory efficiency increases. This results in better sports performance and endurance, as well as provides release for those with asthma.
Body-Awareness and Self-Image
Yoga increases awareness of the body that requires defined placement of body parts in combination with small subtle movements that improves body alignment. An increase comfort with one's own body and spatial awareness and understanding develops. Better posture and greater self-confidence evolves due to improved muscle tone, a longer and stronger body, and an awareness of body and space. Children can begin to understand and appreciate their bodies by learning basic anatomy. This knowledge brings a sense of peace and contentment that enriches personal awareness and self-acceptance.
Yoga decreases the hormones and neurotransmitters produced in response to stress to create a sense of calm.
Yoga increases hormones that make the body feel good such as oxytocin, which is associated with feeling relaxed and connected to others. Therefore, one's mood improves and the subjective well-being in increases. Lastly, yoga promotes calm and clear thinking, even in quick reaction situations.
Yoga is simple to learn and perform, costs little to no money, and is accessible. It is non-competitive which allows individuals to work at their own pace and within their capabilities. Yoga is something everyone can do and feel good about doing. Accommodations can be made for those with physical limitations and challenges. Yoga can be practiced with little to no equipment. Yoga practice can vary in time from 5 minutes of relaxation to a 30-minute workout. Both are acceptable, practical and effective.
Yoga can be applied in all subject area across the curriculum. Yoga can be incorporated in language arts through storytelling, rhymes and chants. In mathematics, students can create patterns and shapes with their bodies and learn positional vocabulary. Yoga can be applied in science through anatomy, biology, and studying various aspects of nature. In physical education students can develop physical ability, playing and working cooperatively, and working within the safe zone in understanding under- and over- exertion. In health and life skills, yoga is beneficial by celebrating individuality, uniqueness, gifts, and talents, developing respect for self and other, and learning body and personal care. Uniquely, yoga can be applied in foreign language through translating Sanskrit terms and vocabulary and translating stories in other languages. Yoga can infuse creativity and beauty in performing yoga poses and visual arts by drawing or photographing yoga or what the poses bring to mind in art class. Yoga can be applied in music class through songs and chants used during yoga. Lastly, drama class can incorporate yoga through performing personal stories by using yoga postures and poses.
Yoga can promote greater learning by simultaneously incorporating numerous abilities and senses. Howard Gardner, Harvard University professor who described various ways in which children process information, described multiple intelligences in which teachers can tap into to approach different learning styles in students.
The multiple intelligences are based on children's personalities and interests that motivate behavior and actions. Yoga can be applied throughout all aspects of subjects and curriculum, as well as supporting different types of learner and learning styles. The verbal/linguistic intelligence describes learners who enjoy words, talking, language and writing. The logical/mathematical intelligence describes learners who like to make patterns, can conceptualize abstract ideas, and scientific investigation. The visual/spatial intelligence pertains to learners who take enjoyment in visualizing and drawing, paying attention to details, and has good spatial awareness. The bodily/kinesthetic intelligence involves learners using their bodies to solve problems. This learner has good balance, coordination and agility. The musical/rhythmic intelligence pertains to learners who enjoy making up songs and follows musical patterns and rhythms. The interpersonal intelligence pertains to learners who love to socialize, take leadership roles, and working in teams. The intrapersonal intelligence describes learners who are thinkers, self reflects, and likes to work alone or with a partner or small group. Learners possessing this intelligence take time to process new information before answering questions and invent new ways of approaching a problem. The naturalist intelligence describes learners who love animals, plants and flowers, and nature and the outdoors as a whole.
Thus, yoga stretches into each domain of intelligence to involve children despite learning style. Children may possess a combination of these intelligences to activate learning and retention of information. Students who possess the verbal/linguistic intelligence may enjoy reading and writing stories that incorporate yoga poses. Learners of the logical/mathematics intelligence may enjoy making and counting triangles made with their arms and legs while performing poses. The visual/spatial learner may draw a series of yoga postures or take pride in being aware of the size of the physical space in which yoga is practiced. They are aware of the constraints and boundaries to perform yoga. Learners of the bodily/kinesthetic intelligence use their bodies to enhance their coordination and balance. They enjoy the body movement of the yoga poses. The musical/rhythmic learner will find enjoyment in performing yoga to music. Yoga provides the interpersonal learner to teach peers in yoga poses and perform yoga in groups. The intrapersonal learner will self-reflect and build self-confidence during yoga. Lastly, the naturalist learner will enjoy learning different animal yoga poses as they may learn different facts about animals and nature.
Precautions and Safety
Yoga is not intended to cause discomfort or injury. Children should not strain or strive to do a pose perfectly. There is no competition or comparison to others while performing yoga. It is an individual practice. Teachers and children should keep in mind all safety measures and precautions while implementing yoga lessons. Yoga should be practiced in a spacious and unrestrictive environment. A comfortable room temperature should be maintained. Poses should be performed on level ground without distraction to encourage focus and attention. A yoga mat can be used to prevent slipping. Poses can be done on a carpet. Movement should be slow and within capability without straining. Yoga should not be performed on a full stomach. Performing certain some poses can induce vomiting if done too soon after eating. The general rule is to wait two to four hours after eating a large meal or one to two hours after eating a light meal or snack. Yoga should be avoided if a student is ill or have serious challenges in which a posture or breathing exercise is difficult to achieve. Poses or breathing can be modified to fit a student's needs or not performed at all.
Yoga may have religious and spiritual connotations. For application in the classroom, yoga is solely performed for fun and enjoyment only.