It’s increasingly common for office workers to integrate yoga techniques into their workday as a means of countering prolonged sitting and of refreshing their ability to concentrate. But religious concerns have caused ongoing controversy about schoolchildren, who also spend many hours sitting each day, leveraging the benefits of yoga.
Beyond ‘Namaste’: The benefits of yoga in schools
Most recently, the issue was raised by parents in Georgia whose children attend an elementary school that implemented yoga in the classroom. Although yoga is not a religion in and of itself, it is a philosophy, rooted in Hinduism, composed of a system of various practices designed to heighten spirituality.
However, what the concerned parents probably don’t realize is that the popular Americanized version of yoga being taught in schools is a secular form of mind-body exercise focused on mental and physical benefits, not spirituality.
In 2013, a judge in Encinitas, California, ruled against a suit initiated by parents seeking to end a yoga program at their children’s school, stating that the school was not teaching religion through its yoga classes.
I agree with the judge. When children do yoga, they aren’t practicing religion; they are training life-enhancing abilities that can positively impact every child, regardless of faith. According to a 2012 study published in The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, middle-school students taking yoga reported positive mood and attitude changes, increased energy and improved ability to relax, as well as improved posture.
As a mother who has done yoga with all three of my children, the youngest of whom is on the autism spectrum, I can attest to the myriad benefits, ranging from physical advantages like improved sport performance and posture to profoundly valuable mental skills like self-control and the ability to manage stress.
Below, I’ve outlined my top three reasons why and ways how yoga should be taught in schools. Although the exercises I’ve shared are most appropriate for preschool through preteen, yoga-based practices for better breathing, movement and mindfulness can and should be adapted for any age group.