Yoga in Education: 7 Poses and Activities for Your Classroom

Yoga in educationYoung adults are currently more stressed than any other generation.

An online survey called ‘Stress in America’ reported an average stress level of 5.4 out of 10 among 18 to 33-year-olds (Hagen & Nayar, 2014; American Psychological Association, 2021).

When young adults such as these become parents, they may transmit their tension to their children. In addition, children may internalize stress and hide distress from their parents to keep them from worrying.

With high levels of stress becoming a norm in younger households, instilling positive coping mechanisms in an educational setting benefits students, their parents, and future generations.

For that reason, we are specifically going to look at the concept of offering yoga in education and whether this approach instills stress relief mechanisms and improves self-regulation.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

A Look at Yoga in Schools and Education

The implementation of a daily yoga practice in the classroom has specific benefits in school settings, such as reducing stress and bullying behaviors (Thomas & Centeio, 2020).

Students come to school with a variety of different experiences and mindsets based on their living situations and biological predispositions. And because of difficulties they experience, children and adolescents can internalize their stressors to help deal with self-imposed expectations placed on them by their circumstances.

Having yoga as an option to help reduce stress and learn mindfulness may be able to help students respond better to stressful situations.

Why Is Yoga Important in Schools? 6 Benefits

Yoga in schoolsPracticing yoga daily in school facilitates improvement in mental, social, and physical wellbeing, minimizing self-destructive behaviors in the classroom and reducing stress among students (Chen & Pauwels, 2014).

Other positive outcomes that daily yoga practice offers are listed below (Hagen & Nayar, 2014).

  1. Improved concentration and memory
    Practicing daily yoga can help children, specifically those with attention issues, have increased focus. As a result, their concentration, memory, and academic performance can improve, as yoga requires you to focus heavily on the moment.
  2. Respect for peers and others
    Since yoga requires you to be aware of your surroundings, it can help facilitate respect for others, as everyone’s practice is unique and self-directed.
  3. Self-regulation
    Improving self-regulation can help children with their emotions. The pace of yoga allows for children to take the time to identify the emotions they are experiencing and implement strategies to regulate them.
  4. Self-confidence
    Since yoga focuses on deep breathing and other breathing exercises, it increases a child’s ability to remain calm by increasing oxygen flow to the brain. This makes it more likely that children can stay calm, which can result in increased self-confidence, since it is less likely they will be dominated by negative emotions.
  5. Feeling of wellbeing
    As yoga increases a child’s self-confidence and ability to self-regulate, children are more likely to experience higher levels of general wellbeing.
  6. Physical fitness
    Yoga specifically helps improve posture and muscular control. These components help with physical fitness, as it allows children to be more aware of their body and increase physical strength.

Children’s mental health and yoga: 3 Research findings

Several research studies have highlighted the benefits of yoga in improving mental and physical health. Specific improvements that are significant to classroom settings include improved outcomes in behavior, stress reduction, and emotional balance.

To help test outcomes in classroom settings, researchers will often incorporate daily yoga interventions over a period of a few months to a year to study the impact on children’s mental health. Butzer et al. (2015) and Chen and Pauwels (2014) both incorporated 15-minute yoga activities daily.

Butzer et al. (2015) reported improvements in second- and third-graders’ behavior, specifically in attention span and the ability to focus on work and stay on task. They also noted improvements in social-emotional learning.

Chen and Pauwels (2014) implemented the Yoga Ed Tools for Teachers program for a full year for approximately 5–15 minutes per day. Results showed that daily yoga practice improved student mental, social, and physical wellbeing.

These emotional indicators suggest that students who practice yoga may feel less stressed and more resilient when confronted with stressful situations. Overall, yoga was found to be an excellent remedy for reducing negative emotions and distress in children.

Last, Telles et al. (2019) studied adolescents between the ages of 11 and 15 as they engaged in an 18-minute pranayama yoga intervention for three days. Even though the intervention time was short, there was significant improvement noted in attention and general anxiety reduction. These results indicated that yoga helps promote overall emotional balance.

Although research provides generalized benefits, there are more specific benefits associated with integrating yoga into your classroom outlined in the next section.

Creating Yoga Programs and Lesson Plans

Although yoga benefits children, especially in classroom settings, it may be overwhelming for teachers to get started. Integrating a new activity into daily routines and lesson plans can be challenging, especially when there are so many other curricular initiatives that need to be covered.

Similar to planning other lessons, it is important for teachers to lay the groundwork for the lesson. Identifying areas of the curriculum that highlight emotional awareness and then looking at areas where your students would most benefit are good first steps.

Another tactic is to do a stage activity with your students to see if they can identify what situations trigger difficult emotions and what the sensations are. Our My Feelings My Body worksheet is an excellent starting point in helping children identify the sensations in their body and how they are reacting to them.

When making your lesson plans, add in reminders relevant to the pace and students’ ability to engage fully in their practice (Myers, n.d.). Make sure you are starting with easier poses and work your way up to more difficult ones.

Once you’ve decided what kind of yoga practice you are integrating into your classroom, make sure you are making notes where you remind students to breathe or take a break. That way, you can use these cues to help you and your students stay on track and derive the most meaning from classroom yoga.

How to Teach Yoga to Children in Schools

Teaching yoga to childrenIf you are interested in integrating yoga into your daily classroom activities but need help to get started, check out the tips below (adapted from Action for Healthy Kids, n.d.).

  • Create a space and choose a consistent time to practice
    Designate a time for yoga practice and add it to your class’s daily schedule. Always begin with a shorter session and move any furniture necessary to allow children to spread out.
  • Plan your lessons with intention
    Teachers should consider the purpose of integrating daily yoga into the classroom. By coming up with a theme or emotional purpose (e.g., having a daily emotional goal), children can work toward something. Including visualization and breathing exercises will also help children work toward the goals you are setting.
  • Integrate opportunities for relationship and community building among peers
    Yoga does not have to be an individual practice all the time. Incorporating cooperative games where children help each other and engage in visualization activities as a group can help with community building and increase trust among classmates.
  • Use resources
    If you’re overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for help. This article will also provide you with several books, online courses, activities, and exercises you can use in your classroom when getting started.

Which yoga is best for mental health?

Although all types of yoga can be beneficial in improving mental health, hatha yoga has been proven to have the most significant impact on reducing anxiety and stress. It improves chronic fatigue, general self-esteem, general wellbeing, and quality of life (Taspinar et al., 2014).

Unlike other types of yoga that are more vigorous, hatha yoga focuses on simple positions with lots of time for breathing and meditation. Due to its simplicity and ease of integration for individuals of all fitness levels, this type of yoga is the easiest type to integrate into different settings.

When practicing hatha yoga with children, there are some non-movement-based strategies that can be integrated into daily practice, such as the following (adapted from Integral Yoga Magazine, n.d.):

  • Singing/chanting
    Students can simply chant ‘ohm’ at the beginning and end of their practice. ‘Ohm’ is a sacred chant of the universe that helps them recognize their connection to other living creatures and the universe. Students should try to make the ‘ohm’ sound from their throat and feel free to say it as loud as they want to.
  • Mental body scans
    Get students to close their eyes and focus on one body part at a time. Start from the top of their head to the tips of their toes and get them to tighten, then relax, every individual part.
  • Story telling
    Reading a story to children at the end of their practice, while they keep their eyes closed and relax, will allow them to reflect on the story being told.
  • Brief meditation
    Teachers can play soothing music or a meditation script for children and allow them to follow the prompts provided or reflect on a central question.

7 Activities, Poses, and Exercises

When integrating yoga in the classroom, there are several activities, poses, and exercises that you can introduce to your students. The activities, poses, and exercises mentioned below are especially easy to integrate into the classroom environment.

Activities

When integrating yoga, it is important to have activities that introduce this concept. A good introduction to yoga is by having a “be well” discussion every morning after all the students arrive.

Teachers can choose a central theme for the discussion that focuses on daily routines that help improve health, such as getting enough sleep, drinking water, and having a healthy diet.

The discussion can also be centered on spreading positivity such as gratitude, good citizenship, and being a peacemaker. Having this discussion will help put students in a positive mindset, which makes them more open to the calming mindset that yoga requires.

Take 5–10 minutes throughout the day for self-directed relaxation time. During this time, students can engage in quiet mindfulness and reflection activities, such as journaling, coloring, and listening to a guided meditation story. After doing this self-directed reflection activity, children can start their daily yoga in a good mindset.

It is best to integrate these activities at the beginning of the day or after recess so that students are refreshed and have an empty slate to engage in relaxation and meaningful reflection. After engaging in these activities, teachers should start integrating yoga poses and exercises to keep the practice consistent.

Poses and exercises

The poses and exercises teachers choose to integrate depend on how much space they have in their classroom and the focus they have chosen for their students.

To help teachers get started, we have provided five simple poses for students’ yoga practice. The poses are organized in a flow sequence so students can move easily from one pose to the next.

Teachers should demonstrate the poses in real time or hold up a picture of what they should look like. Make sure children are doing the poses on both sides and holding each pose for at least one minute, focusing on their breathing.

Mountain poseMountain Pose

Instructions: Get children to stand straight with their arms at their sides with their palms facing outward.

Descriptors: Stand tall like a tree with your shoulders back, palms facing up.

Extension: Ask children to raise their hands above their head parallel to their ears with palms open.

Tree pose

Tree Pose

Instructions: From the mountain pose, get children to transfer their weight to one side. They will then place the bottom of one foot on the inside of the opposite thigh or calf (avoid the knee). Ask children to place their palms together in a praying position at their chest.

Descriptors: Stand tall like a tree, make a bike stand with one of your feet, and place your hands in a praying position.

Extension: More flexible children can extend their leg up to their thigh and raise their hands above their head (similar to mountain pose extension).

Warrior pose

Warrior Pose

Instructions: From the tree pose, move into a lunge position with one foot back and one forward. Get children to bend their front knee and hold their palms in a praying position over their head with their arms straight. They can then look up toward the sky.

Descriptors: Move into a runner’s lunge. Turn your front foot forward like you are running and press both hands together over your head.

Extension: Spread arms parallel at their sides like a plane.

Cat/Cow pose

Cow Pose

Instructions: Get children to move onto their hands and knees with their arms straight and legs arm’s length apart. Get them to tuck their head and arch their back.

Descriptors: Get down on all fours like a baby who is learning to crawl. Tuck your head in between your arms and lift your spine up like a cat waiting to pounce.

Extension: Get children to lift their heads and lift their bottom up.

Child’s pose

Childs Pose

Instructions: Begin on all fours in a tabletop position. Get children to push their arms forward alongside their torso, palms facing down.

Descriptors: Lower down to the floor and put your arms and legs in a table position. Push your arms forward as far as you can with your arms straight and relax.

Extension: Children can start on their knees and push forward with their arms.

Teacher Trainings in Yoga for Children

With a growing number of yoga training options for teachers, choosing the right program to suit your classroom is important.

When looking for a training provider, consider the following:

  • Is the style of yoga a good fit for your class?
    There are many styles of yoga that vary in speed, technique, and underlying theory. Be sure to choose to train in a style that will suit the educational aims of your class (e.g., emotion regulation, improving physical strength).
  • Is the training suited to your age group?
    Kids will benefit more from a classroom yoga program when the poses are at a difficulty level suited to their age. Be sure to keep this in mind and select a course that includes the foundational basics.
  • Is it formally accredited?
    To ensure you’re getting the highest quality training, consider looking for a training provider recognized or accredited by a formal association or body, such as Yoga Alliance.

Another tip for finding good in-person training is to take a class with the trainer beforehand. That way, you can see if their teaching style is likely to suit you and the needs of your classroom.

3 Education requirements

Most teacher trainings in yoga do not require any additional requirements except to be a teacher. These depend on where teachers are located and working across the world. At a minimum, teachers are required to have:

  • A three or four-year bachelor’s degree
  • Training in a teacher education program or a Bachelor of Education
  • License or registration with an accredited organization that certifies them to teach in their country of residence

It may also be beneficial for teachers pursuing this pathway to have a health and physical education background, since yoga is rooted in movement and healthy living.

3 Best Courses and Online Training Options

Yoga trainingMany reputable courses are available for teachers to help develop their skills integrating yoga in the classroom.

The courses we recommend are delivered in varying formats, ranging from virtual to in-person and group to self-paced.

Yoga 4 Classrooms

The Yoga 4 Classrooms training program is a science-backed yoga and mindfulness curriculum, giving teachers the skills to support their students’ mind–body awareness and social and emotional health (Butzer et al., 2015).

The training offers a holistic solution to supporting the wellbeing of students and teachers through 67 foundational activities (‘mindful moments’) while helping to increase concentration and reduce problem behavior in the classroom.

In addition to yoga, other features of the course include conscious breathing, seated and standing stretches, ‘loosen up’ activities, guided visualizations, and character development.

This training offers continuing education credits and is delivered in a combination of virtual and in-person modes. To learn more, visit the Yoga 4 Classrooms website.

Introduction to Teaching Yoga in PE – Yoga Foster

The four-hour training course offered by Yoga Foster provides a comprehensive introduction to yoga as a form of physical activity, consistent with America’s national standards for student fitness.

The course trains educators to:

  • Deliver a week-long yoga unit to their students
  • Articulate the benefits of yoga for students pre-K through fifth grade
  • Lead a variety of basic yoga-based movements
  • Adapt techniques to accommodate different fitness and ability levels

This training offers professional development credits and is delivered entirely online. To learn more, visit the PE Central website.

The Yoga Child Training – Yoga Child

Yoga Child’s in-depth training course out of Philadelphia teaches educators the skills to provide mindfulness-based yoga training to students pre-K through fifth grade.

With the training, you will gain access to the Yoga Child Teacher Training Manual, which includes a range of musical compilations, meditations, and stories recommended by parents.

This training is conducted in person and ranges from 21 to 33 hours. Upon completion, educators will have a complete curriculum in hand to confidently teach yoga that is safe, fun, and developmentally suited to target age groups between 3 and 10 years old.

You can learn more at the Yoga Child website.

5 Fascinating Yoga Books for Teaching Children

Here are some of our favorite books for teaching children the benefits of yoga and principles around mindfulness and wellbeing.

1. Yoga for Kids: Simple First Steps in Yoga and Mindfulness – Susannah Hoffman

Yoga For Kids

This book is an excellent aid for children’s yoga educators, featuring more than 50 poses and activities.

It includes detailed advice on the equipment you’ll need to get started, as well as tips to ensure each pose is done safely.

Vibrant photos and illustrations make this an engaging and handy reference for teachers and parents alike.

Find the book on Amazon.


2. Mindfulness and Yoga in Schools: A Guide for Teachers and Practitioners – Catherine Cook-Cottone

Mindfulness and Yoga in Schools

This is among the first research-based resources to help teachers and other educators set up a classroom yoga program.

The book includes detailed evidence for the effectiveness of yoga and mindfulness in improving educational outcomes, as well as photographs, scripts, and figures to help craft a school program suited to your context and grade level.

Find the book on Amazon.


3. Teaching Yoga Beyond the Poses: A Practical Workbook for Integrating Themes, Ideas, and Inspiration into Your Class – Sage Rountree and Alexandra DeSiato

Teaching Yoga Beyond the Poses

This book provides a detailed look at the philosophical foundations of yoga. It covers 54 complete themes instructors can use to develop their own lessons, where students come away learning not just poses but lessons for better living.

With practice, teachers can adapt these themes to create their own unique lessons using the templates provided.

Find the book on Amazon.


4. Mindfulness Workbook for Kids: 60+ Activities to Focus, Stay Calm, and Make Good Choices – Hannah Sherman

Mindfulness Workbook for Kids

This book provides a kid-friendly introduction to mindfulness and its benefits for handling tough situations and living happily. It includes over 60 thought-provoking health and wellness activities, including meditation, breathing, and introspection.

Among the many topics covered, this book touches on the themes of worry, decision-making, and kindness.

Find the book on Amazon.


5. Breathing Is My Superpower: Mindfulness Book for Kids to Feel Calm and Peaceful – Alicia Ortego

Breathing is My Superpower

This book is an excellent aid for both parents and educators looking to teach children the power of mindful breathing.

It presents different breathing techniques to help children regain control of emotions when faced with challenging situations.

Beautifully illustrated, this book is suited for children up to 12.

Find the book on Amazon.


Resources From PositivePsychology.com

Looking for more tools to support your classroom yoga? Take a look at the following free resources from our site:

  • Meditation Grounding Scripts for Children
    This reference sheet includes two guided meditations, useful for helping calm a class of students. Two versions of the meditation are provided to suit different age groups.
  • Deep Breathing for Kids
    This script is a great warm-up to a yoga lesson. Across 11 steps, it teaches children the value of deep, calm breathing for soothing intense emotion and inducing calm.
  • Teaching Others About Mindfulness
    This worksheet helps children plan a lesson to teach their peers about mindfulness. Through the exercise, students will consider how to explain the benefits of mindfulness and recommend techniques and resources to their peers.
  • When I’m Scared…
    This worksheet may be a useful supplement to a lesson about emotions and the body. It helps children explore what it feels like when they are afraid and sets the stage for a discussion about yoga as a tool for emotion regulation.
  • 17 Positive Psychology Exercises
    If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

A Take-Home Message

Children are being brought up in an increasingly fast-paced world with new and more complex stressors. Yoga is one avenue for kids to learn to handle such stressors while also being a great form of physical activity.

When taught well, yoga can be a powerful tool to help children discover the interaction between a healthy body and mind. Educators, therefore, have an opportunity in the classroom to introduce kids to one such pathway to wellness – one that also happens to benefit learning and classroom management.

We hope you’ve found the poses and activities explored throughout this post useful or that they’ve inspired you to consider yoga in your classroom.

If you’ve given classroom yoga a try with your students, be sure to tell us about it in the comments.

As always, we’d love to hear from you.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

References

  • Action for Healthy Kids. (n.d.). Yoga for children. Retrieved February 1, 2022, from https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/activity/yoga-and-mindfulness/
  • American Psychological Association. (2021). Stress in America™ survey. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/index
  • Butzer, B., Day, D., Potts, A., Ryan, C., Coulombe, S., Davies, B., Weidknecht, K., Ebert, M., Flynn, L., & Khalsa, S. B. S. (2015). Effects of a classroom-based yoga intervention on cortisol and behavior in second and third grade students: A pilot study. Journal of Evidence Based Contemporary Medicine, 20(1), 41–49.
  • Chen, D. D., & Pauwels, L. (2014). Perceived benefits of incorporating yoga into classroom teaching: Assessment of the effects of “Yoga Tools for Teachers.” Advances in Physical Education, 4, 138–148.
  • Cook-Cottone, C. P. (2017). Mindfulness and yoga in schools: A guide for teachers and practitioners. Springer.
  • Hagen, I. & Nayar, U. S. (2014). Yoga for children and young people’s mental health and well-being: Research review and reflections on the mental health potentials of yoga. Front Psychiatry, 5(35).
  • Hoffman, S. (2018). Yoga for kids: Simple first steps in yoga and mindfulness. DK Children.
  • Integral Yoga Magazine. (n.d.). Integral Yoga hatha class for children (ages 4-12). Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://integralyogamagazine.org/integral-yoga-hatha-class-for-children-ages-4-12/
  • Myers, J. (n.d.). Yoga lesson plan tips for creating your own. Retrieved February 1, 2022, from https://yoga.lovetoknow.com/How_to_Write_Out_a_Yoga_Lesson
  • Ortego, A. (2020). Breathing is my superpower: Mindfulness book for kids to feel calm and peaceful. Author.
  • Rountree, S., & DeSiato, A. (2019). Teaching yoga beyond the poses: A practical workbook for integrating themes, ideas, and inspiration into your class. North Atlantic Books.
  • Sherman, H. (2020). Mindfulness workbook for kids: 60+ Activities to focus, stay calm, and make good choices. Rockridge Press.
  • Taspinar, B., Bas-Aslan, U., Agbuga, B., & Taspinar, F. (2014). A comparison of the effects of hatha yoga and resistance exercise on mental health and well-being in sedentary adults: A pilot study. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 22, 433–440.
  • Telles, S., Kumar-Gupta, R., Gandharva, K., Vishwakarma, B., Kala, N., & Balkrishna, A. (2019). Immediate effect of a yoga breathing practice on attention and anxiety in pre-teen children. Children (Basel), 6(7), 84-91.
  • Thomas, E. M., & Centeio, E. E. (2020). The benefits of yoga in the classroom: A mixed-methods approach to the effects of poses and breathing and relaxation techniques. International Journal of Yoga, 13(3), 250–254.

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