I’m headed into the classroom to deliver a message after recess, but it appears as though the class isn’t there. Lights are out, and the room is quiet. Coming around the corner, however, I hear gentle music and see the learners sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed. At the front of the group, one of the staff quietly leads the group in breathing exercises. I have walked in during yoga practice. All of our elementary classes practice some form of yoga or mindfulness throughout the week. These are powerful tools in our repertoire of strategies for promoting self-regulation and personal awareness at the school.
For the uninitiated, yoga is a series of body positions coordinated with breathing and concentration. According to the Fraser Institute, it is the sixth most common form of complementary/alternative therapy practised in Canada. Practised for thousands of years in a variety of forms, yoga’s devotees report that it helps in a number of different areas, including:
- focus & concentration
- body awareness
- motor planning
- balance and coordination
- spine alignment
- good posture
Although there is currently little clinical research devoted to the outcomes of yoga with children, the practice embodies a number of established effective techniques, such as meditation, circle breathing, and progressive relaxation. In addition, learning new poses practices concentration and motor planning.
Our teachers and EAs are noticing a number of benefits, including increased focus and body awareness. What do the students think? Their feedback is “calming,” “nice,” and “fun,” and that it helps them to focus better when they do yoga before a work period.
If yoga isn’t your thing, but you would like to practice mindfulness/relaxation techniques at home, here are a few suggestions:
- Focus on the Senses
- When your child (or you) is experiencing anxiety, have them pause and focus on their senses. What are three things you hear? see? feel? smell? taste? (the last one may not always be relevant).
- Circle Breathing
- Pause, close the eyes and focus on breathing: in through the nose, out through the mouth. (Smell the flower, blow out the candle)
- Successive Relaxation
- (Can be done sitting or lying down)
- Starting with the feet, tense the muscles, then relax them; move up to the calves, tensing and relaxing, then thighs, etc. move up the body until all of the body has been tensed and relaxed.
- Meditation in the Soles of the Feet (if your child struggles coping with anger or frustration, practicing this skill in advance is an effective, evidence-based strategy)
- Have them sit on a chair in a quiet space, feet planted on the floor, eyes closed.
- Have them think about when they were feeling angry or frustrated and focus on that feeling.
- Have them shift their focus to their feet: wiggle the toes, become aware of the feeling of their socks, shoes, or the floor underneath if the feet are bare.
- Focus on that until they have relaxed.
- Have them practice this daily and use this technique whenever they are feeling angry/frustrated. The great part is, they always have their feet with them!
By Roberta MacDonald, Principal