Yoga in Schools: Enhanced Academic Performance and Student Wellbeing

By Didi Dunin, CEI Intern

With the rise of globalization and competition has come an increased demand for academic performance, thereby leading schools to eliminate arts and gym classes with the intention of increasing the rigor of learning. Consequently, this exposure to societal pressures and performance demands have created extreme stress in children to excel, compete, and win. Unfortunately, this has come at a cost to students’ and teachers’ mental and physical health and has actually lowered academic performance. One way to alleviate these detrimental effects, while at the same time increasing academic performance, is to decrease stress and increase self-efficacy and compassion. How you ask?

Yoga in Schools

Many schools across the United States have started testing the effects of yoga and meditation in the school setting on a variety of student outcomes through mindfulness interventions. The results are clear. Yoga has a significant impact on children’s learning and well being.  

Research has shown that yoga in school:

  • Reduces anxiety and stress
  • Benefits learning
  • Increases self-regulation
  • Fosters compassion

Healthy Stress Management

Yoga interventions in schools repeatedly show that yoga reduces students’ anxiety (e.g., Eggleston, 2015; Kauts & Sharma, 2009). One noteworthy intervention is the Kids Work It Out (KWIO) program, a not-for- profit organization that aims to utilize yoga to assist children in reducing anxiety, preventing obesity, and increasing self-esteem. KWIO reaches hundreds of children each year through a 10-week yoga and nutrition program offered at elementary schools and community centers. According to KWIO, “93% of students said yoga made them feel more relaxed and 72% of students used breathing techniques to reduce stress” (Kwasky & Serowoky, 2018).

Yoga calms both the mind and the body through its attenuation of the fight or flight response, which becomes overactivated during stress (Streeter, Gerbarg, Saper, Ciraulo, & Brown, 2012).  

Brain Boosting

In addition to reducing stress, yoga has proven to have positive effects on learning, including increased (Brunner, Abramovitch, & Etherton, 2017; Diamond & Lee, 2011):

  • focus
  • attention
  • memory
  • awareness
  • prefrontal cortex functioning

All of these contribute to more efficient time spent in the classroom. This is because, unlike gym class or recess, yoga is unique in that it is a non-competitive physical and mental practice that calms the child to a mental readiness to engage in learning. Accordingly, after children have done a yoga session, they are less likely to be bouncing off the walls and their minds are less likely to wander.

Understanding and Balancing Emotions

Students develop an enhanced mind-body connection through yoga and meditation, which then helps children better cope with challenges and negative emotions.

For example, students can learn to understand that their chest feels tight when they are stressed or that their head feels light when they are hungry or tired. Learning to be aware of and listen to these cues helps children act with the appropriate response (deep breathing or having a snack) instead of acting out or feeling helpless (Stueck & Gloeckner, 2005).

Creating Compassionate Communities

Through yoga, students learn to appreciate the strength of their bodies and their hearts. This is because yoga fosters self-esteem and compassion, thereby combatting the negative social influence of having the “perfect” body and the pervasive judgment of others.

The synching of breath and postures also cultivates a sense of oneness, empathy, and community with their peers and the world around them. As a result, yoga programs have resulted in a decrease in bullying post-intervention. For example, preadolescent students in an anti-bullying yoga program entitled, CALMING KIDS: Creating a Non-Violent World had a decrease by 60% in their own bullying behavior and a 42% decrease in regard to being bullied by others at school (Marie, Wyshak, & Wyshak, n.d.).  The researchers contribute this to one of yoga’s primary principals called ahimsa, or nonviolence, as well as yoga’s beneficial effects on self-esteem and compassion.

In sum, teaching life-long skills of concentration and acceptance by way of yoga can benefit children in a variety of ways that can positively impact social, emotional, and academic domains.

Stay tuned for specific postures, sequences, and lesson plans that you can incorporate into yoga sessions in your school for part 2 of CEI’s blog series on Yoga in Schools.

References

Brunner, D., Abramovitch, A., & Etherton, J. (2017). A yoga program for cognitive enhancement. Plos One, 12(8).

Diamond, A., & Lee, K. (2011). Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4 to 12 years old. Science, 333(6045), 959-964.

Eggleston, B. (2015). The benefits of yoga for children in schools. The International Journal of Health, Wellness, and Society, 5(3), 1-7.

Kwasky, A. N., & Serowoky, M. L. (2018). Yoga to enhance self efficacy: An intervention for at-risk oyuth. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 32(1), 82-85.

Marie, D., Wyshak, G., & Wyshak, G. (n.d.). Yoga Prevents Bullying in School. Retrieved from https://calmingkids.org/YogaPreventsBullyingInSchool.pdf.

Sharma, N., & Kauts, A. (2009). Effect of yoga on academic performance in relation to stress. International Journal of Yoga, 2(1), 39.

Streeter, C., Gerbarg, P., Saper, R., Ciraulo, D., & Brown, R. (2012). Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical Hypotheses, 78(5), 571-579.

Stueck, M., & Gloeckner, N. (2005). Yoga for children in the mirror of the science: Working spectrum and practice fields of the training of relaxation with elements of yoga for children. Early Child Development and Care, 175(4), 371-377.

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