By Didi Dunin, CEI Intern, certified yoga instructor
Research shows that practicing yoga in schools has a number of benefits for students, including decreased stress; increased focus, self-regulation, and emotional cognition; and better academic performance (see Yoga in Schools Part 1).
What does yoga in schools look like?
To ensure students are getting the maximum benefits from these sessions, there should be a structural format that includes breath work, stretching, movement, and relaxation. Each session should also be unique and fun to keep the students engaged. One way to do this is to incorporate your current lesson plans and learning material directly into the yoga sessions over the course of the semester.
Teachers may also wish to use songs, stories, or games. Older children could try a mindful practice that includes intention setting or learn about the history of yoga.
Below are some specific examples of what a yoga lesson might entail for children ages three to eight, but could be adapted for younger or older children, lasting between fifteen and forty-five minutes. The examples should be used as a guide and as a means for inspiration.
Calming Breath Work
Breath work done at the beginning of class or after a transition can calm students’ brains and bodies. This can be especially beneficial for students who experience anxiety before a big test or presentation. Students should sit comfortably with an upright spine.
- Belly Breathing: Placing one hand on the belly, feel the belly rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale.
- Bunny Breath: Take three rapid inhales through the nose followed by a long exhale.
- Lion’s Breath: Take a deep inhale though the nose and a “roaring” exhale through the mouth.
- Straw Breath: Inhale and exhale through a rolled tongue.
- Spiderman/Elsa Breaths: Clench fists to charge up webs/ice as you inhale through the nose, open the hands with the palms up to release the webs/ice as you exhale through the mouth.
- Alternative Nostril Breathing: After taking a full inhale through the nose, use the right thumb to plug the right nostril and exhale out the left. Inhale out the left nostril and then use your right pinky to plug the left nostril. Exhale out the right nostril, then inhale through the right nostril.
Making Postures Fun
You might wish to work with one of the themes below, use poses from multiple themes, or create your own theme according to current seasons, holidays, or lesson plans.
- Turtle: child’s pose
- Downward Facing Dog: on all fours with tail in the air
- Cobra: on belly; inhale to rise the chest, “hiss” to lower
- Cat/ Cow: on all fours; “moo” in cow, “hiss” in cat
- Flamingo: standing balance on one foot
- Frog: crouch low in a squat; hop like a frog
- Butterfly: sitting with feet together; gently flap knees up and down
- Tree: balance on one foot; sway “branches” (arms) in the air or have children hold hands to make a “forest”
- Lotus flower: sit in cross-legged position
- Crescent moon: side-bend
- Star: standing hold with legs and arms open or jumping jacks
- Rectangle: plank pose
- Square: cat pose
- Triangle: downward facing dog pose
- Star: star pose
- Circle: child’s pose
Remember to focus on having fun with movement, not on practicing perfectly aligned poses. Read about more fun poses for kids in this article from Jen Reviews. Explore some of the yoga apps we will share with you in Part 3 of this blog series, which is coming soon!
- Music can set a desired mood or supplement additional learning material
- Relaxing nature or ocean sounds
- Sing-a-long: If You’re Happy and You Know it
- Yoga Nursery Rhymes for preschool and elementary students
- Props can be used for balance, focus or comfort
- Bean bags
- Games can make the session more playful and fun, but make sure children aren’t focused on getting too competitive or feeling left out
- Freeze dance: have the children dance around until you call out the name of a yoga pose. Students then freeze in that pose.
- Musical Mats: Similar to Musical Chairs, students move around the mats in a circle. When the music stops, each student must find a mat and get into the yoga pose.
- Yogi Says: Similar to Simon Says, the leader chooses to preface the movement with “Yogi Says” or not.
Relaxing with Yoga
The final segment of the yoga session used to calm the student’s mind and body. It may include a guided meditation, a still posture set to a slow song, or more breath work. Students can lay on their back or sit in their chairs with eyes closed, while you read a meditation like the following:
Imagine that you are your favorite animal settling in for a long night’s sleep. You can hear the soothing sound of the waves crashing, the cool ocean breeze on your face, and the soft warm sand beneath you. Take in some long deep breaths as you spend a few minutes in this place feeling completely calm and safe.
As you can see, the opportunities for learning during yoga are endless and can be adapted for any age or ability. Stay tuned for part 3 of CEI’s blog series on Yoga in Schools on yoga apps for even more useful tips.
For more resources: