What it is & Why we do it
Yoga is an ancient contemplative practice that brings together physical postures, deep stretching and relaxation, and breath control (Peck, Kehle, Bray, & Theodore, 2005; Hagins & Rundle, 2016), while also incorporating cognitive awareness, or mindfulness. The term “mindfulness” can be described as an intentional awareness, paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, being in the present moment, being open-minded and accepting towards the experiences and sensations of your mind and body, and understanding why you feel the way you feel or why you are having certain thoughts (Burke, 2010; Weare, 2013).
Yoga and mindfulness are non-academic activities, which are typically considered of lesser importance than academic learning within the education system. However, research suggests that non-academic activities, including yoga and mindfulness, are just as important as academic learning and can have a large, positive impact on the academic world (Finnan, 2015).
Research into the benefits and feasibility of practicing yoga and mindfulness in the classroom is a recent field of study, emerging in 2005, with most of the research being conducted after 2010. Although an emerging field, research indicates that practicing yoga and mindfulness increases/improves
- emotional regulation (Shapiro, et al., 2015)
- coping skills (Weare, 2013; Klatt, Harpster, Browne, White, and Case-Smith, 2013)
- attention and independence (Garg, et al., 2013)
- empathy and metacognitive awareness (Weare, 2013; Shapiro, et al., 2015)
- self-compassion and moral development (Shapiro, et al., 2015)
- self-regulation (Bergen-Cico, Razza, & Timmins, 2015; Garg, et al., 2013; Shapiro, et al., 2015)
- sleep (Weare, 2013)
- self-esteem (Weare, 2013; Klatt, et al., 2013; Tummers, 2005)
- mood and affect (Felver, Butzer, Olson, Smith, & Khalsa, 2015; Waters, Barksy, Ridd, & Allen, 2015).
On the other side of this, yoga and mindfulness practices have also been found to reduce
- anxiety (Weare, 2013; Frank, Bose, and Schrobenhauser-Clonan, 2014; Shapiro, et al., 2015; Waters, et al., 2015)
- stress (Weare, 2013; Klatt, et al., 2013; Felver, Deorner, Jones, Kaye, and Merrell, 2013; Tummers, 2005; Frank, et al., 2014; Waters, et al., 2015; Viafora, Mathiesen, & Unsworth, 2015)
- negative mood and hostility (Felver, et al., 2015; Viafora, et al., 2015)
- intrusive thoughts and rumination (Weare, 2013; Frank, et al., 2014; Shapiro, et al., 2015)
- depression/depressive symptoms (Weare, 2013; Frank, et al., 2014; Mendelson, 2010; Shapiro, et al., 2015).
With all of these benefits, it seems clear that we should be practicing yoga and mindfulness from a young age, particularly because these aspects of our development, largely stress and self-esteem, are carried from childhood into adulthood (Napoi, Rock Krech, and Holley, 2005). What’s more, research has shown that children are now experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety, particularly within the education system (Napoli, et al., 2005; Frank, et al., 2014; Finnan, 2015; Viafora et al., 2015).
Our education system demands a lot from students beginning at a young age and students often struggle with keeping themselves and their emotions regulated. Unregulated emotions can impair a student’s attention span and memory functions, as well as harm their ability to determine what information provided by the teacher is and is not important. Students can become overwhelmed by their studies, while also managing their home life and extracurricular activities (Frank, et al., 2014; Finnan, 2015). With all of these demands and increased stress within the educational environment, shouldn’t we be teaching our students how to appropriately manage their stress, thereby providing them with the lifelong skills needed to contribute to healthy, positive wellbeing?
In case you need more convincing…
TED talk: Whitechapel with Richard Burnett: Mindfulness in Schools
TED talk with Susan Kaiser Greenland: Teaching the ABCs of Attention, Balance, and Compassion
TED Talk with Amy Burke: Mindfulness in Education: Learning from the Inside Out
Yoga in Schools: Pilot Project, Yoga Association of Alberta
Read my full paper here.
See complete references here.
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