Yoga techniques can help us to better cope with stress, to increase our focus, and to integrate our bodies with our minds and breath. Regular application of these tools “overrides the stress response and lowers blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol, clearing the slate for learning, and [for] developing both mental and physical focus, strength, balance, and flexibility”. (Guber and Kalish 2007) According to Guber and Kalish, “Exercise such as yoga:
- Over-rides the body’s physiological response to stress on the body. Conscious breathing initiates the relaxation response and re-integrates the nervous system for receptivity. Yoga postures and games activate and integrate all the body’s systems to bring students back into an energized, alert states. Stimulates whole-brain function for optimal learning. Breathing and physical activity fuels the brain and body with oxygen and glucose through blood circulation.
- Raises levels of glucose, serotonin, epinephrine, and dopamine, all chemical messengers known to balance behavior and inhibit hunger. The chemical messengers present under stress usually make us want the quick fix of unhealthy food!
- Triggers BDNF, a neuro -tropic factor required for neurons to communicate. The flow of BDNF decreases after 20 minutes of sitting and is triggered again with movement.
- Shifts body-brain into a homeostatic state – balancing brain chemicals, hormones, electricity and the functioning of all the body’s systems, which supports making healthy food choices.
- Strengthens key areas of the brain – basal ganglia, cerebellum and corpus callosum by building brain cells and connections.
- Improves mental focus and concentration (Caterino and Polk, 1999) by stimulating the frontal lobe of brain – enhancing memory, creativity and academic achievement. (Michund and Wild 1991), (Brink, 1995), (Vanves and Blanchard).
- Organizes and stimulates the whole brain – unifying the cognitive and motor regions of [the] brain and increasing synaptic connections, particularly when employing cross-lateral movements (Dennison and Hannaford).
- Develops eye muscle fitness and helps with reading.
- Enhances vestibular, cerebellum and reticular activating system integration, which is critical to strengthening our attention and coordination, both physical and cognitive.
- Helps 85% of students who are kinesthetic learners (Hannaford). Learning through body is more powerful than learning through listening and recalling facts (Jensen). If it’s not in your body, you really haven’t learned it.
- Creates a fun, harmonious and safe way for learning and developing social skills.
- Reduces stress, increasing mind and body fitness and developing the 2 key factors of lifetime health:
- Self-care and management tools and techniques
- Has been correlated with improved behavior, physical fitness and academic achievement. See PERC Assessment at www.yogaed.com.
In addition to all of the benefits mentioned above, yoga is a great equalizer. It is open to all and has no prerequisites of any kind – academic, physical, or otherwise.
Kids sorely need yoga. Faced with the increasing demands of standardized testing, challenging – often tragic – family situations, and increasing social pressures, children are stressed out! Sadly, we, as a society, have failed to teach them the tools they need to navigate the ups and downs of life. Feeling lost, frustrated, angry, and even depressed, many teens (and adults!) turn to drug and alcohol abuse, disordered eating, various other addictions, or worse yet, suicide.
With a regular yoga practice, however, the need to escape our problems by “numbing” ourselves out is greatly diminished. Yoga teaches us that not only is it okay to feel our pain, but also, that it is necessary, and it teaches us the skills we need to do it, to move through the difficult times.
The yogic concept of being “in the moment” at all times helps to diminish feelings of fear and anxiety by increasing feelings of self-worth. Through yoga, we learn that we are valuable no matter what, regardless of our imperfections, so we learn to be comfortable “in our own skin”. When we no longer feel the need to be perfect, we learn to take better care of ourselves by listening to our bodies and doing only what they are able to do at any particular moment.
Imagine what our world would be like if we did things because we truly wanted to rather than to avoid feelings of unworthiness or guilt! It would be a healthier world indeed. With an increased sense of self-awareness, self-worth, and self-acceptance, we in turn accept others more readily, essentially creating a kinder, more peaceful world.
A yoga practice would be a unique and valuable addition to the numerous academic and athletic programs that our children already participate in. It teaches skills that our students so desperately need in order to grow into confident, well-adjusted citizens.
Having experienced profound, life altering and life enhancing changes for myself as a student of yoga, I have hopes of sharing what I have learned with those around me. I am very fortunate to be able to expand my love of teaching to include tools that can have such a positive and powerful impact on people’s lives. I hope to share this passion with kids and teens.