More California Schools Adding Yoga to School Day

To help students relax, some California schools are adding something new — that’s actually very old — to the daily routine: yoga.

The ancient practice of stretching and breathing, often combined with meditation and mindfulness, is increasingly popular in physical education classes and after-school programs for students of all ages. Teachers say it helps students cope with stress and build physical and mental strength, especially valuable skills as students return to campus after more than a year of remote learning.

Teachers don’t need special training or certification to lead students in yoga exercises, which are essentially stretching poses paired with deep breathing. Plenty of free curriculum is available to help teachers include yoga in their classes for as little as 10 minutes a day. It’s ideally suited for physical education class, but any teacher could incorporate yoga into the daily routine.

California is urging schools to enhance their student wellness offerings as campuses reopen, and yoga is a popular option in many districts because it merges physical and mental health and is relatively easy to implement. Schools can use money from several sources, including the CARES Act, to train existing staff in yoga instruction, purchase curriculum or hire yoga instructors.

Sheri Mulroe, a physical education teacher at Palo Alto High School, is one of the few PE teachers in California who leads a dedicated, yearlong class on yoga. Students can take it either as an elective or as a PE unit, and it’s become so popular that she teaches three or four classes a day, each with 20 to 30 students.

A teacher since 1991, she started teaching yoga four years ago as a way to help students cope with anxiety and depression. Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, has one of the highest teen suicide rates in California, in part due to intense pressure to succeed academically and socially.

 “This is a high-stress environment. It’s a pressure cooker. I wanted to give students coping mechanisms,” Mulroe said.

“Throughout the school year, I see a marked increase in their strength and flexibility. And they’re able to use the techniques, such as breathing, to help them deal with other stressful things, like tests, arguments, communication,” Mulroe said. “I feel all kids could benefit from a daily yoga practice, just to have some time every day when they’re not thinking about school.”

Yoga can work for younger students, as well. Nikki Curry stumbled across the idea a few years ago when she was running a children’s dance studio in Orange County and would occasionally get exasperated with students’ inability to focus.

She’s crafted a curriculum that meets the standards of the California AfterSchool Network and is working with county offices of education to promote yoga as an extracurricular option.

“My hope is to reach as many children as possible, regardless of what region or even state they live in because I believe so strongly in the positive impact of yoga and mindfulness on individuals and communities as a whole,” Curry said.

Excerpted from “More California Schools Adding Yoga to School Day” in EdSource. Read the full article online.

Source: EdSource | More California Schools Adding Yoga to School Day, | copyright 2021 EdSource

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