This post originally appeared on the blog Heart 2 Heart.
Yoga is a state of mind. It helps relax and still the body. In this relaxed and focused state, you can direct the mind toward a particular goal or outcome with little distractions. Setting the stage with an “I can do it!” attitude helps inspire and motivate your students to work toward a specific goal. Best of all, you don’t have to be a yogi master to bring some of these benefits to your students. For hundreds of years, people have reaped the benefits of yoga. Research has proven that yoga can offer the following benefits:
- Improved concentration
- Perfect for goal-setting (intentions)
- Overcoming fears
- Living and focusing on the present
- Greater self-acceptance
- Improved strength & flexibility
Three Brilliant Ways to Use Yoga in the Classroom
1. Just Breathe
Just like with any other new skill, start slow and build on from there. First, teach your students how to breathe. Sounds simple enough, but building awareness of breathing is an important skill. Since breathing and mind are connected, awareness of breathing will help students calm their thoughts and focus.
Practice this by having students sit criss-cross applesauce on the floor. Tell them to close their eyes with their palms together at heart center. Have them take a deep breath in through their nose and hold it for a count of three. Then slowly breathe out through their mouth. Exhales should sound like the waves of an ocean or Darth Vader’s breathing. Model for students how to use your breath to fog up a mirror. This is how they should practice breathing for these deep cleansing breaths. Practice 3-5 deep cleansing breaths with your students each day.
After the deep breaths, have students continue breathing in and out quietly through their noses at their regular breathing pace. Hint: I tell my students to count their breaths on the inhale, this helps them to focus on their breathing and not let their minds wander.
When is the best time to just breathe? Use breathing exercises when you want to help your students relax or focus on a difficult task. I have used this strategy with my students each morning to start the day and after recess to calm their minds and bodies. It works wonders by giving them a few minutes to relax and reset their minds so we can refocus on a new task.
2. Set A Goal (Intention)
After taking some deep breaths to quiet and still the mind, then I have students set their daily goals. This procedure works best in the early morning or right before a particular task like a writing activity, math lesson, or a test.
Seriously, this is one of the best teaching strategies I have ever discovered. I’ve used this with great success right before a specific task. It works wonders to calm down and reset their brains after recess, before starting a new task or activity, or before taking a test. After 5-10 minutes of breathing exercises, it’s time to set the stage.
While students are focusing on their breathing, guide them to think about the day ahead. You might say, “Every day we get to start new. We can choose to make this day GREAT. We can choose to work hard to be the BEST we can be. We can choose not to give up when something gets hard for us. We CAN focus our minds on anything we want to accomplish. So I ask you, what is your goal for today? What do YOU want to do better? What will you FOCUS on improving today? Take three more breaths. After I release you, I want you to go back to your desk and write down your goal for today.”
Each day after our morning meeting, the students wrote down their daily goal on a “Weekly Goal Chart.” That sticky note sat on their desk all day. It served as a constant reminder. At the end of the day, I had the students put the sticky note in their journals. Underneath it, they had to write a mini-reflection about their day. They wrote 2-3 sentences about their day.
They must answer one of the following questions:
1. Did you meet your goal for today? If not, what could you do differently next time? If you did, explain how it made you feel.
2. Write down something new you learned today.
3. What was your favorite classroom activity or lesson today? Why?
4. Write down a new word you learned. Use it in a complete sentence.
5. Write down something new you learned about YOURSELF as a student today.
6. What was your favorite part of today? Why? 7. What was the best thing you read today? Why?
For intermediate students, it helps to have them write down their daily goals in a notebook or on a sticky note each day. That way it keeps the goal in the forefront of their minds and they can refer to it and see how they are progressing over time.
Give students some examples of goals for a particular task. For example, I might say, “I want you to set a goal in your mind for our writing lesson today. Maybe your goal for today is to do your best even if writing is not your favorite subject. Maybe your goal is to write at least 200 words in your journal. Perhaps you will work on adding ten more descriptive words to your writing. Whatever your goal is for today it must include you being the best YOU! Believe in yourself and know that you can do anything you set your mind to. After you’ve set your goal for today, take five more breaths. Then quietly go back to your seats and take out your writer’s notebooks and begin.”
The key is setting a goal for today or for that particular lesson. We all have daily goals usually in the form of a list. But think of the potential of our students when we teach them and encourage them to set a daily goal or a target for a specific lesson or task. Not only are we giving them the power to succeed, but we are also building their self-esteem and teaching them the power of positive thinking. On average, it takes 20-30 days of practicing a skill before it becomes a habit. So, imagine if we do breathing exercises and goal-setting each day of the school year. Students will have done it about 180 times. In essence, these strategies and practices could become life-long habits for students. Now that’s powerful!
When is it best to use this focused goal-setting strategy?
*First thing in the morning
*After Morning Meeting
*Before Writer’s Workshop
*Before a Test
3. Take a Yoga Break
We’ve all heard of brain breaks, but have you heard of a yoga break? I use brain breaks in my classroom as part of my reward system. If we have an excellent lesson, extra time, or if I can tell that the students are getting restless, I have the star student pull a card from the box. Since I’ve started doing yoga in the classroom, the students are completely into having a yoga break. Most of the time during our yoga time we don’t have time to just explore different poses so instead we doing it during a yoga break. For our yoga break, we might try one of the poses that they learned and practiced. I challenge the students to hold that pose. Then I give them a couple of minutes to explore. The Eagle Pose is perfect for this! The Eagle Pose is where students twist one leg around the other, so they are standing on only one leg. Then wrapped your arms around each other, so they are intertwined. While standing on one leg, start to sit down into chair position to see how far they can go. It’s amazing what they’ll come up with when yo tell them to explore this pose or have fun with it.
Just like any other classroom activity, make sure to set up and practice “Yoga Rules” and procedures before starting yoga in the classroom. Safety always comes first.
Why not take a chance and try out some of these yoga practices this school year. It’s a win-win for everyone. Even if you choose to practice only breathing exercises this year, I promise, you and your students will find it refreshing, beneficial, and fun!
Juliette Roman is the owner of Heart 2 Heart Teaching. Juliette is a certified teacher with 15 years of classroom experience and loves creating resources for other educators. When she’s not busy working, she enjoys traveling with her hubby and kids, hiking, photography, and yoga. Check out her TpT store. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.