Today I had the fantastic opportunity to attend a Professional Development workshop hosted by Mindful Practices, a Chicago-based yoga and SEL program for schools.
This workshop focused on strategies and techniques for brining yoga and mindfulness into your classroom and I am so excited to share my key takeaways! Read on, and please comment with any questions you have or additional strategies or tips!
Takeaway #1: Start with the WHY
Just as you would discuss your objective before a science lesson, you also need to explain the 'why' behind a yoga practice or mindful break. Explain to students the science behind deep breathing, and the proven benefits of yoga. Ask them how they think a yoga break could affect their day. Make sure they understand the importance behind the practice. One way to start is to have students brainstorm everything that comes to mind when they think of yoga. Together, form a definition for yoga involving key components like awareness, breath, balance, non-judgement, inclusivity, calm. Remind students that they will get out what they put in, and to allow themselves time to adjust, get comfortable, and experience the benefits.
Takeaway #2: Focus on body awareness first
Don't expect your students to jump right in and break out warrior 2! Start by simply bringing students' attention to their breathing and balance. Explain the importance of personal space and non-judgement. Remind students that it's okay to feel a little silly and uncomfortable at first, but to remember that this is new to everyone and that yoga is a judgement-free zone! Remember also that for some students, stillness and quiet are not their norm and may be very uncomfortable. At home, chaos may be all they know. Don't set your expectations too high at first!
Takeaway #3: Personalize and allow choice
When you introduce any concept or skill to your students, you keep in mind their developmental stage and all that comes with it--intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally. The same should be true when you introduce yoga or breath work into the classroom. Tailor your instruction to the needs and interests of your students. While kindergarteners might LOVE to "sit like a frog", 3rd graders prefer to "walk like zombies" and 7th graders are going to roll their eyes at both of those phrases and need to spend more time getting comfortable. Allow your students choice as well-- if they ever do not want to participate in a pose or sequence, they can always return to mountain pose.
Takeaway #4: It's not just for "yoga time"
Let's be honest...we'd all LOVE to have an hour (or hey, even 15 minutes!) to devote to yoga in our classrooms each day but with the pressure to meet rigorous standards and constantly implement new curriculum, we just don't have the time. Yoga and mindfulness do NOT have to be something separate in your day! These practices can be even more effective when they are embedded in your typical academic schedule. My co-teacher and I attended the PD together and excitedly discussed how we will work yoga into transitions in math class. We will start math class with everyone standing in mountain pose and taking deep breaths. Before ringing our bell to signal our group switch, we will invite students to take 3 breaths in tree pose, and before the class lines up we will engage them in a new pose each week. That will take about 2-3 minutes out of our class, and will actually save us instructional time by allowing our students to be more focused and on-task!
Takeaway #5: Make it FUN!
Scientific fact: kids will be 500% more engaged in yoga if we make an effort to make it FUN! While it can be a very calm, centering practice, it also is a great way to allow our students to appreciate their bodies and increase their self-confidence by incorporate fun yoga activities! One of my favorite activities today was 'Yogi Says'. You guessed it--it's a lot like Simon says. One student acts as 'Yogi' and announces yoga poses instead of more basic actions. The best part--pick one of your "too cool" students to be "Yogi" and suddenly they are no longer too cool! Another awesome idea was "Musical Yoga Freeze"-- cards with yoga poses are spread out on the floor (or on desks) and as music plays students walk or jog around the room. When the music stops--students need to freeze in the pose closest to them (but remind them--you can ALWAYS choose to stand in mountain if you are not comfortable with the pose in front of you!).
So, do you practice yoga with your students? What have been your biggest successes? Struggles? Are you thinking about starting and in need of more support? Share in the comments and I'd be happy to discuss with you further. Namaste!