Back bends, side bends and pretzel twists – here’s how to stretch students’ minds and bodies through yoga.
Students with legs squeezed into chests and arms in the air can mean only one thing: yoga in the classroom.
The physical benefits of this exercise are well-known, but it also has educational benefits, such as improved attention, self-confidence and relaxation.
So this week on the Guardian Teacher Network, we offer a collection of ideas and lesson resources to stretch your students’ minds and bodies through yoga.
A quick-and-easy way to get started is by using short yoga-based exercises in the classroom. These activity cards by Yoga 4 Classrooms can be particularly useful to help centre students before a lesson or to regain focus if a class becomes restless.
The cards cover six areas: breathing, loosening up, stretching, standing strong, feeling well and being mindful. They give clear instructions and all of the activities can be done while standing beside or sitting at desks. Examples include a “corkscrew stretch” and “pretzel twist” to help students re-energise.
Follow up this activity by asking students to create activity cards of their own. Get them to write step-by-step instructions with illustrations; they should be able to explain the benefits of their exercise. Groups can then try out each other’s cards. Alternatively, challenge students to use the cards to create a sequence of between two and five actions for a chosen time of day, or to address a particular issue. For example, “When I am frustrated, I can help myself to calm down by … ” or “When I need a break from writing it can be helpful to … ” The full set of Yoga 4 Classrooms activity cards is available here.
Yoga can also help young people manage the stress and anxiety of exams. Simple exercises such as this breathing meditation by MindSpace can increase the amount of oxygen in the blood resulting in a more alert and focused mind. Tension-relieving yoga poses can help relax the muscles, especially if students are spending long amounts of time hunched over their desks. You will find some useful stretches on the Teen Yoga and Mindfulness website including the child’s pose and shoulder stand which could be used every hour or so to help calm the nervous system. Another handy resource is this 15-minute audio relaxation exercise designed to help students reduce exam stress.
If you’re doing yoga as part of a PE lesson, you should begin with a bit of quiet time, allowing the body to relax and the mind to empty, according to Trish Munro, founder of the Yoga Factory. You can do this by asking students to lie on their backs with their arms by their sides, palms facing the ceiling, and feet about 12 inches apart. Encourage students to relax each part of their body, from their feet to their face, then spend a couple of minutes on a simple breathing activity, such as this Balloon Breath exercise.
Get students to breathe in and out through their noses. You might find it useful to familiarise them with the concept of making one movement while breathing in, and then a complementary one while breathing out. For example, raising one arm slowly on the in-breath and then lowering it down on the out-breath. A balanced yoga routine should contain a forward bend, a back bend, a side bend, a twist and a balance. This is covered in the Yoga Factory’s training programme for teachers,details of which can be found here. Finish a yoga session with a short relaxation exercise such as this At the Seaside audio track.
Yoga is also useful for teaching young people about how their bodies work. Did they know, for example, that there are more than 600 muscles in the human body and they make up 40% of our body weight? As a homework task, challenge students to find some other yoga-themed body facts and use these to create a wall display about the benefits of yoga.
Finally, pre-school and early primary students are likely to enjoy Cosmic Kids Yoga. It provides fun story-based yoga videos for children aged three and up. A new video is added at the start of each month along with a posture video every Monday. For more ideas, see this How to teach article about mindfulness and this beginner’s guide to different yoga styles.