Breath + Balance = Better Learners

The crane position is the hardest, students say

Downward dog time in Jasmine Koster’s kindergarten room finds students on all fours, hands pressed on the floor aligned with their shoulders, and knees beneath their hips. Koster says the yoga sessions are helping them become better learners.

“Their concentration is more focused in the next lesson after they’ve done yoga,” says Koster, who pulls out the teaching tool when she sees the class getting antsy or tired. “When they’re kind of wiggly, I say ‘let’s do the floor poses.’ ”

Yoga helps kids to:

  • Develop body awareness
  • Learn how to use their bodies in a healthy way
  • Manage stress through breathing, awareness, meditation and healthy movement
  • Build concentration
  • Increase their confidence and positive self-image
  • Feel part of a healthy, non-competitive group
  • Have an alternative to electronic devices

In a school setting, yoga can also benefit teachers by:

  • Giving them an alternate way to handle challenges in the classroom
  • Giving them a healthy activity to integrate with lesson plans
  • Give them a way to blend exercise into their classes

Source: mindbodygreen.com

For 15 minutes once or twice a week, Koster practices yoga with her students at McFall Elementary. They follow along with a Sing-Song yoga video created for children on a screen in front of the classroom.

Fine Motor Skills, Better Math

Allie Stanton says the yoga helps her “be calm and concentrate.”
Andi Kohlenberger, who likes the warrior pose, agrees with Allie, and says it helps her do math better.

Students like the physical aspect of it, too.

“It helps us stretch better, and it helps our bones,” Allie says. “It helps us be strong.”

The brain breaks also provide physical benefits like coordination, flexibility and balance. “At this age they need help with fine motor skills,” Koster says, adding students gain strength from the poses.

“I feel strong after it ends,” says Maddie Stanton, Allie’s twin.

“It helps us run better,” Andi says.

One more benefit: The activity makes the students feel good about themselves. “They take so much pride in it when they can do a pose,” says Koster, who started doing yoga in her kindergarten class four years ago. Other kindergarten teachers also practice it with their students, she said.

Her students say the hardest pose is the crane. (If you want to try it, squat with your hands and knees on the floor. Then put your knees on your elbows so your feet aren’t touching the floor).

Maddie Stanton watches a yoga video to see how to do a pose
Maddie Stanton watches a yoga video to see how to do a pose

A pose somewhat foreign to the kindergartners, often called the corpse pose, comes at the end, when they lie on the floor with their eyes closed. Talking is not allowed. “They’re not used to lying down,” Koster says. “Nowadays, you don’t have time for quiet.”

Koster does yoga along with her class. “It’s a time for myself, too, mentally and physically,” she says. “I need it just as much as they do.” Plus, “if they’re happy, Mrs. Koster’s happy.”

Lest you think classroom yoga is one big fun time, think again. “It has just been a great tool for them to use,” Koster says. “I wouldn’t do it if it was just a time killer. I want to share my passion.

“And they just think they’re having fun.”

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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