Yoga postures empower you and your students with tools to build a strong foundation for health and wellness. A powerful exercise for all ages, a regular yoga practice can have profound, lasting effects on your physical, cognitive, emotional, and social well-being.
Yoga postures increase self-awareness, self-management, and self-efficacy by consciously connecting body, mind, and breath. Unhealthy thought and behavior habits that undermine our health and wellness often go unnoticed and unchanged. By heightening sensitivity to your inner experience, yoga empowers you to actively shift to think and do what makes you feel good. Yoga postures create space for you to explore who and how you are being, and gives you tools to actively shift to who and how you want to be.
Here are 15 evidence-backed reasons for finding time to move with yoga postures during your school day:
1. Meets Physical Education Standards
Yoga Ed. is aligned with the National Standards for Physical Education (AAHPERD, 2014). As a non-competitive physical activity, yoga develops essential life skills while cultivating physical health and fitness.
2. Increases Bone Strength
Exercise is critical for strong bones (Bieleman, Martinez-Mesa, & Gigante, 2013). Moderate amounts of weight-bearing activities, such as yoga, stimulate bone strength and development (Daly, 2007). Weight-bearing activities place mechanical strain and tension on growth plates, which causes the body to increase bone density to respond to the stress (MacGregor, 2008). Bone strength is important in preventing fractures and osteoporosis. Starting physical activity early in life can reduce the risk of chronic pain and skeletal health issues later in life (Kemper, 2000).
3. Increases Muscular Strength
Researchers at the Los Angeles Charter College of Education found that students who participated in Yoga Ed. classes experienced significant gains in upper body strength over one year when compared to school district means (Slovacek, Tucker, & Pantoja, 2003). Yoga builds muscular strength through weight-bearing postures that strengthen different muscular groups (Galantino, Galbavy, & Quinn, 2008). As children’s muscles become stronger, muscular endurance increases. It becomes easier to exercise for longer periods of time. Strong muscles also provide better support for bones and result in less injury.
4. Increases Muscular Flexibility
Yoga is a great way to maintain and improve flexibility. The dynamic postures safely stretch different muscle groups, increase range of motion, and release lactic acid build-up. Significant improvements in flexibility were seen in students who participated in a Yoga Ed. program as compared to their peers (Slovacek, Tucker, & Pantoja, 2003).
5. Promotes Neural Development and Motor Skills
Children explore body movements and build spatial awareness through yoga. Yoga develops motor skills by giving students ample opportunities to practice movement, balance, and hand-eye coordination.
6. Improves Heart Health
Yoga is a physical activity that promotes heart health in children and adults (Woodyard, 2011; Birdee et al., 2009). While not all yoga is aerobic, yoga practices that do not increase heart rate can improve cardiovascular health. Research suggests that yoga can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, mediate blood sugar, and/or increase heart rate variability (McCall, 2007). A regular yoga practice can have significant effects on the management of obesity, a strong risk factor for heart disease (Rioux & Ritenbaugh, 2013).
7. Supports Respiratory Health
Yoga improves respiratory rate and capacity (Birdee et al., 2009). By improving the strength of respiratory muscles, compliance of the lungs, and the efficiency of oxygen intake, yoga also increases cardiorespiratory endurance (Sengupta, 2012). Significant gains in aerobic capacity were found in students who participated in a Yoga Ed. program over the course of a year (Slovacek, Tucker, & Pantoja, 2003). The effect of yoga on respiratory health may be explained by the increased control over respiration. During yoga, a practitioner consciously practices control over respiration by focusing on inhalation and exhalation.
8. Combats Childhood Obesity
Yoga contributes to weight control in a number of ways. As a physical activity, yoga expends calories. Yoga also increases self-awareness, making children more present to how their bodies feel throughout the day. Children turn the attention inward to observe what they are thinking, what they are doing, what they are eating, and how that makes them feel. This self-awareness leads to better food and lifestyle choices. Lastly, many children avoid physical activity due to lack of self-efficacy and feelings of incompetence (Guinhouya, 2012). Yoga class can directly address these psychosocial factors. During yoga, children learn to tune into their inner experience. By using yoga tools to shift them closer to who they want to be, children develop self-efficacy and competence. In a positive feedback loop, yoga cultivates self-efficacy and thereby increases frequency of physical activity.
9. Boosts Immunity
Yoga can improve the function of the immune system in two ways. First, yoga can decrease stress and its negative effects on the immune system. Second, yoga is a physical exercise. Moderate physical activity has a demonstrated positive effect on the immune system by increasing antibody production and lymphocyte circulation. Exercise also stimulates growth hormone levels. Together, these effects increase the function of the immune system (MacGregor, 2008).
10. Improves Sleep Quality
Yoga can positively influence a child’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Yoga improves sleep quality by tiring the body and mind, increasing overall relaxation, and equipping children with relaxation tools to fall asleep. Studies have demonstrated that a regular yoga practice can improve sleep quality by decreasing sleep onset time and number of awakenings while increasing total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and subjective sleep quality (Khalsa, 2004).
11. Increases Readiness to Learn
Learning readiness involves attention, motivation, curiosity, and decreased stress and anxiety. Yoga primes the student for learning in many ways. Breathing exercises and yoga postures direct students’ awareness, attention, and motivation. Dynamic sequences engage multiple networks throughout the brain (Ratey, 2008). Relaxation provides students with tools to let go of stress and anxiety. As a physical activity, yoga also increases oxygen-rich blood in the brain which improves brain function.
12. Enriches the Brain
Physical activity has a powerful effect on the brain areas that produce serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine (Ratey, 2008). Responsible for many physical and mental sensations, these three neurotransmitters directly impact learning. Serotonin keeps the brain activity under control and regulates mood, impulsivity, and aggression. Norepinephrine directs attention, perception, and motivation. Dopamine modulates reward, learning, and movement. By balancing these neurotransmitters, exercise enriches the brain and increases mental clarity.
13. May Create New Brain Cells
Exercise creates new brain cells. Research has demonstrated that voluntary exercise results in increased new brain cells in the hippocampus (van Praag, Shubert, Zhao, & Gage, 2005). Exercise not only increases the number of new brain cells, but also helps them survive. If a new cell is not used, it will be destroyed. By enriching the brain environment, exercise integrates the brain cells into the brain. This might have incredible implications for learning. Exercise creates more cells for the brain to learn information, and academic stimulation encourages these cells to integrate into the brain where they support learning (Ratey, 2008).
14. May Strengthen our Prefrontal Cortex
Yoga increases self-awareness, attentiveness, and emotion regulation. Breathing techniques, yoga poses, and relaxation exercises teach students how to use their body to help them consciously calm down. These techniques actively trigger the relaxation response and interrupt the stress-feedback loop. Recent research demonstrates that students who voluntarily regulate their emotions in response to stress show greater activation in their prefrontal cortex, better modulation of activity in the amygdala, and lower levels of cortisol in the body (Davidson, 2008). In other words, a stronger upstairs brain has better regulation over actions of the downstairs brain and better control over stress.
15. Combats Stress
Preliminary studies suggest that yoga may relieve stress and anxiety (Li & Goldsmith, 2012; Birdee et al., 2009). Yoga’s effects on stress can be explained by a couple of mechanisms. First, yoga combines an active practice with relaxation. Research has shown active practices followed by relaxing practices trigger deeper relaxation than relaxing practices alone (McCall, 2007). Second, yoga may modulate the physical effects of stress by reducing perceived stress and increasing self-compassion. This may help the mind deal with stress more effectively and lessen its toll on the body (Gard et al., 2012).
Take it a step further!
Check out our back to school webinar with Yoga Ed. CEO and educator Brynne Caleda to learn the basics of teaching chair yoga in your classroom.