You may associate yoga with a yoga studio or a health club setting, but have you ever associated yoga with a school setting? Research has shown that school yoga has many benefits. Aside from the benefits that yoga has on the physical well-being of children, school yoga has been shown to reduce problem behavior, test anxiety, and anger. It has also been shown to increase self-regulation and focus, according to Karma Carpenter, founder and director of the Association of School Yoga and Mindfulness (http://k-12yoga.org/)
Yoga within the K-12 school setting has grown at a fast pace in the United States over the past decade. This is largely because of the collaborative efforts of different child-yoga and mindfulness training organizations that are proving through research that yoga leads to academic achievement, positive behavior and physical and mental well-being of students. These groups have come together to form the International Association of School Yoga and Mindfulness, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing mindful education into the classroom for the benefit of PreK-12 students of all abilities, economic backgrounds, and cultures.
The Association, a leadership “think tank” of education, healthcare, and child development experts, grew out of a White Paper written by Karma Carpenter in 2005 that surveyed Child Yoga and Mindfulness programs internationally. Carpenter’s background includes Special Ed administration and Healthcare. Her paper, “School Yoga: Universal Support for Positive Behavior, Academic Achievement, and Health,” was published in her blog. “There was enormous response to the article, from school yoga programs and from hundreds of people who were seeking support to start programs,” says Carpenter. “Many were Special Ed teachers and Occupational Therapists who had been using Yoga techniques for years with students. It was the hundredth monkey,” she says, referring to the so-called social change phenomenon, whereby when just one more person changes, the change is suddenly reflected by many.
In 2005 Carpenter began facilitating meetings of child-yoga, education and healthcare experts, and thus began the International Association for School Yoga and Mindfulness. Members have the common goals of public education, marketing, funding, writing grants, and research. Through collaboration, School Yoga & Mindfulness organizations have been able to develop programs faster than by working alone.
More than 60 Child Yoga and Mindfulness training programs have been surveyed so far. Carpenter has assisted countless programs with business development, technical support, curriculum & instruction, policy, marketing, funding, and more. Carpenter encourages yoga teachers, school teachers, school social workers/counselors, and therapists, to take training appropriate for the population of children with whom they are working. Some trainings specialize in inclusivity, serving children of all abilities. Says Carpenter, “It is essential that all trainings incorporate adaptive curricula, to fully-include children of varying abilities and function. Main barriers to inclusivity are lack of expertise and funding.”
One training specifically designed for children with disabilities is called Yoga for the Special Child (http://www.specialyoga.com/). This training program was designed by Sonia Sumar, who, Carpenter says, is the “grandmother of yoga for children with Special Needs.” Yoga for the Special Child is designed to enhance the natural development of children with disabilities. The gentle and therapeutic style of yoga can be used for both babies and children with disabilities. Yoga for the Special Child incorporates yoga poses to increase flexibility and strength with breathing and relaxation techniques to increase focus and reduce hyperactivity.
Carpenter notes that programs, such as Yoga Kids include adaptive techniques in training, and some training programs specialize in serving children with emotional or learning disabilities, such as YOGA for Youth. “For stellar leadership in both adaptive technique and systems change,” says Carpenter, “talk to Matthew Sanford.”
Yoga for the therapeutic benefit of students with disabilities is being used in schools across the United States. It is being used by occupational and physical therapists, as well as school counselors, to help accomplish the health and classroom goals of students with disabilities. Counselors and therapists usually work with students in a one-on-one setting. In hopes of making yoga in schools more inclusive, the Association is working with education researchers to bring mind/body connection into teacher education for both general and physical education. For physical education, the goal is to make adaptive curriculum so students with disabilities can benefit from PE alongside their peers.
A healthy body and mind is important for the development of all children. At all grade levels, from preschool through high school, students have shown improved academic and behavioral performance when yoga has been introduced in the school. The Association for School Yoga and Mindfulness continues to advocate for the inclusion of students with disabilities in school yoga programs, emphasizing, once again, that physical activity (yoga, in this case) is for everybody.
For information and support on existing programs and development support in your area, go to (http://k-12yoga.org/).
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