People often ask me for a list of the potential benefits of yoga practice for children and teens. Here I’ve provided a starting place for creating a comprehensive list. Please fill in with any additional benefits. I will compile them all into one list and repost for communal use. Please invite friends to participate!

Physical

  • Overall muscular strength and tone are increased
  • Increased muscular strength contributes to joint health
  • Aids in digestion and elimination
  • Boosts metabolism and weight loss
  • Improves flexibility
  • Strengthens immune system
  • Builds balance and coordination
  • Improves overall body awareness

Mental

  • Develops concentration and focus
  • Teaches students how to work with their minds
  • Releases tension
  • Improves quality of attention
  • Develops mind/body connection

Emotional

  • Promotes emotional awareness and ability to manage emotions
  • Encourages calmness
  • Teaches students to respond, rather than react
  • Promotes self control

Social

  • Boosts confidence
  • Teaches self respect and respect of others
  • Encourages altruism
  • Develops empathy

Spiritual

  • Encourages connection to inner self and innate wisdom
  • Enhances understanding and experience of interconnectedness

Academic

  • Enhances learning readiness
  • Encourages self-discipline

Teach kids about the health benefits of practicing yoga. Kids are more likely to be dedicated to their practice when they understand the immediate and lasting positive effects of yoga.

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The medical field has consistently identified self awareness as a hallmark of life long health. The growing Social and Emotional Learning movement has also touted the benefits of clarifying awareness of states of being as a first step toward cultivating higher emotional intelligence.

Try this simple exercise, either in the home or classroom, to boost self awareness and contribute to a healthy day of learning!

1. Take a moment with your child or students to “check in.” How are you feeling this morning? How is your body feeling? How about your self? Describe the feeling as best you can.

2. Now that you are aware of your feelings, decide if this is how you want to feel today. If so, enjoy 5 deep breaths into your feelings, helping them grow and spread throughout your whole being.

3. If you decide that you want to feel a different way today, then enjoy 5 breaths while thinking about the way you do want to feel. Send that feeling  to every corner of your body and fill yourself up with fresh breath and fresh feelings.

This is a simple and quick way to raise emotional awareness and begin to self care. Try this over a few weeks to increase effectiveness and build a healthy pattern of checking in.

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of facilitating our Yoga Skills for Youth Facilitator’s Training at Project Butterfly in Los Angeles. We had a full circle of powerful teachers willing to spend yet another 20 hours learning new techniques, gaining perspectives and deepening understanding of how to integrate yoga into schools and other venues for youth. As always, I am impacted by the level of dedication teachers give to their craft.

All too often, teachers bear the burden for what’s wrong with our education system. Now more than ever with the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers are held accountable to the success or failure of students, at a seemingly higher level than anyone else involved in the great big mess that our education system has become. Should teachers be held responsible for what occurs in their classrooms? Oh yes, without a doubt. However, public schooling has gotten to a point where teachers are told exactly what they must do and then they are punished when those plans don’t work.

In other words, we no longer ask teachers to bring their brilliance and creativity to the classroom. We don’t ask teachers to light the sparks within their students. All that we ask is that teachers prepare their students to pass a standardized test. It’s simply not enough. Today, a teacher’s time is filled with paperwork and technical, logistical tasks, rather than creating curricula alive with possibility and learning. This weekend, I was reminded of how fortunate we are as yoga teachers because we are considered “enrichment specialists” and are able to function in a slightly less controlled area of education. As yoga educators, we enjoy the privilege of caring for the well being of our students on all levels, not just academic. Educators know that learning is never just academic. Real learning happens when a child’s needs are met on social, emotional and physical levels.

How did we reach this place where teachers are expected to be technicians of information rather than inspiring guides to greater depths of understanding? How is it acceptable to society that we, by and large, compensate teachers so poorly when they carry such a critical load for us? What is necessary to uplifting the field of teaching and empowering teachers to take back their classrooms?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but feel a strong need for public dialogue and debate surrounding these issues. With all of the wars, oil spills, and political mayhem, it is easy to sweep this issue under the rug and allow a select few to determine to trajectory of education. However, perhaps our global problems are actually intricately linked with the quality of education we provide our citizens. Are we developing critical thinkers and problem solvers or do we simply ask students to report back to us what we have given them?

To all of the teachers who manage to keep the fire alive and educate with fervor and passion, thank you, you are the lights of our world. There are many schools and teachers who refuse to give in to the low standards being set by many policy makers. There are certainly schools and teachers that make it work. And how many more could make it really work if we lifted the heavy, oppressive iron of one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter curricula and asked teachers to enact democracy in the classroom, to give everyone a voice and to allow students, parents and communities to participate more fully in the education process? That would require a great deal of trust. Perhaps we can shift some of the  trust we’ve placed in wall street, oil companies and government officials toward our dedicated teachers who stick with the job no matter what and give selflessly to our children everyday.

What do you think?

A Bowl Full of Yoga

May 5, 2010

This article is reprinted from the Kids on the Mat section May 2006 issue of  Yogi Times. Over the next week, I’ll be posting additional columns I wrote for the magazine.

A Bowl Full of Yoga

Sometimes when sharing with people that I teach yoga to kids, the response is: “That’s cool. Can kids really ‘do’ yoga?” With a deep breath and steady eyes, I reply that kids can not only ‘do’ yoga, they can BE yoga and, in fact, they ARE yoga. We all are!  We’re just all at different phases in the process of recognizing that beauty.

Investigation into the art of teaching kids yoga reveals that there are multitudes of ways to engage kids authentically in yoga practice.  In Deborah Rozman’s book, Meditating With Children, she offers the idea that imagination is the part of our being which lives closest to the soul. Most children still have direct access to their imaginative faculties, a gift that so many of us let weaken over time. To keep that channel alive and open is an important element of unification within our being.

Of course, there are challenges to sharing yoga with kids. For instance, encouraging kids to remain supine during savasana can be very interesting.   In search of creative ways to successfully facilitate this essential portion of the practice, the instinct emerged to imaginatively engage student’s minds during the process of letting go of the physical body. Hence the bowl full of yoga was born.

The next time you feel inspired to share a bit of calm, relaxing time with your young ones, I invite you to read the following meditation aloud slowly, pausing for a few seconds between sentences. Start sitting on the floor and have a blanket handy.

Cup your hands as if you are holding a special bowl. This is your yoga bowl and right now it is full of yoga.

Slowly lie down on your back and place the imaginary bowl on your belly. Be careful not to spill the yoga. Make your body comfortable while you take deep, smooth breaths. Feel the bowl moving gently as you breath in and out.  Rest peacefully and still while you picture in your mind what your bowl looks like.  Remember, if you wiggle around the yoga could spill out one drop at a time. If you are very still, you will have a bowl full of yoga when we are finished.  Visualize what the bowl looks like and what it is made of.  Imagine what size it is and how it feels.  Notice its’ color and any designs, patterns and textures.  Look inside of the bowl to see what your yoga looks like.  Pretend that you are resting inside of the bowl now and experience what it feels like to be surrounded by yoga.  Now take a couple of deep, slow breaths. It’s good for the bowl to move with your breath, in fact that makes the bowl stronger and more able to hold yoga.  Imagine that you can offer this bowl full of goodness to someone who needs it. Who will you offer your bowl to? When you are ready, take the bowl into your hands and put it beside you. Roll to one side and use both hands to lift yourself up to sit.

Enjoy a few moments of sharing the visions of the bowl and have art supplies on hand to create a memory of the experience. Invite students to think about sharing their bowl of yoga with others.

Below the drawing one of my students made of her bowl of yoga, she wrote: “I gave it to the warrs. To talk out their problems and not get hurt. To stop shouting and killing.” Julia, 8

copyright Gregory Beylerian.com

Valentine’s Day reminds us of the importance and joy of reaching out to our loved ones and letting them know we care. Fortunately, there is a growing movement in education to extend this practice beyond the calendar holiday and into the daily lives of students in schools.

As my Valentine to you, I am excited to share a sampling of resources I have discovered in my research on the subject of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). For parents, teachers and community members who wish to make an impact on the climate in local schools, there is growing support. Here are a few places to start.

What is Social and Emotional Learning?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as:

A process for helping children and even adults develop the fundamental skills for life effectiveness. SEL teaches the skills we all need to handle ourselves, our relationships, and our work, effectively and ethically.

These skills include recognizing and managing our emotions, developing caring and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively and ethically. They are the skills that allow children to calm themselves
when angry, make friends, resolve conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and safe choices.

How do we know SEL works?

The movement to implement SEL in schools is not based on speculation. To the contrary, scientists and education theorists have been hard at work over the past decade researching the far reaching benefits of SEL. For a powerful and inspiring primer on the extensive body of research, enjoy the following interview with psychologist, Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence.

What does SEL have to do with Yoga?

Practicing yoga deepens self awareness and enhances our ability to self care, both fundamental aspects of SEL.  In this month’s Yoga Journal, Trudie Styler (wife of Sting), says yoga practice ” is an exercise in listening…it teaches you to tune in to your relationships.”  The ability to  listen deeply is essential to developing empathy, another core component of SEL. While most dedicated practitioners of yoga will enjoy these benefits if studying with a qualified teacher, in my experience, these benefits are greatly enhanced in yoga classes for adolescents due to the nature of class experience. Time spent in dialogue, journaling and self-expression help youth discover ways to transfer their yoga education into daily life situations.

For folks interested in learning more about the connections between yoga and SEL, Shanti Generation’s Yoga Skills for Youth Facilitator’s Training offers a well spring of experiential learning on the topic. We have trainings coming up in Los Angeles and New Orleans.

The Trailblazers of Social and Emotional Learning

Here, I would like to honor a few of the individuals who have courageously carved the path toward Social and Emotional Learning in schools.

“Education is a social process. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” ~John Dewey

“What will transform education is not another theory, another book, or another formula but educators who are willing to seek a transformed way of being in the world.” ~Parker Palmer

“We’re finally learning that it is not an either-or situation … Feelings and learning and emotion are all very integral to each other.” ~Linda Lantieri

“No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.” ~Paulo Freire

There are way too many incredible leaders in the field to mention here. In closing, I’d like to pay tribute to  one last trailblazer the movement lost this year, Rachel Kessler (1946-2010). Kessler’s The Soul of Education is an excellent book that is sure to upgrade anyone’s knowledge of SEL.

“Kessler celebrates the diversity of beliefs in our free country…But she wisely understands the spiritual emptiness of our times and knows that we ignore the souls of our children at their peril, and ours. Children need encouragement and guidance in struggling with the deeper meaning and purpose of life in a society that glorifies the material over the spiritual.” ~Marian Wright Edelman

A new era of care and compassion in the classroom is coming. I am heartened by the many ways that yoga can help teachers and parents achieve our goals for creating harmonious, loving environments for our youth.