This month is all about rec and leisure, so I wanted to highlight an activity I have used from early childhood up through transition- Yoga! Yoga is also an awesome leisure option for students to explore especially as they get older.

Yoga has many benefits for all children. It is increasingly being used in classrooms as a way to enhance students’ behavioral and academic functioning.  Yoga can improve skills such as attention, focus, impulse control, strength, coordination, and social skills. Yoga is ideal for visual learners. There has been research that shows a yoga program can reduce behaviors that interfere with learning and classroom functioning.  (Read the whole article here)

Here are some of my tips for getting started with yoga in your classroom:

1. Research and plan

  • First, check to make sure none of your students have specific medical precautions that need to be taken into consideration.
  • Next, decide how you may want to incorporate yoga or yoga principles into your day. Think about why – why do you want to explore this? Where might it fit into your day? I have seen so many different options. Some teachers use deep breathing. Some teachers use yoga as a motor break. Some teachers do the same yoga routine daily with students. There are many options, so think about what will work best for you.
  • You may consider attending a continuing education course or reading a book about yoga for children.  I took a Yoga Ed and Brain Gym course my first year as an OT which was helpful to get me started!

2. Gather your materials

Yoga Mats

  • It is so important to give students a clear space to stand and stay within! You can find cheap yoga mats here. I have gotten yoga mats donated from local yoga studios. If you are just doing simple poses, a poly spot can help too.

Visuals

  • Having some sort of visual component is essential when running yoga groups. There are a ton of options out there; I have listed some below along with links as appropriate. I have found that giving a visual as well as demonstration has been the most successful for my students.

3. Set up the environment

Calming music

  • Playing calming, relaxing music during yoga groups can help facilitate self regulation.  There are many options – just do a quick search on Pandora, Amazon Music, or YouTube.

Soft lighting

  • Turning off the lights or some of the lights can promote a relaxing environment.  Don’t let the room get too dark though, as it is important for students to be able to see the visual cues.  

Quiet environment

  • Reduce noise – use a low voice during instruction.  Ask other adults in the room to refrain from talking.  Consider putting a sign on the door so people don’t enter during your group.

 

4. Create a Routine

  • Creating routines around yoga can be very organizing.  Consider doing yoga groups at the same time every day.  I like to start and end my groups in the same way – with 3 deep breaths and some deep pressure squeezes.  

5. Make it concrete

Making yoga as concrete as possible, especially when it comes to time, can help reduce anxiety and facilitate participation.  Here are some ideas:

  • Timer on the board of how long to hold pose.
  • Show how many poses will be done.
  • Hold the pose for a specific count: ‘Let’s count to 10’.

6. Teach deep breathing

  • While it seems simple, deep breathing can be a hard skill to learn.  However, it is an important skill that can be used in a variety of settings.  I see so many self regulation visuals that cue a child to ‘take a deep breath’; however if they don’t truly know how, it won’t be effective.
  • One of the easiest cues to use is  ‘smell the flowers, blow out the candles’. You can also try this trick, having a child try to blow the Kleenex to illustrate how to effectively exhale. For younger kids, Sesame Street has a cute video that can help.  Conscious Discipline has some breathing resources here.  
  • I frequently use rainbow breath and bear breaths with younger students.  For the rainbow breath, have students raise their arms overhead in a rainbow shape while inhaling, and lowering down their arms while exhaling.  For the bear breath, have students make claws with their hands and take 3 short breaths while extending their arms overhead, then inhale while lowering arms down.  Fun breaths like this can be a great way to incorporate deep breathing throughout your day.  

7. Be prepared to make modifications

Some students may have a little more difficulty engaging in yoga groups.  It is important to consider modifications to poses and routines in order to facilitate participation.  This is where your classroom OT/PT can be really helpful.  Here are some basic ideas:

  • Chair yoga/seated yoga
    • For students who have difficulty sitting/standing still, try starting with seated/chair yoga first.   
  • Think about flow
    • Start with just one pose and work your way up. 
    • You may start with standing poses and then move to sitting poses, starting with standing positions then moving to sitting.
  • Simplify poses
    • It is easy to think about this in context of balance poses.  For example, the ‘tree’ pose is a pose where a student reaches hands up to the sky while balancing on one leg.  For some of our students, balancing is really hard.  Focusing only on the arm component of this pose and reducing the demand for standing balance can facilitate independence and success.  

Yoga can be an awesome rec/leisure option to incorporate into your classroom that will have many benefits for your students. There are many resources out there to help you get started with yoga in your classroom. Reach out to your school OT/PT as well for advice! Do you incorporate yoga into your day? Share your tips in the comments!

This post is for informational purposes only.  The information provided is general in nature. Please contact your occupational therapist for specific questions regarding your child/student.

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