Yoga 4 Change Takes Wellness from the Studio to the Classroom

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Schools are an important location for interventions to prevent or reduce disruptive or aggressive behavior. School administrators have numerous intervention strategies to consider, including surveillance (e.g., metal detectors, security guards); deterrence (e.g., disciplinary rules, zero tolerance policies); and psychosocial programs (e.g., psychotherapy and social and vocational training). A national study conducted in 2000 concluded that 75% of schools in the United States use one or more prevention strategy to address behavioral problems. But, what we have learned through time spent in classrooms in Duval County is that impacting a student’s behavior can start with teaching that student how to breathe.

When students practice yoga in the classroom they cultivate competencies in mind-body awareness, self-regulation, and physical fitness.  Yoga 4 Change teaches a secular form of mind-body exercise focused on benefiting participants mentally, physically, and emotionally. When students are taught yoga they are provided with an opportunity to develop and reinforce life-enhancing skills that can positively impact them. By integrating yoga into the average school week, we see improvements in students’:

  • Behavior, conduct, and self-esteem

  • Mental, emotional, and physical health

  • Academic performance

Furthermore, by improving the overall classroom climate, school-based yoga can also positively impact teachers’ resilience and effectiveness in the classroom.

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In 2012, the The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research published a study that found middle school students who practice yoga in the classroom reported:

  • Positive mood and attitude changes

  • Increased energy

  • Improved ability to relax

  • Improved posture

More than a third of American children are overweight or obese.  Compound this with the fact that most time spent in school is spent being sedentary.  Yoga doesn’t discriminate based on ability level. Whether a child is athletically gifted or not, everyone is equally matched in their own bodies during yoga and it teaches children that physical presence is about more than the ability to compete. Additionally, growing bodies benefit from training their proprioceptive systems for better balance, strength, and movement.

Because of exposure to illness and stress, most children develop less-than-optimal breathing patterns.  The quality of our breathing has a direct impact on our overall well-being. How we breathe not only affects our movement and posture, it is crucial to our ability to manage stress.  The breathing patterns that are demonstrated as a part of yoga teach children the basics of breathing biomechanics and how to leverage their breathing during times of emotional distress. By learning how to stay connected to their breathing, children are better able to manage sensory and/or emotionally overwhelming experiences.

KIPP Impact Middle School, a public charter school with 100% free and reduced lunch located in one of Jacksonville’s most socioeconomically challenged communities, invited Yoga 4 Change into their classrooms during the 2014-2015 academic year.  At the time, school administrators had recorded 105 suspensions and three expulsions. By Yoga 4 Change’s second year working with students and school administrators, suspensions reduced to 82, though expulsions increased to four. By the third year of working with Yoga 4 Change, however, suspensions reduced to 13 and expulsions reduced to one.  What makes this data more remarkable is when you compare it to incidents recorded at surrounding schools:

Suspensions at KIPP (by year)

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Expulsions at KIPP (by year)

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  • Northwestern Middle - 214

  • Buttler Middle - 116

  • Ribault Middle - 274

  • Jefferson Davis Middle - 315

  • Gilbert Middle - 112

  • Highland Middle - 177

  • Jeb Stuart Middle - 246

KIPP serves the same kids as these other schools.  KIPP students face the same challenges as students from these other schools.  Yet you’ll notice the number of incidents recorded are drastically different. But, because KIPP partnered with Yoga 4 Change, their intervention strategies also differed drastically.  

As a result of working with Yoga 4 Change, KIPP’s teachers approached situations differently. KIPP’s administration and families reacted to incidents differently.  And, possibly most important, KIPP students behaved differently. Everyone’s first response now to any situation is to take a deep breath and to think before they act.

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Yoga 4 Change wants to increase the number of youth positively impacted by our programming. To achieve this we need your help. Please consider become a sustaining re-occurring donor.  Additionally, contact us if you think a school in your community could benefit by integrating yoga into the classroom. Or, if it is financially feasible for you, consider sponsoring to bring yoga to your child’s school. Together we can create change.

Patrick Fisher