"Yoga Breaks" Teach Healthy Living Skills

Giving kids yoga breaks in schools doesn’t just enhance strength and flexibility. Yoga improves focus, enhances learning, and boosts moods. New studies show that it improves children’s quality of sleep as well.

One leading advocate of giving kids “yoga breaks” is Canadian yoga instructor and mother of four, Donna Freeman, who has been teaching yoga to children in Edmonton, Alberta schools for over eight years. Yoga breaks, i.e. short relaxation and stretching intervals spaced throughout the day, can help kids develop healthy living and stress management skills maintains Freeman. Based on her many years of experience teaching yoga to kids, Freeman believes that incorporating yoga into school curriculums even helps children absorb information and learn.

Freeman has taught yoga in nearly 40 schools. She runs a website (www.yogainmyschool.com), which provides information about the benefits and challenges of bringing yoga into an educational setting. Her goal is to make information about kids’ yoga accessible to parents, educators, and children alike. With the release of her book, Once Upon a Pose, she’s aiming to share her techniques for kids yoga to a much wider audience.

“Yoga in schools is a really wonderful combination of bringing the health benefits and the intellectual and emotional training into the classroom,” she said in an interview with CTV news.  “It’s vital to bring into the classroom these days.  These kids need these skills.”

The list of benefits of yoga for kids is a long one.  Besides developing strength and flexibility, kids’ yoga relieves stress, improves focus and boosts one’s mood. New studies even show that it improves children’s quality of sleep. Freeman also thinks incorporating yoga into school curriculums helps children absorb information and learn:

“There’s increased focus, improved concentration.  Their creativity just skyrockets.  Their impulse control is greater and it reduces their stress so they’re in a mental and emotional place that’s ready to learn.”

Freeman sees a myriad of applications for yoga in schools. Helping elementary school kids burn off steam, teaching kids with behavioral problems greater self-control, and providing a fitness program for high school athletes are just a few.  “Yoga is great because crosses all the boundaries of whether you’re an athlete or a non-athlete,” she said. “[No matter what] you can still do yoga.”

One of the more unorthodox aspects of Freeman’s philosophy is her interest in taking yoga off of the mat and out of the studio. While her yoga classes can fulfill a school’s physical education requirements, she also sees a place for yoga directly in the classroom, as a part of academic classes like science, math and language arts. 

“You can use what’s in a school—a desk and a chair—to use yoga,” she says. “You can use it to introduce a topic or as a reward at end the day.”

Above all, Freeman encourages parents and educators who want to bring yoga into their schools to think creatively.  Her websites suggests starting a yoga club, instituting “yoga breaks” – short relaxation and stretching intervals spaced throughout the day –  or using it to help teach healthy living and stress management skills.

Freeman’s book, Once Upon a Pose, contains step-by-step instructions of how to teach yoga to kids ranging in age from three to 12.  It contains pose descriptions, breathing exercises, suggestions for children with asthma, relaxation techniques with short guided imagery sessions, yoga games and activities, and a section on yoga for children with special needs.