wellbeing-brand-logo

Inspired living

Peace Pauses: Teaching children breath and mindfulness through classroom yoga


Peace Pauses: Yoga In The Classroom

Image: Melissa Askew | Unsplash

Peace Pauses — an integration of yoga, breath and mindfulness in the classroom — have the power to nurture students so they become more conscious, confident and creative human beings.

There’s no denying it, it’s pretty challenging to be a kid these days. With the onslaught of social media and its distractions, temptations and tendency to overstimulate young brains, as well as peer and school pressure, it’s no wonder that children are showing early signs of stress and stress-related challenges.

There’s an increase in both parents needing (or choosing) to work full time, which often means young children start day care earlier, resulting in increases in anxiety (separation anxiety) and stress, even in our youngest.

Yoga’s strengthening, lengthening, twisting, bending and stretching, coupled with smooth breaths, creates mental and physical focus and, very quickly helps students to feel more vibrant, less reactive, more interested and able to concentrate better and for longer. It stimulates kindness, both to oneself and to others.

Home stress is an issue too — divorce, finances, work — and teachers are stressed with burnout rates being the highest to date. We’ve also faced the COVID-19 pandemic, which has kept families in lockdown navigating their way through home schooling and many forms of new stressors.

Children absorb the stress of their parents and adults around them and bring it into the home and classroom. So it’s no wonder that classrooms are becoming stress pools drowning in cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones the body produces when we are anxious, angry, upset, scared, worried or sad. It’s our body’s way of attempting to protect us.

What follows is a symphony of stress and dis-tress — heart rate increases, breathing shallows, jaw clenches and shoulders and upper back tighten. Eye muscles expand, resulting in an inability to focus. Blood moves away from the brain to the bigger muscles that would, if we were threatened, help us to run from danger (the fight-or-flight response). And if there is no release point for this build-up of hormones, stress becomes chronic. I call this “sympathetic nervous system overdrive”.

For much of the day, primary school students are expected to sit still — often for extended periods — hunched over their desks, which further reduces deep breathing capacity and causes restlessness (and possible misbehaviour). Not a good recipe for a healthy classroom.

But there is a solution. Just a few minutes of mindful movement and deep breathing overrides the stress response, halting the flight-or-fight hormone production. Yoga’s strengthening, lengthening, twisting, bending and stretching, coupled with smooth breaths, creates mental and physical focus and, very quickly (in fact immediately), helps students (and teachers) to feel more vibrant, less reactive, more interested and able to concentrate better and for longer. It stimulates kindness, both to oneself and to others. The parasympathetic arm of the nervous system (rest-and-digest) also starts to kick in.

Yoga, a Sanskrit word, means union or “to yoke”; when we yoke our body, breath and mind we feel more connected and compassionate towards ourselves, others and the world around us.

Peace Pauses

Coupled with deep breathing, mindfulness and visualisation, yoga is a low-cost, healthy and fun option for helping students to feel good about themselves, inside and out. In a world that is often very chaotic and over-stimulating for all of us, especially kids, it’s important to offer what I call “Peace Pauses” — minutes where students and teachers can be drawn back into the present; to reset.

Weaving Peace Pauses into classrooms for just a few minutes each day will keep teachers and students feeling balanced, strong, flexible and calm — emotionally and physically. It will also keep students connected to each other and their learning, while creating a more conscious environment.

In conjunction with academics, my vision is that schools become places where students’ full potentials are nurtured and they develop holistically into whole human beings; creative and critical thinkers and learners who are self-aware and kind, compassionate citizens of the classroom, their community and the world.

Teachers don’t have to be yogis to introduce students to yoga and all its gifts. Every kind of person with every kind of body can do yoga, even those who are elderly, physically challenged or in wheelchairs, hospital beds and so on. We are all born naturally doing yoga. From infancy, we push up from our belly into cobra pose. We naturally lift our feet into the air into dead bug pose or pull our feet towards our mouth.

Weaving Peace Pauses into classrooms for just a few minutes each day will keep teachers and students feeling balanced, strong, flexible and calm — emotionally and physically. It will also keep students connected to each other and their learning, while creating a more conscious environment.

In a typical Peace Pause, students may bend, stretch, balance, twist and maybe even turn upside-down. They are introduced to the “magic” of their breath through breathing experiences that either energise or bring calm. Bones align and muscles lengthen and strengthen; lymphatic flow is enhanced, boosting the immune system; the nervous system awakens or settles as fresh oxygen fills the body; the mind calms or is refreshed. This is the science of yoga: a union of body, breath and mind.

The gifts of pausing

When pausing, students learn tools to self-regulate and to better manage their emotions. Their focus and concentration improves and they become more socially and emotionally intelligent. It is this more balanced state that fosters a greater sense of wellbeing — for oneself, others, the environment and the world.

In a typical Peace Pause, students may bend, stretch, balance, twist and maybe even turn upside-down. They are introduced to the “magic” of their breath through breathing experiences that either energise or bring calm.

And you don’t need a huge space either; there is Chair Yoga, which can be just as beneficial in a linear classroom setting.
Providing visualisation experiences — “Imagination Vacations” — stimulates imagination and creativity, in addition to welcoming stillness and an inner quiet. Meditation, too, invites the senses to be explored — what is seen/heard/tasted/felt/smelled — in a mindful way. The “monkey mind” has an opportunity to settle and to focus. These experiences are beneficial to all and can be particularly beneficial to students with learning difficulties and behavioural issues.

The breathing exercises act as a natural relaxant for all children, and especially for those with attention deficit disorder, and the movements are particularly useful in strengthening the muscles of those with low muscle tone or poor co-ordination.

With the upsurge of hand-held devices, often being used by children as young as one, the propensity for spinal defects and digestion issues as they grow, due to poor posture and constant slouching, is huge. Yoga helps to combat that as students develop greater core strength and an awareness of how, and why, it is important to have a good and strong posture.

Yoga as empowerment

The non-competitive aspects of yoga encourage students of all strengths and abilities to participate. In fact, it welcomes those who may not be naturally sporty because it focuses on the inner self and does not place emphasis on competition. It is extremely empowering, giving them added strength and flexibility as well as boosting their self-esteem.

Yoga also teaches students the language associated with their bodies. They learn the names of the muscle groups, they learn about their lungs and their breath, they discover all the names of their body parts and understand why a good posture aids digestion.

Yoga, and all its gifts, encourages students to discover their inner potential in a non-threatening and more conscious environment, and to feel good about themselves both inside and out.

Alongside the many physical benefits of yoga, both the left and right hemispheres of the brain are continuously stimulated, cultivating creative and critical thinkers. All of these foster holistic learning environments and cultivate social and emotional intelligence while nurturing students’ mind, body and spirit. It is important to note too, that yoga is not affiliated to any religion or belief system. It is a science, not a religious path. Yoga is for you, about you and in you — the person experiencing a union of body, breath and mind.

Daily doses of yoga and deep breathing helps to ease anxiety and tension, calm an overactive mind and body or boost energy when students are listless and tired. It gives them an outlet to express themselves and to build a connection between what they hear, feel and do. When students have healthy body awareness, they feel more confident and strong, enjoy greater self-esteem and a stronger posture which fosters deeper breathing, better digestion and quiet strength. When they have tools to self regulate they have less need to misbehave, to be unkind or uncooperative.

Yoga, and all its gifts, encourages students to discover their inner potential in a non-threatening and more conscious environment, and to feel good about themselves both inside and out. And it helps our teachers to teach, while nourishing themselves and enjoying what they love to do — nurture their students.

Karma Classroom Cards

An innovative activity deck to bring yoga, breath and mindfulness into the classroom (available for the home, too).

Let’s Breathe

Introducing different breaths — both calming and invigorating — to teach children that their breath is like a magical medicine.

Dust Buster

Short chair sequences to bring an instant source of fresh oxygen to the body and brain, helping kids stay focused and to concentrate better and for longer.

Feeling Strong

A selection of yoga poses encouraging stretching, lengthening, opening, twisting, bending and balancing to mindful breathing.

Imagination Vacation

A series of guided visualisations to bring children into the present moment, nurture self-awareness and help them to better understand their feelings.

Mindful Moment

Fun activities to cultivate mindfulness and encourage an inner sense of calm.

Mini Flow

Shake off the dust and enjoy a new sense of vitality with these fun Feeling Strong and Let’s Breathe sequences.

Stress Buster

Shake things up and relieve stress and tension with these self-love Stress Busters.

Karma Citizen

Discussion ideas to encourage your kids to become the best version of themselves, and to cultivate compassion and kindness for each other.



 

Beth Borowsky

Beth Borowsky is one of Sydney’s most inspiring yoga teachers. Known and loved for her careful Forrest Yoga cueing into and out of poses, she is sought after for privates, those working with injury and any practitioner who wants to build integrity both on and off the mat.