Monday, 1 August 2016

Yoga in the Early Years

Today I thought I would take some time to share the amazing journey that has come out of one of the many fantastic workshops that I have recently attended.

This past May I went to a workshop run by the Child Development Resource Connection Peel (CDRCP) called “How Does Learning Happen? Through Children’s Yoga” presented by the absolutely amazing Lisa Clarke from laLa Wellness

At the workshop, Lisa led us through a Yoga Playshop where we learned about different yoga poses, the benefits of yoga, how it connects to the document “How Does Learning Happen” as well as some VERY helpful tips about how to bring yoga into classrooms.

If you ever have a chance to go to one of Lisa’s workshops or you get a chance to bring her to your school or centre, jump on that opportunity! You can visit her website for more information about what she does and how to contact her.

Yoga Benefits

There are so many benefits, this post could be a mini-series… but let’s stick to what I consider to be the 3 main benefits:

1. Physical Literacy – not to be confused with physical activity (that’s for another post), so what is it?
"Physical literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life." (The International Physical Literacy Association, 2014)

Basically, yoga teaches children to be aware of their bodies, the way they move and feel and what they need to do to take care of themselves. By participating in yoga children have an opportunity to learn about their own bodies so they can be more comfortable and confident when participating in physical activity.

2. Mindfulness– at the workshop, Lisa shared this definition of mindfulness, “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn) Through yoga, children can learn to practice and develop mindfulness by engaging in meditation and deep belly breathing. Through these mindful practices, children can then learn to manage their own stress levels.

3. Stress Management – school can be an incredibly stressful experience for some children. In the Early Years, some children are away from their families for the first time, surrounded by new people and new experiences in an unfamiliar place! Even in older grades, with the stress of curriculum and navigating through the complicated world of friendships… school can create a lot of stress and anxiety.

Don’t worry though there is hope! “Research has shown that school curriculums incorporating stress management programs improve academic performance, self-esteem, classroom behaviors, concentration, and emotional balance. In addition, there is a decrease in helplessness, aggression, and behavioral problems of students.” (Kristin Henningsen, 2011)

Yoga is a proven stress management tool that when practiced on a regular basis can have dramatic positive effects on your students stress levels. In fact, “studies show that students in primary grades with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who practiced yoga improved on-task time and attention as well as reduced symptoms.” (Kristin Henningsen, 2011)

If you are interested in learning about the many other benefits of yoga, contact Lisa!

Our Yoga Journey

I felt so incredibly inspired after attending Lisa’s workshop and hearing about the MANY amazing benefits that I knew this was something that I had to implement into my classroom. Being a Full Day Kindergarten class where student interest and engagement is vital, I needed to make sure that my class was interested in this new activity and excited to learn about yoga.

So where to start? Lisa had started our workshop off with a brainstorming session about what is yoga… so I did the same (a little pre-assessment to see where we stood!) What followed was amazing.

I was totally blown away with how much they knew about yoga already! One of my students said, “One time my mom took me to this yoga place and there was a big ball. It was really fun!”  Some of my students spent the rest of the day showing some of the poses that they knew already and representing their poses. I knew from there that this was something worth pursuing. 

The next day I brought in the story “Breathe” by Scott Magoon. The story is about a little whale that remembers to take a breath while playing and exploring throughout his day. We talked about how to take a deep belly breath (breathe in and push your belly out, breathe out and pull your belly in) and then we practiced by sitting in a circle and passing around a fake flower that I got at Michaels.

My class sat in almost perfect silence as they waited their turn for the flower to be passed to them so they could try the deep belly breathing. We then read the story together, every time the little whale took a breath, we took one too. It was magical.

We then talked about how we felt after we did our deep belly breathing and discussed how we could use this to help us solve problems. All year long I had been telling students to take a deep breath when they were mad or frustrated, but it wasn’t until we actually practiced what this meant and felt our bellies move that this strategy actually worked. The transformation was incredible. My students began to self-regulate and were taking deep breaths to calm down all on their own because now they knew how.

As the weeks progressed, we read a lot of books about yoga and practiced many poses all while continuing to practice deep belly breathing. We started every day with a Sun Dance to practice meditation and mindfulness. The change in my class was simply amazing. My teaching partner commented on many occasions that our class felt calmer after we started practicing yoga.

Here are a few pictures from our yoga journey:

The yoga invitation set up on a table beside the carpet. This allowed my students to write, draw, read and use their bodies to show their learning.

We used pictures and words to support both our readers and non-readers to be successful when doing the Sun Dance. The Sun Dance is based off of Kira Willey’s “Dance for the Sun” watch it here!

We created a Yoga Wall in our classroom, a place for students to showcase their learning about yoga. This was such a beautiful addition to the space.

 Students began representing their poses that they were practicing. Some created their own poses based on the things that they were interested in. Some of the poses included the Ninja Pose, Armour Pose and Basketball Pose. Each of their drawings were included on our Yoga Wall. For the students who were more interested in writing, I took pictures of them doing their poses and printed them out. They then wrote sentences about what they were doing in the pictures.

Finally, after several weeks of learning and practicing we were so very lucky and excited because Lisa herself came to visit us for a Yoga Playshop! We went to the gym where she led us in a yoga circle before breaking into three yoga stations. At the stations she put out books, scarves, bouncy balls and other props to help us practice our breathing, poses and teamwork skills.

All in All…

The impact on my class that yoga had was undeniable. My students were so much more calm and therefore able to work through problems they encountered in the classroom. The level of engagement was unprecedented. The students who were most enthusiastic to practice yoga were my little ones that were most reluctant to engage in any other activities that we had tried. Going forward, I will definitely be implementing yoga into my classroom from the first day of school to help ease the stress of a new school year.

Resources and Further Reading
If you are looking for more information, check out these sites!

Lisa Clarke’s website!

Physical Literacy information and definitions

A collection of webinars from the CDRCP (including one about physical literacy)

Mindfulness Everyday is a Toronto based organization offering workshops and information based on the research of Jon Kabat-Zinn

Kristin Henningsen’s article from Kaplan University “The Benefits of Yoga for Children”

PBS article titled “Why Yoga and Kids Go Together”

Have you implemented yoga into your classrooms? How has yoga positively impacted your students and the learning environment?

Let’s talk,


  1. Beautifully written, Shannon! I'm having a hard time finding the word to express how excited and grateful I am that your students took to the practice as much as they did. It never ceases to amaze me how connected a child can be to their breath and their body if we just create an environment that helps them be really aware of themselves. I LOVE it!