Why schools move forward with yoga, despite complaints
As K-12 educators adopt yoga, meditation and other mindfulness exercises to reduce student stress, some controversy continues to swirl around use of the practices in public education.
The Cobb County School District in the Atlanta suburbs just this month settled a lawsuit filed by an assistant principal who says she was transferred when parents complained that she taught yoga to students, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.
The district will pay the assistant principal $150,000 in exchange for her resignation, the newspaper said.
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Candy Gunther Brown, a professor of religious studies at Indiana University, wrote in The Conversation that she has testified that yoga does not violate the law in four cases in which schools have been challenged on religious grounds.
But educators still have work to do. She wrote: “My research and experience leads me to believe that there are problems with how yoga is being implemented in schools. My goal is not to ban yoga or mindfulness from school settings. But I believe there are legal and ethical reasons to work toward greater transparency and voluntary participation in yoga.”
A place to calm down
Many experts see significant benefits when students practice yoga, meditation and other calming techniques. A Tulane University study found that students’ “emotional and psychosocial quality of life” increased after the introduction of a yoga curriculum in elementary schools.
On PBS News Hour last month, a Maryland high school teacher described how yoga is helping his students overcome the challenges of teenage life.
Some districts are opening “mindfulness rooms” to provide spaces where students can relieve stress and anxiety.
‘Innate human qualities’
Dr. Amy Saltzman, director of the Association for Mindfulness in Education, says she stresses the underlying values of mindfulness when she encounters resistant parents.
“Mindfulness, compassion and self-compassion are innate human qualities,” she told DA. “One does not need to be any particular religion to practice them, any more than one needs to be Italian to enjoy pizza.”
Students at Corona del Sol High School in the Tempe Union High School District visit a room with soft chairs, beanbags chairs, couches and cushions to calm down. They can also speak with an educator trained in mindfulness techniques, KTAR-FM reported.
Another teacher is building a similar facility an elementary school in Austin USD in Texas, KVUE TV reported. And in South Washington County Schools in Minnesota, the mindfulness curriculum begins in kindergarten with students listening to stories to learn simple yoga movements, according to RiverTowns.net.
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What the science says
Three years ago, educators in New Jersey’s West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District added meditation breaks for high school students after a survey uncovered that students had high levels of stress and that 120 had been referred for out-of-district mental health treatment, District Administration reported.
Also, a recent professional development day included peer-to-peer sessions on meditation, mindfulness, yoga and breathing exercises.
“It’s not one more thing, but it’s part of how you think about your classroom management,” Superintendent David Aderhold told DA.
In West Bridgewater Public Schools in Massachusetts, morning announcements have included principals leading students through mindful breathing exercises, DA reported.
As far as the religion issue, administrators should be well-versed in the components of their mindfulness activities in case, for example, they have to defend their program during conversations with concerned parents, experts told DA.
In Ohio, Middletown High School’s alternative education program has been teaching students to practice deep breathing for about a decade. Educators there take a scientific approach, Principal Carmela Cotter said.
“We talk to the kids about brain activity and the physiological responses to anxiety,” Cotter told DA. “When they breathe, they perform better. Oxygen gets to their brains, they can focus on the task at hand and can block out the other stresses in their lives.”
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