I am a middle school social worker/counselor and am hoping to get some information about how I might incorporate yoga into my guidance classes for 6th graders. How would you suggest I get them to "buy in" in terms of understanding the importance of yoga when it comes to mental health, and what type of yoga would you suggest I do with them? How long should a yoga session be with them?
Thanks for your advice,
Guidance and Yoga
Dear Guidance and Yoga,
The first thing you must do before bringing yoga into your classroom is get a yoga teacher certification. Some YTT programs are specifically meant for people who only want to teach yoga to kids, and therefore aren’t a full 200 hour commitment. If this is not accessible to you, then search within your community for yoga teachers who have experience teaching kids and teens. Once all of this has been managed, I would advise you to take a step back and shift your perspective away from getting your students to “buy into” yoga.
As a teacher, and as someone who specializes in mental health and childhood development, you probably already know why. Kids resonate with adults who treat them as equals, and in this particular situation it’s important for you to lead by example and dive into your practice as much as you ask them to cultivate their own. You can talk about how beneficial yoga is until your face turns purple, but it won’t be until they actually experience the practice in a simple and consistent way that they will latch on.
Ultimately, kids want to move their bodies because it releases pent up energy and gives them a sense of both freedom and control. Āsana (the physical practice of yoga) is the perfect tool for that, and they will recognize it on their own if given appropriate guidance within a safe space.
A simple Surya Namaskar A flow sequence is enough to do the trick, and you could even add in a warrior one or two after a couple of rounds in order to help them stay grounded. Helping kids reach a “flow state,” is what will instill focus, and once you pair that flow state with diaphragmatic breath it allows for relaxation within the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is the control center of our fight, flight, freeze reflex, and when the mind and body live in a constant state of stress and worry (which is basically the most accurate description of middle school, ever) the parasympathetic nervous system goes into hyperdrive. The easiest way to bring the mind and body back to stasis is through diaphragmatic breath.
Kids don’t need to know the science behind their practice to understand that deep breathing and mindful movement feels good. They don’t need to be lectured about mental health. They need to establish trust within themselves and others. 30 minutes of moving and breathing with you as their guide will help you build trust with them more than explaining the benefits of yoga ever will.