yoga in the classrooom

How Yoga & Mindfulness Make Sense in Public School Classrooms

I am an expert in Kids Yoga due to the thousands of hours spent teaching children coordinated movement and breathing methods that enhance mindfulness.  This in-depth experience has led to the creation of classes for children and trainings for teachers, rooted in social and emotional learning.  It has been my life’s work for the past 15 years.  I also have an expertise in teaching yoga and meditation to beginner adults.  Most of the public school teachers I have had the good fortune to train in my SCHOOL Kids Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher Training are indeed new to the practice and their students, living in Los Angeles inner-city communities, are also beginners in dire need of life strategies to cope with daily pressures of growing up in our marginalized economy and digital age.  Fifteen years ago, I felt an immediate need to share yoga-based calming strategies with children.  To reach more children than the precious ones able to attend my Kids Yoga classes in my yoga studio, I began teaching in public schools.  Recently, I launched the online SCHOOL Kids Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher Training to reach educators across the country learn adapted yoga for the classroom.  SCHOOL Yoga holds a special expertise in conveying yoga and meditation to adults and children in reasonable ways, ways that make sense in everyday life.

I have been teaching weekly in Los Angeles Unified District elementary school classrooms since 2002.  This equates to teaching up to 1,000 students a week for the entire academic school year.  To be granted access to enter schools to teach an innovative program is not common nor easily achieved.  Many great organizations and people attempt to bring programs to public schools without success.  I am grateful to have begun my teaching and training endeavor of SCHOOL Yoga at the right time, in the right places, and with connection to the right people.  For over 15 years, I have been a part of the growth and challenges of teaching.  Stress reduction in classrooms for teachers and students is paramount today.  Going into classrooms and seeing first-hand the multitude of issues teachers are faced with on a delay basis,  I have ever increasing respect for school teachers and I see their genuine heartfelt commitment to help children.  I am humbled by the tireless effort teachers bring to their profession in order to provide education to youth, to make a difference in children’s lives to better our communities. 

Recently, as I began the weekly SCHOOL Yoga class for a kindergarten class in a downtown Los Angles public school, the teacher had to answer three phone calls, two unannounced knocks the door, not to mention the organization and leadership required for the 25 five-year olds.  This type of intense multi-tasking is common in our classrooms and my heart truly goes out to all teachers.  The well-being of teachers should be one of our top collective priorities.  I do still go into schools and teach 20-minute SCHOOL Yoga classes to elementary students and their teachers.  This helps me to stay on the pulse of the needs and challenges of children and teachers and to keep the SCHOOL methods on-point. The SCHOOL methods are classroom-proven over 15 years, which makes the methods practical rather than theoretical.  Since 2014, the SCHOOL Kids Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher Training has been approved as professional development for LAUSD teachers.  Commonly known, professional development for teachers must have relevancy.  Many teachers comment that the SCHOOL Kids Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher Training is one of the most useful professional development courses they have taken.

Whereas, I teach the SCHOOL methods to teachers in a manner that they can easily learn, when the teachers return to their classrooms and apply the methods, I repeatedly remind the teachers that they should not view this contemplative practice as a quick fix nor expect perfection.  Attention regulation and emotional regulation are life long practices.  The practice of yoga and meditation is continuous and evolving throughout life and does not usually follow a linear path of improvement.  As we are all giving our best in the face of life’s challenges, It is fair to say that sometimes we rise to the occasion with grace, and other times, we react and succumb to obstacles or bumps in the road that take us away from our best selves.  I can still walk into a class that I’ve seen weekly for a year or more and experience discord and distraction which is 180 degrees different from my visit only one week prior.  

There is no quick fix for emotional disturbances that are on the rise in our society.  It is possible, however, to engage in a step-by-step approach of grounding ourselves with the intention of kindness and being gentle with ourselves and others as a counter to emotional spinout or despondency.  This is where SCHOOL Kids Yoga steps in.  In my opinion, every single one of us needs practice grounding ourselves and recalling positive motivations.  Children are fortunate that teachers are seeking out alternative tools to assist with focus and character building.  Like myself, many people view social and emotional learning along with secular ethics as an utmost priority in education.  How can we turn our backs on children in poverty conditions existing in most of our public schools in larger cities?  We cannot.  To help public school teachers and their students is helping ourselves for years to come.  Children today will be adults when we are aging and it is imperative that we instill helpful behaviors so that they embody care and concern for our healthy society.  I witness how children are coping with poverty and know they, like us, have the potential for self-reliance and resiliency, if given the tools.

Generosity - Cheetos and Thinking with Heart ❤

I have taught Kids Yoga in public schools, as service to the community, for 11 years.  As of September 2012, an official foundation is in place for accepting funding streams for these classes.  SCHOOL, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization that is currently seeking to partner with established nonprofits who care for the health and future of children.  As the Director of SCHOOL, I am eager to collaborate with foundations, corporations and non-profit organizations. 

SCHOOL brings secular yoga and meditation classes to underserved children in public schools.  We go into classrooms during the school day and teach 20-minute classes that emphasize calm breathing.  Sounds rather simple?  If we had the habit of breathing in a steady and grounding way, this would indeed be rather straightfoward and automatic.  We take our breath for granted and with so much accelerated living, now is the time to get to know the power of calm breathing.  Parents, teachers, students, we all benefit from living from a place of more pause and less reactivity.

Our SCHOOL classes do include exercise and stretching.  However, I feel strongly about the enhancements within SCHOOL classes. We teach specific postures that ignite whole brain functioning.  The brain must be receptive for critical learning.  We also always include a theme that links why yoga and meditation are relevant to academic studies and healthy social interactions.  For example, this past week the theme for my weekly classes (30 classes seen each week - 25 plus children in each classroom) was generosity.  I told a story about pausing and taking a calm breath so that my brain could make a good choice.  The choice was to offer something that is one of my most favorite things to eat (chocolate covered marshmallows!) to a gentleman working outside in front of the store.  He did not ask for one of my prized marshmallow.  I was calm and thought that it might make him happy to have one.

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One of the fourth grade boys in a LAUSD class looked at me and said, "Ms. Kelly, I have a question.  Could I donate my Cheetos to someone?"  My heart soared to hear this question and to see that he was thinking about what he could give to another. I know Cheetos are not one of our healthy choices of food.  Chocolate marshmallows don't exactly top the list of best foods to eat daily!  The inner city children do not have access to farmer markets and Whole Foods stores.  Their parents are doing their best to put food on the table each day.  It was evident that this boy loved Cheetos and was beginning to think differently - thinking about being generous.  We do include healthy food choices in our SCHOOL classes.  We have specific postures in which students can raise their hands and contribute a healthy food to our "Stirring in the Bowl" pose.  To simply hear good food choices from peers and teachers while in the context of moving, will help plant the memory and idea of choosing healthy foods in life.  Generosity, giving what one has, healthy or Cheetos, is a beneficial quality we want to grow in the minds of children.