If you talk with students at William Howard Taft Elementary School or Carson School, they might just mention their amazing tree – a tree that has nothing to do with the great outdoors. Rather, they’re referring to what they’re learning through Project Yoga, a nonprofit program that brings the healing tools of yoga and mindfulness to students.
First-grade student Makayla Wilkerson says she feels happy and calm after each yoga session.
Yoga is effective in helping to establish psychological, emotional and physical safety within schools, explains Heather Calhoun, a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) psychologist at CPS.
When children are stressed – from a challenge at home, a misunderstanding with a classmate or pressure to perform on a test – they, like all humans, can go into a highly reactive survival mode. Stress hormones start flowing, which increases the heart rate and breathing. The brain signals to fight or flight.
Yoga is a tool that hacks the brain’s stress response system. By intentionally slowing the breath, the brain calms. Students can consider the best way to handle a stressful situation and make a more positive choice. They are better able to learn and achieve.
Project Yoga’s Chairman of the Board Elizabeth McGee Mather said it’s magical to watch students learn yoga throughout the school year, and regain self-control by practicing breathing techniques.
“We’re empowering students with the tools to make choices and to be able to return to the classroom, which is huge,” McGee Mather said.
The skills students are learning, including self-management, responsible decision making and social awareness, align with Ohio’s K-12 Social and Emotional Learning Standards.
Calhoun says these skill sets can have a huge impact on equipping students to make positive choices.
“Yoga and mindfulness teaches everyone to just pause and take a breath. They teach us to respond versus react. Our children need these tools. Our families need these tools and our community needs these tools,” McGee Mather said.