How Yoga in Schools Helps Kids De-Stress

Yoga helps kids manage pressure and cultivate strength, ultimately setting the stage for happiness and success.
 | UPDATED ON APR 5, 2017

It’s a typical Thursday morning at KIPP Summit Academy in San Lorenzo, California, as 20 seventh graders file into yoga class. There’s nothing loosey-goosey or crunchy-granola about the atmosphere. KIPP Summit (KIPP stands for “Knowledge Is Power Program”) is one of 125 KIPP public charter schools around the country whose mission is to help low-income and underserved kids go to college. The academic program is rigorous, and the expectations for good behavior are high. These expectations are palpable as the students, dressed in navy-blue polo shirts, leave their shoes at the door and take their place on pre-assigned mats, facing the blackboard. Yoga teacher Adam Moscowitz notices squirminess and chatter among the group and, bending forward with hands on knees, he says, “OK, I want it quiet in five.” As he counts down from five to one, the chatter disappears. With boundaries firmly in place, learning can begin.

Moscowitz has written six adjectives on the blackboard
outlined in playful cartoon bubbles. The students have been immersed in standardized state tests this week, and Moscowitz takes a few minutes at the start of class to invite them to reflect on how they feel. “Are there any words on the board that reflect something you’ve experienced in this crazy week of testing?” The students respond with an enthusiastic but silent yes, shaking their hands back and forth, with palms facing each other, in front of their chests. (This silent signing is one of the quirks of KIPP Summit culture. It’s a way to keep the classroom contained. At KIPP Heartwood in San Jose, students are accustomed to being asked, “Is that clear?” and responding with a resounding “Crystal!”)

One by one, Moscowitz calls on the students to select a word from the board, and they share their feelings with surprising
sincerity. Most of the kids simply feel relieved that the testing is over, but some are exhausted, nervous, stressed, or all of
the above. Moscowitz encourages them to articulate why they feel the way they do, and he listens intently to each child. From there, the asana begins. As Moscowitz leads them through the series—including poses you’d see in any adult yoga class, such as Sun Salutations, Tree Pose, and seated twists—the students have varied reactions. Some seem to love it and go deep into quiet, others giggle throughout, and some look downright bored or checked out.

KIPP Summit eighth grader Andy Chen remembers being one of the bored ones when he started taking yoga at school three years ago. It took two full years of mandatory weekly classes before Chen took a liking to the practice. “I started realizing that yoga actually improved my athletic performance and calmed me down when I was in a bad mood. It got me focused, too,” says Chen, who plays basketball, football, and baseball. He counts Dolphin and Warrior as his favorite poses due to their strength-building qualities and the balance they bring him. He says that yoga helps him more than just physically; it also gives him an emotional outlet. “I remember this day when I came into yoga, like, really mad. I was raging, and unfocused at first. But Mr. Moscowitz said, ‘You just have to breathe. Don’t let everything around you distract you,’ ” says Chen. “That really helped me through the day. It made my day better.”

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