Can teaching children Yoga as exercise provide an effective calming strategy in primary school education?

By Natalie Gammer MA Ed.

Yoga has become an increasingly popular form of exercise in the UK. Originating in India around 400CE the literal meaning of the word ‘Yoga’ comes from the Sanskrit word yuj meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to harness’. Many advocates believe that practicing Yoga promotes the unity of body and mind; the ability to still fleeting thoughts and overpowering emotions through exercise. With rising levels of childhood stress and obesity across the western world, Yoga could provide a non-competitive option in schools to promote young people’s physical and mental wellbeing. 

Mindfulness and other ‘Contemplative Practices’ have also become popular activities with young people and there is growing evidence to suggest that ‘Eastern Arts’ such as mindfulness, yoga and meditation could have a plethora of potential benefits for people of all ages and diverse groups - including the elderly, vulnerable youths and those with Special Educational Needs (SEN) or disabilities.

Today’s primary school education system is often described as being in crisis. The combination of a lack of funding, SEN provision and teaching support and over-subscribed classes has meant that many classrooms across the country are more chaotic than they are calm. Achieving and encouraging an appropriate level of calmness is necessary to enable children to fully engage, concentrate and learn effectively. Previous studies have found that promoting self-regulation amongst children in Early Years education is a proven indicator of academic potential.

What if we could provide a calming strategy in schools to reduce feelings of negative emotion in children, whilst at the same time providing an opportunity for physical exerciseand a chance to promote children’s health and wellbeing? This aim of this research study seeks to uncover whether teaching a six-week yoga intervention during statutory Physical Education time can provide an effective solution to these issues. The creation of detailed planning for each of these sessions could then be used by other teaching practitioners to enable them to confidently teach Yoga at school. The research question is entitled: Can teaching children Yoga as exercise provide an effective calming strategy in primary school education?

The question is examined through careful analysis of children’s feedback after each Yoga session and through my personal reflective journal accounts. The trial took place with a class of thirty Year 2 children during their timetabled indoor Physical Education. Children in the class then responded with their likes, dislikes, favourite part and a description of their‘feelings’ after each session. The responses suggest that the intervention lead to increasing levels of ‘calm’. The results show that a weekly session of yoga increased feelings of calm amongst the children and that subjective feelings of calm were noticed in the children’s behaviour at other times.

Further research could be undertaken to clarify what aspects of the Yoga intervention impacted children’s opinions or the aspects they found most calming; could it have been the established routine, increased pupil confidence or improved skill or fitness that the Yoga lessons developed?