Yoga helps students focus in the classroom

MARQUETTE – New and innovative teaching methods are popping up all across the country as professionals in education seek to up test scores and teach students more subjects at increasingly younger ages.

The need for a highly educated workforce puts a lot of pressure on teachers and students alike.

One way to combat that stress – as well as help students who may have trouble focusing or remaining calm in class – is by practicing yoga in the classroom.

Professionals in education from Gwinn, Grand Marais, Northern Michigan University, NICE Community Schools and Escanaba all partook in a day-long Yoga Calm training that took place earlier this month in Superior Hills Elementary School.

Kathy Flaminio, the Yoga Calm trainer who visited the area from Minneapolis, said the training is meant to show teachers how to use yoga in the classroom to help students focus.

“Yoga Calm is integrated movement to activate and relax the body into what we call a relaxed, alert state,” Flaminio said. “Kids aren’t moving enough in education. The science says when the body moves, the neurons in the brain fire faster.”

The idea is to integrate yoga into all aspects of the classroom, thereby increasing attentiveness and improving a student’s ability to learn.

Flaminio said the training helps students who may have a difficult time staying focused on the task at hand such as students diagnosed with attention deficit disorder learn how to calm themselves down, which in turn, helps boost their self-confidence.

“We see kids thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m not the kid that’s all over the place,'” she said. “That mental shift of how you see yourself, I think is almost as important (as learning to focus). If you speak differently of yourself, ‘I am balanced, I can do this, I am centered,’ not only are they thinking that and saying those words, they’re feeling it in their body.”

With cuts in education funding and increasingly rigorous academic standards to uphold, many schools are lessening the amount of time students – especially young ones – spend in movement. Gym class, in short, often takes a back seat to math, English, science and other academic subjects.

Flaminio said students need that time to exercise, and when they don’t get it, they need to be able to move in the classroom.

“All movement is not created equal,” she said. “A lot of time, when kids come out to recess, they come back and they’re still seeking movement and that’s why we use the yoga as the integrated piece of the movement. Not only is it just movement we’re trying to do, we felt like the social, emotional wellness is important too.”

And though the training is meant to help teachers show their students how to effectively manage their stress levels, it is also an effective way for the teachers to take their own stress levels down a notch, Flaminio said.

“We have teachers saying, ‘This is the best workshop I’ve taken in my 30 years of teaching. I walked away with strategies for myself. I didn’t even know how much I needed this day for myself,'” she said. “It’s so important to take care of the teachers because if the teachers are stressed out, you’re not able to take care of the kids

“Staff wellness is so important. Teachers are overwhelmed and we’re not putting money into teacher wellness. Everything we teach them is for them first.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.