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The Truth About Yoga in Schools: 4 Common Myths I Hear From Students

by Lori Schulte Trenkamp, Secondary Mindful Education Instructor

Photo: High school students at Maquoketa Valley High School during a Mindful Education Lesson

"It is a beautiful thing to see them discover new things about themselves!...That’s when they start to realize that this “yoga” isn’t going to be what they had envisioned." ~ Lori Schulte Trenkamp

Not too long ago, Jordan Turner, my boss, let us know that our signature Yoga in the Schools Program was changing its name (GASP!!). The program was renamed the Mindful Education in Schools Program. As an instructor at the secondary level - middle and high school - I have to say that this rename is a welcome change!

If you're wondering why, it's because the original name led to a lot of misconceptions about how comprehensive the program really is (i.e. it's way more than "just yoga"). That first hurdle of getting the students and teachers to understand this is a whole mindful education curriculum- not the yoga they may be expecting- can be a high one to get over in the beginning.

Yoga in Schools Myths

As teens start to walk into the classroom on their first yoga day, I can usually guess what to expect. Here are some of the common things that I hear from students:

  1. "Oh man! Are we really going to do yoga the whole class?"

  2. "Are we going to do that chanting stuff?"

  3. "I’m not good at yoga."

  4. "I’m not flexible enough to do yoga."

On another note, the Mindful Education Lesson also isn’t generally what the teachers were envisioning either. Occasionally, a teacher will come in and grab a mat to join the kids. They quickly realize that this isn’t your typical adult yoga class (though many do enjoy joining the kids for their yoga nap at the end!).

These and many other beliefs are things I often hear as I step into a school- especially a new one.  However, many of these thoughts are based on myths and don't reflect the work we really do. So, in this blog, I am going to play MythBusters: the Mindful Education in Schools Edition, and debunk some of the common myths.

Myth #1: Doing yoga only means doing crazy poses or movements

The first day at any new school, I have my work cut out for me. It is actually one of my favorite parts of teaching mindful education in schools; taking the time to explain to the kids how yoga will look in these classes, and, guess what? It’s not what they think.

At the middle and high school levels, kids are often upset that they are missing a PE day for "yoga", thinking that they are going to be doing the physical yoga practice that they’ve seen on movies and TV shows. Which, to be fair, is not everyone’s cup of tea. They are pleasantly surprised to find out that our program contains so much more than that.

The Mindful Education in Schools Program is much more about the true definition of yoga which is to “join, integrate, or harness.” Our aim is to help kids join their smart minds with their calm bodies and kind hearts. It is about integrating mindfulness into their daily lives and harnessing all the power within them that they may not even realize they have yet.

In fact, once students have been introduced to the way we do things and the variety of modalities we will use to cover these different topics, I find kids to be much less grumbly about "yoga day". Eventually, some of them even start to look forward to it - even if it would be way too “uncool” to admit that to their friends!

Mindful education is not just about yoga - it's about yoga naps too!

Myth #2: I have to be flexible to do yoga

If you had the opportunity to read our Five Parts of Practice blogs for elementary and secondary, you already know that the physical movement part of our lesson is only one of five parts. It is true that in high school, the movement part takes a bigger role than it does in middle school. But still, it is only a part of the lesson, and more of an exploration into how using movement to focus our minds can be just as helpful as any sort of intense physical yoga practice. 

Hearing kids say they are not “flexible enough” for yoga or they’re “not good at yoga” is always a great prompt for me to step in and explain there is no “good” or “bad” at yoga. For example, I'll often say, "It doesn’t matter how far you bend as long as you’re trying" or "Whether or not you can touch your toes isn’t important."

We all have different bodies and different minds, therefore we will all move at different paces. That alone is a lifelong lesson. Yoga is meant for you to connect your own mind, body, breath; you can’t be “bad” at that. We call every yoga class a “practice” because you are always just practicing at getting more mindful, integrating the practice more into your daily life, and harnessing all the powers within you, no matter if you're having a good day or not. 

Myth #3: Yoga is only a physical practice

In reality, the rest of a Mindful Education Lesson consists of tools for self-regulation and a topic that is relevant to their lives and the struggles they face at this stage of life.

For instance, we have lessons on self-esteem, stress management, and focus, to name a few. These lessons all include a type of breathing practice they can use throughout the day (like the yoga nap at the end). But the big, meaty part of the lesson is discussion, journaling, and activities to engage them in learning more about the topic and getting curious about their own thoughts and feelings.

When we discuss many of these topics and do the activities, I often see kids really start to think about how they viewed this previously, or even how little thought they’ve previously put into it. It is a beautiful thing to see them discover new things about themselves!

Video: What does yoga mean to you?

Some of the lessons do use movement as a part of teaching the topic, such as teaching focus by practicing balance poses together, but many use group activities, collaborative effort as a whole class, or games. As you can imagine, kids love it when they get to work together as pairs or groups (extra talking time with their friends), and can really get into it when some sort of game is included. That’s when they start to realize that this “yoga” isn’t going to be what they had envisioned.

Myth #4: Yoga is a religion

Many people often wonder if yoga is a religion; it is not. While the history of yoga has deep roots in various spiritual and philosophical traditions - particularly within Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism - its future is open to all who seek to develop a deeper understanding of their own mind and body. We do not spend any time in our classes praying to any being, chanting, or worshipping any idols. As we learned in our Kids Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher Training:

"Yoga is a multifaceted practice that has many layers. It is a physical practice, a self-reflection practice, and a philosophy. Yoga is inclusive and does not insist upon a particular set of beliefs. It is a practice that may enhance one’s particular religion but does not dictate that one must have a religion at all. The bottom line of yoga is intention."

Occasionally, there are children whose parents have decided they need to sit out of our yoga classes due to religious reasons. While I absolutely respect a parent's right to make that decision, I often wonder how many of them realize that yoga isn’t a religion itself and can be a wonderful supplement to any religion they may practice.

At Challenge to Change, we value the beliefs of every one of our students. We work diligently to educate our students in a way that will enhance their values and beliefs, rather than alter them.

~ Lori

P.S. We have a Yoga and Mindfulness Resource Center designed just for Teens! We have so many great brain-break resources at your fingertips - just click and play!


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