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What Is Social-Emotional Learning?

Updated: Jun 21, 2022

By Anne Funke and Melissa Hyde

In this blog series, we will explore what social-emotional learning is, and we will examine why it is important for people of all ages.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) began receiving national attention in the mid-1990s, and has been steadily gaining momentum ever since. SEL can be defined as enhancing the relationship with oneself and others through positive social skills and effective emotional regulation.

Since its introduction, social-emotional learning has taken on new importance in our educational system. Consequently, it is often considered something that applies specifically to children and teens. SEL, however, is important for people of all ages.

Learning does not stop once formal education ends. Our needs, thoughts, and even our habits change as we age, endlessly shifting the way we view and interact with our environment. To keep up with this constant change, we have to relearn or review what we thought we knew to be true about ourselves and others.

Additionally, many adults have found a need for guidance in navigating a world that has become increasingly digital and fast-paced. There are more and more emerging SEL programs designed for adults that offer this support.

Social-emotional learning is formally broken down into five categories:

Self-Awareness: Understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses, and setting realistic goals for learning and growth.

Self-Management: Learning to recognize and control strong emotions, and developing grit in challenging situations.

Social-Awareness: Practicing patience, tolerance, and flexibility with others; and recognizing the effects of one’s behavior on others.

Relationship Skills: Developing and exhibiting expected social skills when interacting with others, and learning what it means to be a good friend.

Responsible Decision-Making: Learning to make good decisions based on one’s personal values and past experiences, and taking responsibilities for one’s actions.

How Does Social-Emotional Learning Connect to Yoga and Mindfulness?

At the heart of social-emotional learning lies Mindfulness: learning to listen and pay attention to yourself and what is around you in order to live with more peace, self-love, and gratitude. Those who understand and practice Mindfulness also have strong strong social-emotional foundations.

Yoga, which has a special and intimate relationship with Mindfulness, can also be partnered with social-emotional learning and growth. Beyond the physical poses, yoga is about learning to be with ourselves and learning to be with others.

In yoga you have a safe space to listen to your mind and body—to decide what feels good to you. It encourages you to discover what is inside your comfort zone as well as what hovers outside its borders. Through this process, we aspire to develop unconditional acceptance of ourselves.

Yoga is very personal and non-competitive. On your yoga mat, you are simply encouraged to notice the limitations you have set for yourself, and then to investigate those boundaries through physical exploration and self-inquiry. Your only comparison for improvement here is to yourself—have I made any progress since yesterday?

In yoga, we learn to breathe through painful and challenging poses so that we can develop grit and perseverance to transfer off of our yoga mats. In this way, we develop patience with ourselves. As we continue to pause and breathe, we can begin extending this same patience and non-judgment to those around us. We learn from our own internal truth that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. We learn to encourage ourselves and others; never to criticize or shame.

Yoga, mindfulness, and social-emotional learning all begin with the self and then move outwards to others. We begin with self-awareness to create positive self-improvement. We use what we have learned about ourselves to then move through the world with more humility and intention. No matter the path you take, the journey to expand your mind and heart will always begin inside yourself.

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