Yoga in the Schools


Like most third thru fifth graders in Iowa, the students at Erskine Elementary School faced the Iowa Test of Basic Skills this fall. But Erskine students did something differently. Before they sat down each day to work on the standardized test, they did some stretching and breathing exercises from yoga.


“Our principal had learned about brain-based research and test-taking,” says Jane Malloy, counselor at Erskine. “We found that stretching exercises help get oxygen, sugar, and hydration to the brain so that students can focus and think clearly.”


Interested in following up on this information, Erskine teachers learned some simple yoga stretches from Dagmar Munn of St. Luke’s Center for Health and Well-Being to practice with their students before taking the ITBS test. “We just spent about five minutes on yoga each day before we took part of the test,” says Katy Polenta, third grade teacher at Erskine.


Students surveyed after the testing suggests that doing yoga before the test affected their attitude. “The exercises were very helpful and they made me feel confident and ready to take the test,” said Brittany Coleman a fourth grader in Mrs. Tauer’s class at Erskine.


 It’s too soon to tell if these exercises will translate into higher ITBS scores, but teachers and administrators agreed that because they helped the children’s attitude and ability to focus, yoga exercises will become a regular part of standardized test-taking routine at the school.


Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates are being taught elsewhere in the local schools, and with good results. “They are inner-directed exercises which are non-competitive and self-fulfilling,” says Dagmar Munn, director of the center. Children don’t need to compare themselves with others or compete in a contest to feel good about doing these exercises, Munn points out, so yoga makes a good balance with more competitive team sports.


Teachers prepared to teach these new moves by learning themselves. “Physical education teachers came to the St. Luke’s Center, and I trained them in some basic routines,” says Munn. “Then they went out and taught their students in P.E.”


The units on yoga, tai chi, and Pilates were helpful for a wide range of students.


“We found it helped kids with behavioral disabilities become more relaxed and focused,” says Ann Griffin, adaptive physical education consultant for Grant Wood AEA.


Most importantly, these exercises are ones students can easily practice their entire lives so that the benefits of relaxation and physical fitness will not fade once they leave school.


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