Exploring the benefits of yoga in PE classes

Swanky studio, bright sunlight reflecting off of wall mirrors and expensive gear worn by “wellness gurus” is what many of us imagine when we hear the word “yoga.” However, yoga was originally a way to train the body and mind simultaneously to learn to think clearly while also staying fit. 

Our school’s physical education is far from this ideal, but there are ways to make our physical education more comprehensive. Incorporating yoga as a mandatory unit for PE9 classes – just like swimming – would help students manage stress more effectively while still providing adequate physical activity.

Perhaps the most well-known benefit of yoga is its ability to calm us down and manage stress more effectively, something that is especially useful to students. Literature teacher and yoga practitioner Vennessa Nava says she teaches all of her students yoga as a form of self-care. 

“Part of the goal is that you are bringing together your breath, your mind, your body, so that you’re not just getting carried away in the anxious thought patterns,” Nava said. “I notice by the end of a practice with students, there is a different feel in the room. A lot of students feel more calm, they’re quieter.” 

However, the benefits are not just anecdotal; they have been formally studied, too. One study published in The Journal of Behavioral Health Sciences and Research compared middle school students who took an 11-week yoga program with those who took regular physical education. The students who took yoga fared markedly better over the course of a semester in mood, anxiety, resilience and anger control, showing how even a little bit of yoga every day can help support mental health. 

As a result, it’s unsurprising that yoga also helps students manage stress and fatigue. MVHS freshman Justin Lee agrees with this sentiment, sharing about his experience doing yoga on campus. 

“That particular day, the day that we did yoga, was a particularly tiring day of mine,” Lee said. “And if I didn’t do the yoga, I don’t think I would have made it through the school day.”

It’s common knowledge that students feel academic pressure, leading to the creation of mental health clubs and SEL advisories. Having a variety of tools to manage mental health, including yoga, available is a way to support students better in caring for their emotions.

“Everyone has [stress], but how do we manage it?” Nava said. “Not everyone has really good and healthy stress management practices in place that they do regularly.” 

Some may wonder if yoga really has a place in PE classes, since it is seen as more of a wellness practice than exercise; however, yoga has enough physical benefits to be part of physical education. The study from The Journal of Behavioral Health Sciences and Research also mentions that  students who took yoga reported lower levels of fatigue, one of the main goals of staying active. When done correctly, the breathing methods done in yoga increase the heart rate similar to any other exercise, the poses stretch the muscles and the blood circulation increases. 

“[Practicing yoga] transformed my physical health,” Nava said. “It’s a way of maintaining your flexibility and your strength, and it hits a lot of things that other types of sports or physical activities don’t.”

But with the numerous benefits and the common need for yoga, why don’t we already have it in our PE classes? The answer boils down to qualifications, comfort levels and the spiritual aspects of the practice. In fact, one of the most obvious roadblocks in setting up a yoga program is finding teachers that are qualified to teach it correctly. 

“You have to train our PE teachers on how to do [yoga],” student therapist Richard Prinz said. “And that takes time.” 

Additionally, some worry about cultural appropriation if traditional yoga practitioners aren’t the ones teaching classes. A possible way of combating this would be inviting certified yoga practitioners from local studios as guest instructors and having them rotate between the FUHSD schools. 

However, this carries drawbacks of its own, one of the major issues being the lack of understanding between students and any guest teacher. If, instead, the school PE teachers receive basic yoga training, trust can be built over time and yoga can become a feasible unit for later in the school year.

“There needs to be trust,” Lee said. “Bringing in a professional yoga instructor, there is no bond between the students and the teacher.”

Another barrier schools run into when trying to add yoga into curriculum is the assumption that yoga is connected to religion and therefore should not be required in public schools. This is a misconception, since yoga does not inherently include any religious practices, and is instead meant to calm one’s body and mind to prepare for meditation or other spiritual practices. Omitting spiritual meditation would preserve the mental and physical benefits of yoga while remaining firmly secular.

While adding yoga as a required unit of PE may take time, either to contract with local studios or train teachers, it’s worth the cost. Setting up a series of yoga workshops could be a simple pilot program to combat people’s worries about the interest in the unit. Regardless, it is time for us to integrate a wider range of cultures into our schools and yoga, with its various proven benefits, is the perfect place to begin.

“Kurmasana” by Pelin Kahraman, “Urdvha Hastasana” by Pelin Kahraman, “Adho Mukha Svanasana” by Pelin Kahraman, “Trikonasana” by Pelin Kahraman, “Mat” by Kiran Shastry, “Grades” by Creative Mahira, “Tired” by Cuputo, “Anxiety” by Ghozy Muhtarom, and “Quotation Mark” by Iconsphere are licensed under CC BY 3.0 and retrieved via the Noun Project.

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