In Second Grade, Using Yoga and Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Second grade teacher Karima Hastings was at wit’s end. It was March 2020, and thrust practically overnight into remote teaching, she was struggling to find ways to help her stressed-out students cope with an entirely new way of learning.
In the course of her research, she came across studies showing yoga to be an effective way to help manage stress and anxiety. Not only that, she discovered, it has been shown to boost alertness and enthusiasm, improve decision making and self-esteem, reduce negative feelings – and improve academic performance.
Karima incorporated 15–20 minutes of yoga and breathing exercises – it’s hard to separate the two, she says – into her hybrid class’s daily routine this spring. She was happy to find that children who had been feeling anxious before a session reported feeling calmer and more relaxed afterward.
“I was researching tools for my students but found it incredibly helpful to me as an online teacher, managing my own Zoom burnout and new-technology overload,” she says on her Yoga Ed site.
“The sympathetic nervous system, which supports the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, is often triggered when we’re anxious or worried,” Karima explains. Breathing exercises “help circulate oxygen in the body and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system’s response, which is the rest-and-digest response. So by practicing breathing, we’re helping to regulate our nervous systems.”
Karima uses “kid-friendly” breathing exercises connected to her students’ interest in the natural world, like “rain breath” and ‘”flower breath.” For example, “Rain breath is performed by stretching your hands to the sky and looking up to the ‘clouds,’ then fluttering your fingers down to the ground while exhaling with a shhhh sound, which sounds like rain.”
Recently her students have begun choreographing their own exercises, with names like “unicorn breath,” “pizza breath,” and “Godzilla breath.”
Part of the Daily Flow
With everyone back on campus, yoga and breathing exercises are an integral part of life in Room 11. Karima often has her students do a yoga pose between lessons, or when they need to move their bodies after sitting for a long time, or whenever they need a “brain break.”
“Any time during the day we need to pull the class together to focus on something, I’ll call out a breath and we’ll do a round of three.” This might happen two or three times a day, most often during transitions. Each exercise lasts 20 or 30 seconds.
At the back of the classroom is an area called Calm Corner. Posted on the wall is a rotating menu of yoga and breathing exercises. “The children love having a space dedicated to moving, breathing, and recharging,” she says.
“I’ll call out, ‘Calm Corner is open!’ and one by one they’ll run over and do some yoga or breathing exercises for a couple of minutes and then return to their work.
“If a student has a hard time sitting still and not talking to their neighbors, I’ll ask if they’d like to go to Calm Corner to take a break. It’s beautiful to watch a child who could easily be called out in a negative way have a space to move and refocus and turn inward to reset. We call that a ‘time in’ instead of a time out.”
A Meher Schools graduate and the mother of another, Karima has been teaching here for 22 years. She recently became certified as a yoga educator for children and teens. You can find her on Instagram.