Lara Veon

Five Ways Yoga Can Help Educators Create Safe Environments

Mindful Practices

Much like that of educating the whole child, how to make our learning environments safe places in which to teach and learn is a rich and complex discussion in our current education landscape. Our Mindful Practices team teaches in schools throughout Chicago—in the most under-resourced neighborhoods to the most affluent suburbs. Although each community might actively address school safety in different ways, we've found that incorporating yoga as a social-emotional learning tool into the school day increases the sense of internal and external safety for educators and students, thus creating a better learning environment for everyone.

Below are five ways that yoga can help educators create safety in their classrooms and schools, including links to activities that anyone can start using today.

  1. Awareness of Self and Others

    Using yoga poses and strategies that focus on breathing teaches students how to notice feelings and recognize what happens in their bodies when they are feeling emotions. Yoga poses also provide alternatives for the problematic responses that often contribute to unsafe situations. This practice begins with individual self-awareness skills and is easily transferable to activities that focus on an awareness and respect of others.

    Read about an activity using a Feelings Journal to teach self-awareness.

  2. Distress Tolerance and Emotional Regulation

    Not only does yoga teach students to identify when they might be feeling distress, but it also teaches them ways to tolerate and regulate their emotions. When a student can pause, identify the feeling causing an intense reaction, and choose an intervention to address that reaction, she can interrupt a negative behavior cycle that might have previously caused injury or harm. This ability also increases tolerance to negative feelings and gives students control over their ability to respond rather than react when confronted with challenging situations.

    Learn more about a positive behavioral tool that encourages students to reflect on their decision-making process and identify alternatives for problematic choices.

  3. Nonjudgment and Acceptance

    When students practice yoga, they are encouraged to pay attention to their thoughts and listen to what their thoughts tell them. These thoughts (or judgments) might be positive or negative. They might say, "I am the best in this class," or conversely, "I am not good enough." Both positive and negative thoughts have the potential to be harmful to oneself and others. Yoga teaches students, however, to recognize these judgments and cultivate acceptance. A nonjudgmental approach that instills acceptance of self and others leads to greater self-esteem, and as a result can minimize occurrences of bullying and promote a positive school culture.

    Check out some ideas on how to use yoga to help raise students' self-confidence.

  4. Transitions and Routines

    Transitions between subjects or classes are often fraught with opportunities for physical tussling between students, unproductive verbal exchanges, and an elevation in noise that can be disruptive to sensitive nervous systems. Having a yoga routine in place provides an equalizing structure where students know what is expected of them and teachers feel they have more control of their classroom environment.

    Learn about a teacher's tip on creating a safe transition back to the classroom after recess.

  5. Caring Community

    To put it simply, a learning environment that practices yoga is a caring community. Embedded in the practice is an understanding that we are all individuals and also connected as a larger community. Using yoga with students provides inclusive strategies that meet all students at their level so they can feel a sense of mastery as part of a group.

    Learn about a yoga routine that you can use in your classroom.

While policymakers and advocacy organizations continue to do the important work of determining ways to make our schools safe, educators need not wait to contribute solutions. Using yoga is an affordable and accessible way to implement profound, holistic, and sustainable change that makes learning environments safer for educators and students alike.

Lara Veon is a team member at Mindful Practices. She is a body-centered psychotherapist, educator, writer, and yoga instructor who has been teaching and counseling in educational and community settings for more than 10 years. Veon enjoys sharing the transformational effect of yoga and wellness with students in all stages of life. Contact Mindful Practices at admin@MindfulPracticesYoga.com.

Comments (2)

TEAS Practice Test

February 28, 2013

The fact remains that self awareness can help to control emotion to a certain extent.

Lara Veon

February 28, 2013

Thanks for commenting, TEAS Practice Test. Can you expand on your comment a bit? I’m interested in your point.

Recent data is showing that using contemplative practices, such as yoga and mindfulness, with students in K-12 can increase attention, social skills, and self-esteem and decrease anxiety and somatic distress. We found in a longitudinal study we did with one of our school partners that discipline referrals reduced by roughly 50% within the four years in which our Mindful Practices program was implemented.

Students (and teachers) reported a decrease in stress. And as we know, the neurological impact of stress is lower executive functioning (goal directed behavior, planning, impulse control, working memory). Yoga and mindfulness can enhance executive functioning, which can result in increased internal and external safety. We believe every learning environment can benefit from the yoga and mindfulness. It one way to educate the whole child and has the potential for great systemic impact.

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