Yoga and Meditation in Schools: Will it Work?
I learned nothing from dodgeball. I am speaking about the semi-savage sport routinely played in public high schools, not about the 2004 film of the same name (I didn’t see the film, so had no opportunity to learn much from the film either). Maybe the only thing I learned was the fact that so-called “friends” will relish the chance to humiliate and pummel one another if given the opportunity. But this, to my mind, is not really the type of activity conducive to higher learning, enhanced concentration, or community building. If anything, I remember dodgeball as an activity that, while it did promote a fair amount of fear-based aerobic activity, was destabilizing and disquieting at best.
How about Yoga?
What is now a seven billion dollar industry in America, yoga wasn’t always the sweetheart of the urbane set. According to Robert Love, the author of The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America, less than a century ago “yoga was labeled a criminal fraud and an abomination against the purity of American women. It was associated with sexual promiscuity and kicked to the fringes of American society.” While yoga is not quite on the level of baseball or gymnastics, it is safe to say that acceptance has flourished for yoga over the past few decades, and it is even starting to crop up in schools.
A new organization, cleverly named Bent on Learning, is attempting to provide free yoga classes that include meditation (quiet time) for school children in New York City. Think of it as an appropriate counteraction to all the aural din, stress, and distraction that comes hand in hand with being a school age child in New York City. Or as hip hop impresario Russell Simmons (a fervent supporter of yoga and meditation in schools) contends, “Joining the two together, yoga and children, is an obvious synergy, because yoga is a great physical workout that teaches kids, in fact teaches everyone, how to use what they already have — their body, breath and mind — to feel better about themselves, to release stress, calm their emotions, and increase focus.”
I could hear the eyebrows arching and the skeptics guffawing in the distance, but really, with obesity rates as they are (approximately half of New York City public school children struggle with obesity) and academic performance on the decline in many sectors, why not opt to push a few desks aside and set up an impromptu yoga studio (43 percent of the schools in New York City don’t have any sort of gymnasium or gym teacher). Both yoga and meditation have been proven to help increase focus, balance blood pressure, as well as improve brain function, all of which would be a boon for schools, not just in New York City, but everywhere.
The question is will school age children go for it? While it doesn’t have the ferocity of dodgeball, or the competitiveness of softball, I believe that there is something intrinsically appealing to children about tuning in (or tuning out), and considering all of the stimuli and distractions competing for their attention, this may be exactly what they want and need. If it worked for no hope prisoners in India, then why wouldn’t it work for desk-bound students?
Is yoga suitable and ideal for public schools, or is it just too crunchy for the public school reality? Have you personally seen the benefits of yoga (I am not talking about killer abs and a tighter rear) and see its advancement into the school curriculum a positive step? How about meditation? Is that asking way too much of school age children?