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Yoga in Schools: Where Inclusivity and Social-Emotional Learning Intersect

By Carla Tantillo


Some of the most powerful moments when including yoga in our classrooms happen as students set their intentions for what they wish to ‘let go’ or ‘change’ in the world around them. I’ve heard no bullying and more kindness uttered as desires – and once to the delight of his class, a student set the intention for extra curly fries at lunch. Be it serious or silly, it’s inspiring to observe young people use yoga as a tool to help them reflect on and navigate their ever-changing worlds.
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  Help cool down your
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Often the image we see in the media of kids practicing yoga includes cute and contented little ones balancing on one leg in tree pose or meditating with an adoring teacher looking on. While this image isn’t completely inaccurate – after all, yoga kids are cute and their teachers do typically adore them – it doesn’t fully depict deep contextual undercurrents that speak to our students’ social-emotional learning needs.

As the school year begins, it is important to acknowledge the complexities of our educational environments.  Is our classroom culture inclusive?  Do we make time for social-emotional learning?  How can we empower students to be co-creators of experience and discovery in their education and lives?   

Meeting all students’ needs is high-stakes work. School districts across the country are moving toward more inclusive classroom settings and looking for ways to concretely include social-emotional learning and student wellness into their classrooms. Yoga, with its balance of movement and relaxation tools, is the perfect vehicle.

Providing students with yoga programming that teaches skills for life-long learning and reflection requires consistency and an active and inclusive process that models and reinforces social-emotional learning.  The first step is reflecting on our own experience as an educator.  The second step is moving forward with care and commitment.

I invite you to reflect on your classroom schedule and find 8-10 minutes each day to include yoga and relaxation into your daily routine.  Begin slowly – including 5 minutes of yoga after lunch or 2 minutes before a test – and be consistent in both your messaging and delivery.  Speak to the what, why and how of yoga and social-emotional learning.  Including your students in the narrative is a great way to build trust and a positive classroom climate and culture.

Use yoga, breathing and relaxation to create a safe, inclusive classroom that honors students’ social-emotional learning needs - one breath at a time.

Carla Tantillo is the founder of Mindful Practices, an organization dedicated to empowering teachers and students through yoga, wellness and social-emotional learning to create a more effective educational environment. She is also the author of Cooling Down Your Classroom: Using Yoga, Relaxation and Breathing Strategies to Help Students Learn to Keep Their Cool and travels around the country providing professional development to school communities. To learn more, contact her at Carla@MindfulPracticesYoga.com or visit www.MindfulPracticesYoga.com.