Yoga at school may help your child, but what about mine?

Recently I’ve seen several headlines about schools who are introducing yoga as a way to address student behaviors. The West Fargo Pioneer (link no longer available online) explains this way:

Behavior issues stem from a multitude of reasons. However, studies show that students today are more likely to experience trauma and have mental health needs, increasing the likelihood of classroom disruptions and behavioral issues. 

In a classroom of 20, one or two students on average will be dealing with serious psycho-social stressors relating to poverty, domestic violence, abuse and neglect, or a psychiatric disorder, according to the Child Mind Institute.

This type of stress can shorten periods of brain development and limit brain growth in early years, making it harder for students to regulate emotions and concentrate on learning. 

And while schools can’t control students’ experiences outside the classroom, they can help students learn how to cope with stress and regulate emotional outbursts. Social-emotional curriculum aims to help students recognize and deal with emotions and tackle the increased presence of stress and trauma.

It’s absolutely true that every classroom has children who have experienced trauma. Early childhood trauma is an epidemic. It’s absolutely true that these experiences affect a student’s ability to learn and cope in school. It’s also absolutely true that some students will benefit from yoga. It will help by,

  • Reducing stress
  • Improving concentration
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • And more…

This is why PBS suggests Managing School Stress by Bringing Yoga Into the Classroom. And Education Week applauds Ditching Detention for Yoga: Schools Embrace Mindfulness to Curb Discipline Problems.

Great ideas, however news articles like these give the impression that yoga is an inexpensive, quick fix for childhood trauma. For kids on the moderate to severe end of the spectrum, this simply isn’t the case.

Here’s the problem

Many kids with developmental trauma are so dysregulated they cannot follow instructions or calm themselves enough to even choose to participate in yoga. A 10-year-old who flips desks, curses at the teacher, and fights with other kids is likely not able to safely or effectively participate in yoga.

Furthermore, kids who have extreme behaviors and emotions may be extremely disruptive during yoga activities. This can cause other students to be unable to focus and benefit from the exercises. A 6-year-old who refuses to follow instructions, pesters other kids, and runs around in circles, will disrupt the entire atmosphere.

If a child has a cold, a spoonful of honey does wonders. However, that same spoonful of honey is not able to cure a child who has strep throat. Here’s the ugly truth about trauma: Some kids who have experienced trauma have needs far beyond what a spoonful of honey can heal. Without comprehensive and specialized treatments, these children are unlikely to benefit from yoga at school. They probably won’t even be able to successfully participate.

A spoonful of honey soothes a sore throat, but it can't cure strep throat. Yoga in schools is wonderful, but kids with developmental trauma need comprehensive, specialized treatments. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions. Click To Tweet

I cringe at the “yoga in school” headlines because they minimize the devastating, often debilitating, effects of trauma on our kids. Most people who read the articles, or just skim the headlines, will assume childhood trauma is easily treated.

Don’t get me wrong – I applaud schools incorporating yoga into their curriculum and behavior programs because it can be helpful to so many children. However, yoga cannot curb extreme behaviors caused developmental trauma. It is a far more complicated and challenging issue.

Let’s get our kids to a healthy place where they can benefit from yoga. You can help by learning how trauma effects kids and sharing our video to help raise awareness for the need for accessible, affordable, and effective treatments.

6 thoughts on “Yoga at school may help your child, but what about mine?”

  1. Because of the book, The Body Keeps the Score, and because I am a mom to five traumatized kids who has spent the last 17+ years educating myself on the effects of RAD, I became a certified yoga teacher. I have over 500 hours of training and am also trained in Trauma Informed Yoga. I believe yoga can have a huge impact on kids with developmental trauma, but it is definitely not a one size fits all approach. As with any educational setting, everyone does not learn the same way. There would need to be a safe place for those who would not practice yoga in the same manner as non traumatized kids. The language needs to be different when leading any traumatized individual through yoga to make the space safe, non judgmental, non threatening and cueing them to honor their body right where they are in that moment. It comes down to educating those in charge, but there are some amazing trauma informed yoga training opportunities for yoga teachers, taught by those who have been traumatized themselves.

    1. I Love that book. I’m not saying yoga isn’t helpful. My concern is that some kids are so troubled they cannot participate in yoga. The child has to walk over to the mat, follow the instructions, etc. Many children won’t do that. As someone who works with traumatized children I’m sure you are aware of this issue. I’d love to hear more about Trauma Informed Yoga. Is there a place I can go for more information?

      1. This is where I got my training. She is amazing and is in many of the Univ of CA campuses providing trauma informed yoga. She teaches teachers and professionals on how to provide trauma informed yoga. She teaches the language used, offering even for someone to just lie on the mat during the entire practice if that is where they need to be that day. It is a gentle practice and her cueing gives the participant the opportunity to make their own choices. Her approach came from sexual trauma, but it is absolutely adaptive to any and all trauma. I can’t speak highly enough of her! She knows her stuff!

  2. I respect your thoughts and opinions. However, there have been a lot of studies done to prove how Yoga has transformed lives and unless we try something we will truly not understand the benefit or why something is being done. While modern science has its quick fixes with medicines, yoga helps everything from the mind and the change happens internally. You don’t have to trust me on that but there are actual studies on things from adhd to schizophrenia and the effects of yoga 🙂

    Having said that I’m a new mom and I’m also starting to understand that not everything has to work for everyone but I just wanted to say there’s no harm in trying something like yoga 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I absolutely agree yoga can help. I just believe many children aren’t in a healthy enough place to partake and these articles imply kids can do yoga and this will transform their behavior. That’s not true for all children.

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