A recent Chicago Tribune article titled, Yoga in the Classroom, highlighted the benefits of school-based yoga programs. In it, Dr. Michelle Riba, professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, and past president of the American Psychiatric Association, made an interesting comment.
She said, "teaching yoga to children for stress relief is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a tumor. One might say, 'Why don't we de-stress them instead of doing something to fix the stress.' It's like giving a medicine — and then giving another medicine to fix the side effects. Maybe people should look at trying not to put so much stress on the children. Cutting back on after-school activities would be the first step," she concluded.
Though I certainly understand her point and agree there is room to cut back on scheduling, we also should remember that there are endless potential stressors in life which we can not control. While an overscheduled day may (or may not, as some children actually thrive with a jam-packed schedule) cause Johnny stress or anxiety, a homelife where there is mental illness, poverty or abuse, a walk home that is dangerous, an unfriendly classmate, learning challenges, or even the bright lights and noise experienced during a typical school day may be even more stressful for him.
The fact is, we can not rid the world of stressors. But we can learn to manage our reactions to those stressors, and thus regulate our stress response. Through yoga and mindfulness-based education, we can learn simple, yet powerful skills and tools to help us self-regulate, reflect before reacting, and take control of our state of being. A growing body of mind-body and brain-based research (not to mention our own subjective experiences and observations in the classroom and via parent, child and teacher surveys) shows that when children utilize these tools, they become more present, empowered to manage their emotions, and are in general more content and successful in school and in life.
A Band-Aid or a solution? We'd love to hear your thoughts.
Reprinted from our Yoga 4 Classrooms blog.