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WITH VIDEO: Center School teachers, students practice relaxation with classroom yoga


by Jennifer Heshion

Photo by: Jennifer Heshion Courtney Aarsheim's second grade students limber up for a quick yoga break during their studies.

Mattapoisett — Mattapoisett Center School teachers Diane Leroy, Tammy Kelley and Courtney Aarsheim know how stressful it can be in the classroom, and how easy it is for elementary school kids to lose focus.

To boost the students’ interest in learning, the trio have introduced their first, second and third grade students to classroom yoga.

If the kids feel upset, frustrated, overwhelmed or just plain tired, then it’s time for a yoga break, said Leroy.

“We do things to alert them or calm them down,” Leroy said.

Whether it’s doing the washing machine pose – a move where the kids raise their arms and rotate back and forth in their seats – or the downward "doggy" pose, the teachers say relaxation is the name of the game.

"We spend almost two hours just teaching, which can be hard for adults never mind kids," Aarsheim said. "It's really good for rainy days or winter days when the kids can't get outside."

Yoga breaks generally occur first thing in the morning and sometime in the afternoon. The breaks are short, lasting only two to four minutes, and always work like a charm, said Kelley.

“It builds focus, reduces test taking anxiety and they learn how to soothe themselves in moments of conflict,” Kelley said. “We have the yoga break zone. If the kids feel exhausted, upset or too energized, they can go over to the break zone.”

And how does classroom yoga differ from adult yoga? It doesn't, Leroy said. The teachers use basic yoga poses and movement exercises that adults would do, albeit with some singing as well. The result has gone over well with the students.

“I’ve never had a kid say to me that they didn’t want to do it,” Leroy said. “They learn patience and it’s brain activating.”

All athletes, the three teachers took up yoga years ago.

“Yoga has so many different aspects,” Kelley said. “It’s not just poses and breathing exercises. It’s working your core and engaging your brain.”

Last year, the teachers received a $2,000 grant to travel to New York City for training. Through a program with the New York-based Karma Kids Yoga, the teachers picked up a few tricks for using the space they have in the classroom during yoga breaks.

“The training was fantastic because it was specific to the classroom,” Kelley said. “It’s hard to do yoga with all of the tables and chairs in the way. We needed that training to learn how to do it in the classroom and how to use the chairs and tables during breaks.”

Along with the training, the grant provided the teachers with yoga mats as well as yoga-themed board games, books and DVDs geared towards the younger age group.

Yoga breaks have proven beneficial to the students’ learning. While studying whales, Kelley said she advised her students to “breathe through their blowholes” during yoga breaks. This, she said, complimented what the students were learning and strengthened their interest in academics.

“The children are so young and they do so many academics,” Kelley said. “But, they also need time to be children and regain their focus. And, they love it. I have kids that say to me: ‘I need my yoga break.’ After that, the kids are ready to focus and it limits the distractions.”

Leroy agreed.

“I enjoy it,” Leroy said. “It’s one of the things that makes my day.”

To see all of action, check out the video of Courtney Aarsheim's second grade class on a yoga break.