Yoga in School Communities

Article excerpt

Mental health is defined as: "A state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Research has shown that engaging in different forms of physical activity is positively correlated with mental health and psychological well-being, but negatively correlated with anxiety, depression and stress (Scully, Kramer, Meade, Graham & Dudgeon, 1999).

Literature on stress in the work place is plentiful, as is research that specifically investigates teachers' stress (Montgomery & Rupp, 2005). Stress may be defined as a state of psychological pressure influenced by three main sources: (a) personality mediators (e.g., constructs of time pressure), (b) environmental factors (e.g., constructs of vocational satisfaction), and (c) emotional responses (e.g., anxiety, depression) (Derogatis, 1987).

Physical educators are in the business of selling preventative medicine and wellness, but they are not immune to feeling pressure or stress themselves. Due to the role that physical educators play in the school community, (e.g., coaching throughout the school year, organizing and implementing intramurals, developing walking/running clubs, or coaching youth sports in our communities), it can be difficult for many to find time for their own physical activity, which ultimately compromises their health and well-being. Thus, educators should look for coping strategies that aid in dealing with life's daily stressors, one of which is yoga.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The purpose of this article is two-fold. First, the authors encourage physical educators to practice yoga in order to gain balance, strength and flexibility and to release stress and escape the daily pressures that teachers experience. Second, the authors encourage physical educators to implement yoga in their programs to educate students in both the physical (strength, flexibility) and affective (stress relief) domains. The authors believe that the implementation of yoga in a school community could be very helpful; however, yoga should only complement current quality physical education programs and not replace them. In other words, yoga is not the answer to improving fitness and healthy living in our youth; it is however, a tool that can enhance the well-being of teachers and students alike.

Yoga research

Research has shown benefits of yoga practice for both youth (students) and adults (educators). Stueck and Glueckner (2005) examined the impact of a relaxation-combined-with-yoga program for students in the fifth grade and found that students reported decreased feelings of helplessness and aggression. They also found that students transferred the learned breathing techniques from the program to situations beyond school to relax, improve well-being and control negative feelings. Peck and colleagues (2005) investigated yoga's ability to increase attention in students with attention problems (note: participants did not have ADD and/or ADHD). The researchers concluded that the 10 elementary students who participated in 30 minutes of yoga twice a week for three weeks responded well to the intervention.

Meanwhile, research with adults has focused on aspects of physical and mental health. One study examined the effect of yoga on physiological and psychological well-being related to cardiovascular risk factors in mild-to-moderate hypertensive patients. The study included 20 adults (ages 35-55) with mild-to-moderate hypertension. The participants practiced yoga one hour daily for three months. Results showed decreases in blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as increases in subjective well-being and quality of life. There was also a decrease in VMA catecholamine and MDA level, which suggests a decrease in sympathetic activity and oxidant stress. …