Yoga is a physical exercise derived from the Vedic tradition of India and the Himalayas more than 2500 years ago. Taking the benefits that yoga brings, the question has been raised among principals, teachers and parents: Should we organise yoga at school for students?
Back to the history of more than 2500 years ago, yoga was originated in ancient India as a physical, mental, and spiritual practice connecting body and mind. The word yoga – yuj in Sanskrit – means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “to unite or integrate” or a method of discipline. Yoga practices involve breath control, simple meditation with the adaptation of specific body postures, as well as relaxation and self-concentration.
Yoga has been widespread over the world as a great practice combining concentration and relaxation simultaneously, and so as yoga at school. Though yoga is originated from India, it owns no limit at age, gender, or religion that more and more schools and colleges in the U.S. and U.K. began to introduce yoga practices as an option course to participants ranging from kids to college students. The simplicity and benefits of yoga makes it more common and become a teachers’ favourite.
Which ways does yoga benefit the participants? Yoga practices help lower blood pressure and regulate good hormones, rising the relaxation and healthiness for the body with increased flexibility, muscle strength, improved respiration and vitality. At the same time, practicing yoga also grows serotonin levels and activates the pleasure centres of the brain, making you feel as good emotionally as you do physically. Besides managing stress, anxiety, and depression through breathing and meditation, researchers as well approved that yoga can boost memory and build concentration. Scientists found that a 20-minute session of yoga outperformed a run on the treadmill in terms of boosting memory and concentration.
Regardless of those above benefits, some question whether it is a wise thing to apply yoga practices at school for students, especially at religious schools. They prefer physical education rather than yoga practices from a Hindu religious act of worship, which could create some confusion to children from different religions. However, yoga is not a religion in a traditional sense, though was adopted and utilized by every religious tradition that emerged from Vedic India, including Buddhism and Hinduism (YJ editor, 2014). The first principal of yoga philosophy is ahimsa – non harming to self and others, that some interpret to contain not eating animal products, you do not have to be a vegetarian in order to practice yoga according to the Yoga Sutra. The confusion stems in part from a misinterpretation of ahimsa, combined with the fact that the first generation of yoga teachers in the United States mostly studied with teachers—such as Sri Desikachar, Swami Satchidananda, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Sri Pattahbi Jois—who, being culturally Indian and Brahmin, tended to be vegetarian. So an idea has developed in the yoga community that conflates yoga with vegetarianism. (Holcombe, 2015)
In short, we could not and should not refuse the benefits of yoga to consider whether it is wise to organise yoga at school. It is a plus if schools and teachers have a plan to introduce this practice to students and even staffs, however, it will require necessary changes and appropriate class design and curriculum development in order to help students achieve best results from yoga. We hope both educators and students will be able to relax, reduce stress, and gain self-concentration throughout yoga practices.