Bert Raney Elementary School is trying something a little different to help students focus in the classroom -- yoga. Twice a day, for roughly 15 minutes, students in the 4th grade class of Emily Enger practice different yoga poses to help reduce stress and improve concentration.

The use of yoga exercises in the classroom is part of a wider trend in US schools. New evidence shows the importance of positive mental health in the learning process, and yoga is just one way for students to achieve this. A 2016 study by the Erickson Institute (a graduate school dedicated to studying child development) found that “when kids take a break from a classroom lesson to spend a quiet moment alone watching a three-minute nature video, or participate in a teacher-guided breathing exercise with their class after lunch, they seem to become better overall students.”

“That’s likely because the children have a renewed sense of focus,” the study went on, “they handle transitions from one lesson to the next better, and they need less time to regroup if they become upset about something.”

Enger first learned about these new approaches during her time in college. “I’ve always been interested in the effects of movement in the classroom,” she explained. She is currently pursuing a masters degree at SMSU and is writing a research paper that explores the effects of yoga on student behavior in the classroom.

Last year, the school purchased yoga kits and mats using money donated through the General Mills Box-Tops program. Each kit includes cards with yoga instructions. It took several days for students to learn the ropes, but over time, they became more confident with the yoga routines.

For their part, the students seem to really enjoy the activity. “They get pretty excited,” Enger said. “They ask me, ‘is it time for yoga yet?’ If we’re five minutes behind, they will say, ‘You know, Miss Enger, we’re running behind, we can’t forget to do this.’ They try to get me to do it more often.”

The daily yoga routine has also yielded positive results for students. “In my class overall, I can see them become more involved, happier, and not so worried or anxious when it comes to doing certain projects or testing.” Bert Raney Principal Lisa Hansen agrees, adding that yoga is a fun and exciting way for students to become more present in the classroom.

In addition to improved mood and reduced behavioral problems, Enger has also witnessed academic pay-outs. For example, Enger explained how reading time last year was always a source of anxiety and frustration for many students. “This year,” she said, “within two weeks of implementing yoga, all of a sudden they were excited and ready to just go for it.”

The yoga sessions have been so successful that another 4th grade class will soon receive their own set of cards and mats (one for every student). Although the school has not made specific plans to purchase additional kits, its popularity and effectiveness makes its future use in other classrooms only a matter of time.