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Yoga and Mindfulness
Michelle VanderPlaats, Health & Wellness Teacher
students doing yoga


What do you think of when you hear the word “Yoga” ? I bet the image of downward dog or bending your body into the shape of a pretzel comes to mind. Yoga means to unite the body, mind and spirit. The practice of yoga has the potential to heal anxiety and stress because it develops compassion and respect for oneself and all beings, and because it helps create connection within oneself and connection to others. Yoga can be a very impactful practice for self-care because it teaches you the power of the breath. Learning yogic breathing techniques helps to reduce anxiety and stress! 

When you are stressed out, your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is working in overdrive. Taking a deep breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) for your body to relax. Deep breathing sends a signal to the brain to allow the body to achieve calm. Conscious breathing seems like it would be simple, but most of us have a hard time sitting still and just focusing on breathing. I challenge all Panthers to find a few minutes of stillness to focus on your breath everyday. If you master this, you're doing yoga. If you would like to learn more about the power of breath read the book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor. 

students doing yoga
students doing yoga

Research suggests that school-based yoga might help reduce anxiety, tension, and stress. Children and adolescents are exposed to a variety of stressors at school and at home. These stressors can range from extreme, chronic stress such as living through abuse, to relatively minor stressors such as test anxiety and peer friendships. Adolescents with unmanaged stress are at a higher risk for developing mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, which is why some researchers have explored whether school-based yoga might help reduce anxiety, tension, and stress.  

students doing yoga

Recently, Park Tudor partnered with University High School to undergo research on the effects of yoga and mindfulness. Each week eighth grade students participate in a yoga  and meditation class. They are asked to take an evaluation survey with questions related to how they are feeling at the beginning and the end of class.  Many of the eighth graders (especially females) are saying they feel less stressed and more empowered to face challenges after spending time doing active yoga and “chill” time in meditation. A few students have asked for more resources to use at home, like Headspace and InsightTimer, both popular meditation apps. On the flip side, many eighth grade boys are a little more reluctant to participate in yoga and meditation and do not feel like it benefits them yet. I think they will feel the benefits of yoga eventually and at the very least will remember it later in life when they need a self-care practice.  

students doing yoga
students doing yoga
students doing yoga

Overall, creating the space for yoga at Park Tudor has integrated a calming experience in students’ lives, and the Irsay Family Sports Center for Health and Wellness is a beautiful space to lead classes. While many of the middle school students would rather be doing physical activity in the Murphy Fieldhouse, they still find comfort in the yoga practice. Park Tudor continues to implement best practices with research on the brain and the effects of self-care practices, including yoga and mindfulness. I am excited to be part of this cutting edge research and I look forward to teaching a Yoga and Mindfulness class in Upper School this Fall.

michelle vanderplaats

Michelle VanderPlaats
Health & Wellness Teacher