Y is for yoga: coming soon to a gym class near you!

I never thought I would be into yoga,” says Peter U., a high school junior and varsity soccer player from Cape May, N.J. “My mom always did yoga, and she would talk about it, but I was never interested. Then I took a yoga class at our school health fair, and I was hooked.”

Devon L., a freshman from Middle Township, N.J., had a similar experience during a health fair. “I loved yoga,” she recalls. “It was so much fun and a chance to relax in a stress-free environment.”

Recently, yoga has been popping up in physical education classes across the country. But it’s not just a workout fad. The mental and physical benefits are myriad, prompting teachers and teens from coast to coast to check out yoga.

What Is Yoga?

When you hear the word yoga, do you picture people coiled up painfully like pretzels or sitting with their legs crossed chanting “om”? Yes, twisting and meditation are all part of the 5,000-year-old practice of yoga. But they are only small slices of the yoga pie.

The term yoga comes from the ancient Sanskrit word yuj, which means “union” or “to come together.” Yogis–those who practice yoga–believe that in order to live in harmony, people must balance their minds, bodies, and breath. Yogis attempt to achieve that balance through a combination of stretching, breathing, and meditating.

Benefits for Body and Mind

Sneak a peek at Madonna’s muscular physique to witness how yoga does a body good. Yoga strengthens and lengthens muscles while providing a total body workout. It also enhances overall fitness, boosting strength, flexibility, and even heart health. Yoga helps tame lower back pain and improves overall bone health, according to studies by the American College of Sports Medicine. Another recent study found that teens with irritable bowel syndrome who practiced yoga saw their symptoms improve.

Yoga exercises the mind as well as the body. Colorado yoga instructor Michelle Fury has seen many students get a mental lift from yoga. “I constantly witness students who are anxious, depressed, and stressed use yoga to help them to focus, expend that energy, and then relax,” she says.

In fact, recent studies show that yoga has major mental potential. It has proven to help students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder concentrate. Other studies indicate that participating in a yoga class may increase self-esteem and boost overall mood. That certainly happened for Peter. “Yoga taught me how to breathe through stress,” he says. “I often return to the breathing exercises I learned in yoga class during stressful situations.”

1st Period: U.S. History; 2nd Period: Yoga

As yoga’s health benefits become more evident, schools across the country are getting in on the act. More than 300 instructors have been trained to teach yoga in schools, and by 2007, more than 100 schools in 26 states had added yoga into their curriculum. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education’s president, Fran Cleland, supports yoga in physical education classes as long as it’s taught appropriately. “Yoga is an excellent movement form for balance, strength, coordination, flexibility, and overall body awareness,” she notes.

One school putting yoga into practice is New Roads High School in Santa Monica, Calif. Instead of chasing after balls and cheering on fellow players, students who take yoga for physical education class are quiet, stretching on mats and easing into poses called cobra, lotus, and upward-facing dog. “The practice is a great way to get fit,” comments the school’s yoga instructor, Trish Vance. She adds that yoga is a natural fit for schools because it “supports students emotionally and mentally to work with the stresses of testing, scores, and enormous peer pressure.”

At New Roads, students can choose each year between taking a mainstream physical education class or yoga. Sometimes, both classes combine so everyone can try yoga out. “The day after the first combined class, one of New Roads’ varsity basketball players told his coach that he wanted to do yoga before every basketball game,” says Vance, “because after taking the yoga class he had an amazing game.”

Back in New Jersey, Devon had the same reaction to her first brush with the practice. “I would definitely enjoy gym class more if I could take yoga,” she told Current Health.

And Peter has become a convert too. “Yoga is a great way to relive stress, and it made me more flexible for soccer,” he explains. “In fact, I take yoga classes on my own now.”

Want Yoga?

Would you like to start a yoga program at your school? Talk to your physical education teacher about including it in the curriculum. Check out Yoga Ed at www.yogaed.org/yeinschool.html to locate an instructor near you.

Yoga Talk

  • asana a yoga posture or pose
  • mantra a word phrase chanted during meditation
  • pranayama the practice Of controlling to the breath
  • sun salutation a series of poses that limbers up the whole body

Chair Pose (Utkatasana)

The chair pose strengthens your legs and spine while stretching your upper torso.

  • Stand up straight with your legs about 6 inches apart.
  • Inhale and raise your arms straight above your head with your palms facing each other.
  • Exhale and bend at the knees.
  • Slowly lower yourself as if you’re sitting on a chair.
  • Keep your back straight.
  • Hold for up to one minute.

Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

The tree pose strengthens your legs and spine while stretching your upper legs and upper torso.

  • Stand up straight.
  • Bend your right leg, and grab your right ankle with your left hand.
  • Place the sole of your right foot on the inside of your left thigh. Point your toes toward the floor.
  • Continue to stand straight, and keep your standing leg straight.
  • Raise your arms overhead. Bring your hands together, fingers pointed up.
  • Hold for up to one minute. Repeat with your left leg.

Yoga Teen Getaway

Every summer in Telluride, Colo., teens from around the country get together for a relaxing retreat. For a few days, they explore how to deal with everyday stress through yoga and art. For more info, surf to www.tellurideyogafestival.com/hero,

Before Reading

Find out how many students have tried yoga.

Discuss

  • How long have people been practicing yoga? (about 5,000 years)
  • How did Devon feel about yoga after trying it at a health fair? (She wished her physical education class at school included yoga.)
  • How does yoga improve students’ mental health? (It eases anxiety, depression, and stress; boosts self-esteem and mood; and improves focus.)
  • Would you want to study yoga in your gym class? Why or why not? (Answers will vary.)

Is Yoga for You?

Directions: Read the article “Y Is for Yoga” (page 23). Then try the yoga poses shown in the article, fill out the chart, and answer the questions below. Finally, use the Internet or other sources to find two more yoga poses. Give them a try, and complete the chart.

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