Finding their zen

Fifth graders unwind weekly with yoga

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Balancing school, time with friends, family dynamics, and personal lives can all conspire to increase a student’s stress and anxiety level, leading to behavioral problems and/or trouble processing material. That’s why the staff at Lenihan Intermediate School has developed a pilot program to help these youths slow down for a few minutes each week to focus on relaxation techniques.

The roughly 25 pupils in Laura Fricke’s morning math class always get a 10 minute “Brain Break” each day, but on Wednesdays, they get an additional 20 minute break to do yoga.

“We had been looking at ways of doing yoga for a long time, and Mrs. Fricke stopped by my office one day and said she’d like to offer it, so we got in touch with the Y,” said Elaine Johnson, who serves as the school’s counselor. “It’s a four-week long pilot program (now in its third week). We are looking to keep offering it.”

This program, called “Yoga in the Classroom,” is instructed by Heidi Draisey, who serves as the Marshalltown YMCA-YWCA’s health and wellness coordinator. She is also a YogaFit certified teacher. Fricke’s math students leave her classroom and walk down the hallway to an empty music education room, where they have more space to spread out to perform the yoga moves.

“This is all about the Y’s community outreach efforts,” Draisey said, as this service is being provided to the school, free of charge.

Draisey approaches the yoga sessions much like she does for ones held at the Y, but with the appropriate age-based modifications.

“I don’t have them hold a pose for too long,” Draisey said. “They’re still learning. The skills are new to them, but they know [yoga] is something available to them.”

In addition to trying out different yoga poses, the students work on relaxation, mindful awareness of breathing and tension, and how to clear their minds. The lights are dimmed and soft music is played in the background.

“We use our breath to relax ourselves,” Draisey added.

Fricke said she has seen a noticeable difference in the well-being of her pupils.

“Research shows that students need time to downshift and process information,” Fricke said. “I was open to having them try yoga, and we’ve seen the affects in a short time.”

How do the students feel about taking time out for yoga?

“I like yoga because you get to stretch, and at the end, you get to rest for a little bit,” said Krystal Stanley, 10.

“I like that you get calmed down and all the problems that are happening go away,” said Stephanie Abalos, 10.

“I like that yoga has different strategies and exercises,” said Nolan Wilson, 11.

“I like the stretching we do, and we get to calm down,” said Natalia Ordaz, 11.

With the success of this pilot program, school officials hope to continue to offer similar yoga sessions in the near future.

“Learning to regulate emotions is a lifelong skill,” Johnson said. “These are tools all of us need.”

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com