Monroe fifth graders lead classmates in yoga and mindfulness

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BY KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

MONROE — For Woodland Elementary fifth grader Mackenzie Edelstein, the implementation of yoga in her classroom has been beneficial whether it is to relieve stress before a test or to calm down after recess.

“It’s really nice,” she said. “I’ve never done yoga before this.”

On May 23, Danielle Kutcher’s class led three “hour of expert” sessions of yoga throughout the day that reached all the fifth graders at the school.

Kutcher said she began implementing yoga into her homeroom classrooms five years ago after attending Yoga 4 Classrooms training.

“I’m known as the yoga expert throughout the school,” she said with a smile.

Yoga 4 Classrooms is an evidence-based yoga and mindfulness program for schools that promotes social, emotional and physical health and wellness, learning readiness and a positive school climate, according to its website.

Fifth grader Alyssa Grau said yoga is done mostly at their seats.

“My favorite is the geyser,” she said. “When you are feeling down, you take all that negativity at your fingertips and throw it out. You then pick up the positive energy and put it in your heart.”

Alyssa and Mackenzie said they find themselves doing yoga poses outside of school.

“When I’m doing my homework, I’ll do the corkscrew in my chair and before a soccer game I’ll take a breath to calm my nerves,” Alyssa said.

Mackenzie said yoga helps her calm her nerves before a dance competition. She said her favorite yoga poses are the downward and upward dogs.

The three sessions — “Yoga for Athletes”, “Yoga Partners” and “Vinyasa for Kids” — were held in the gymnasium. The students led their fellow classmates with many poses that they have learned throughout the year, which included breathing exercises, tree and warrior poses and more on yoga and gym mats.

Kutcher said her students like the mindfulness games, which include “Imagination Vacation” where students can turn off their brains and imagine the likes of an ocean.

Another game is to have the students sit in a circle and pass around a squeeze of the hand or a chime pass.

“The students have to really focus on when the squeeze of the hand is coming or listen for the chime,” she said of the games.

Kutcher said she has seen amazing success after she slowly implemented yoga into her classroom.

“I have seen differences in my students with their studies and I have seen a real passion grow in them,” she said.

Schools Superintendent Michael Kozak noted the success at Woodland Elementary. He said the district is looking at the mindfulness activities as one of the possible strategies to employ district wide to teach students how to reduce stress.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.