3 Yoga Practices for the Classroom: No Downward Dog Necessary

Every time I practice yoga I feel better; I’m more balanced, centered and even creative. I leave my yoga studio lighter in my step and more aware of everything around me. I can’t explain how it happens but there is a certain energy that buzzes and hums around me after I practice yoga.

I’m always thinking, what if we had enough guts to apply yoga to the practice of teaching and learning in schools?

I can already see the weird look you’re giving me. You’re thinking, “Whoa, let’s not get all strange, hippy-like, ok? Keep yoga on the mat and let’s get to work on being more competitive in the world, especially in education.”

But how is our current, competitive philosophy and focus on outcomes serving us, really?

  • We have a nation full of stressed out students and teachers.
  • Our scores haven’t moved in 15-20 years.
  • Our schools are modeled after factories churning out widgets.

What if we put competition and outcomes aside for a moment and began to learn for the sake of learning – not to achieve on a test, not to get into a great college and not to prove something to our parents or teachers? What if we took the practice of yoga off the mat and into our schools?

I don’t mean the chanting or mediating – although I believe meditation in schools would reap huge benefits.

What I do mean is implementing three simple yoga philosophies and teachings that would help teachers and students nurture confidence, patience and balance – a few things we are in desperate need of in the current school environment. Schools could implement these three practices without rolling out a single yoga mat or performing one downward-facing dog.

No Judgment.

Students and teachers are judged throughout the day in many different ways: scores, reading levels, overall development and behavior. Subsequently, students and teachers judge themselves. The result of all this judgment and comparison is a school full of compliant teachers and students afraid to think beyond what is in front of them. The fear of failure supersedes the desire to read aloud, offer an idea to the class discussion, or push beyond barriers in teaching and learning.


In yoga, we practice no judgment. The instructor iterates, “Observe yourself without judgment. Don’t be concerned with what is happening on the mat next to you.” If you see the person next to you doing a crazy arm balance and it’s all you can do to hold a simple pose, that’s ok. No judgment also means, if you want to try that crazy arm balance, go for it. If you fall on your face, that’s ok too. No one in the room will judge you for trying or not trying.

More importantly, we’ve got to stop judging ourselves. Who needs a judgmental Italian mother when you have yourself to keep you up at night reminding you of all the things you aren’t and all the things you should be? We are our own worst critics and self-judgment can leave us feeling helpless and inadequate.

Freedom from judgment, whether by others or from ourselves, eradicates the fear in the room and opens the space up for people to try new things and be ok with where they are in this moment.

Think about what would happen if we applied this in our schools. Tell students and teachers to observe themselves and others without judgment. Where we are is exactly where we need to be. No test scores or reading levels, no deficit in our abilities. The possibilities are endless when judgment is removed.

Nothing to do.

Too often, students and teachers are overly concerned with the infinite amount of tasks they have to complete. Students are stressed because of a looming exam, homework in another class, or problems at home. Teachers are preoccupied with thoughts of paperwork, conferences, lesson plans, and test scores. The noise becomes so overwhelming we become stuck, saying to ourselves, “I can’t get my head above water.”

However, multi-tasking in your head while practicing yoga is not an option because you will fall out of a pose reminding you to stop multi-tasking and just be present in your practice.

In yoga the teacher says, “There is nothing to do, nothing to complete, nothing to finish.” She means, the only thing we have to concern ourselves with in that moment is the task in front of us. Our minds will wonder all over the place if we let it. It starts on school and then moves into work. Then we think about how we need to stop at the store to pick up sponges. And then it’s all over. Our consciousness has gone off the rails. The practice of yoga is bringing the mind back to the present. Quieting the mind is harder than doing a crazy arm balance or headstand.

As educators we can combat stressors by simply saying and practicing, “There is nothing else to do, nothing else to think about. Be present in this moment.” It seems like a simple concept. Of course there is nothing else to do. However, sometimes we need to be told it’s ok to let go of things occupying space in our heads. Powerful things happen when we are able to let everything else go except what we are doing in the present moment.

Small movements with intention can bring big change.

In education we are constantly thinking about outcomes. We focus on being an A school or getting our students to proficiency. We make big changes to policy, initiatives and instruction based on these desired outcomes. We are an instant gratification society and get very frustrated when things do not change or work in the moment we expect them to. We often forget impacting change is like turning a battleship; it takes many small movements to make real change possible.

When practicing yoga, big movements can make things more difficult. For example, when in a balance pose, trying to move to rapidly can cause the pose to crumble. However, small adjustments done very intentionally can change the pose and even make for more balance.

In education, the small changes we make now may not impact change for a while. When teaching students, instead of only focusing on outcomes or proficiency levels, include some attention on small intentional decisions and changes that can help students increase their self-confidence and problem solving skills over time.


These three yoga practices are subtle but extremely impactful and when practiced on the mat. But, when practiced off the yoga mat and into our work, schools and lives, the possibilities are endless. Try it; I dare you. And if you want to chant OM or do a little downward-facing dog, I won’t stop you.

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