It may seem "new" or "alternative" to some, but I see kids yoga as having a very practical place in schools. How so?
1. Kids yoga improves academic performance. Kids learn to focus in yoga, and this skill translates to academic work. Also, if you learn how to self-regulate, i.e work with your own emotions and thoughts to calm yourself down, you have coping skills for test-taking and school stress. I've had classroom teachers tell me they see their students using "take 5 breath" before exams, and studies have proven schools with yoga see test scores go up.
2. Combats the sedentary school day. Despite (hopefully) a short recess break and some gym time, kids are pretty sedentary all day. They work to control their energy to stay seated and focused in desk chairs all day. Whether a 5 minute yoga break in the academic classroom, a yoga unit in gym or a full-on yoga class, its helpful to move, stretch, breathe and balance. Childhood obesity, ADHD, and lots of other kid health concerns can be addressed by getting kids moving more regularly, and yoga is a non-competitive and inexpensive way to move. Yoga increases flexibility and strength and some yoga can even help with cardiovascular health.
3. Yoga teaches kids to get along with themselves and others. Yoga helps behavioral problems in schools before they start. Why? Yoga is all about relationships, with yourself and the world around you. And what skill is more useful for a kid, new to school life, then how to get along with others? In kids yoga there's a lot of opportunity to learn about teamwork and how your actions/words effect others. In partner poses and group activities we practice being both kind and standing up for ourselves. In yoga, we learn also to listen to the little voice inside that tells us what we need and how to healthfully respond to that.
4. Decreases kid stress! Kids are often on tight stressful schedules and face a lot of demands.I'm constantly struck by how little control kids have over their lives, really. Kids have no choice, often, over their home environment, etc. Yoga is empowering. You learn how to make yourself feel better no matter what your outside situations are. You learn how to calm down, even after an argument with a sibling or a state exam. You develop inner strength.
5. Encourages healthy choices. In kids yoga, you practice making choices. And learning to pause and reflect on choices is a powerful lesson that may translate off the mat. For example, rather than telling kids to eat well, kid yogis may experiment with making choices. How do you feel after eating only cookies? How do you feel after eating vegetables before the cookie? If you empower kids to learn and try things for themselves often their own inner wisdom will guide them toward healthy choices. And yoga is about being brave... being brave enough to make a choice that's right for you, even if your peers don't understand.
When people question the issue of bringing yoga to schools, I often discuss the above benefits. Yoga has so many health benefits, mental, physical and emotional, its no wonder more schools are bringing yoga to their students!