Strategies for teaching yoga in schools

Over the next few days we will be releasing some tips on how to hold the energy in a yoga class of teens. Keep checking back for more strategies to help you teach to your best ability!

Tip Number 1:

Students really respond well to listening to the singing bowl to help focus. Students often respond well to a challenge or working/moving in an aspirational way e.g. ‘Who can show me focus by holding the pose for as long as they hear the bell? Remember, the best yogis will keep trying, even if they wobble or fall out… that’s part of the practice.’

Tip Number 2:

Keep reinforcing what you want to see, ‘I’m looking for everyone to be standing at the top of their mat, focus forward, listening to the bell, not talking so that we can all start together as a group…Wonderful Amin, thank you Jonathan… great this side of the room’ (you could even write some names on the board/make a note of the names and they could be the ‘star yogi’ for the week)

Tip Number 3:

It may be useful to have a very engaged student take your position to model the moves to the other students.

Check back tomorrow for more…

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House of Commons Speech by Charlotta Martinus, November 2018

“Thank you for inviting me to speak. I base my contribution today on 15 years of continued interaction with the diverse community of people involved in yoga in schools across the UK, which includes school leaders, teachers, counsellors and yoga teachers.

Last week I was about to teach yoga to my year 7 and 8, they were messing about on the mats. A stern-faced woman enters the room – says “What’s going on here?” I invite her to join us for our yoga class, she says “I’m not really dressed for it – but tell me more”. I explain that the school has chosen yoga as their whole school wellbeing initiative –she pauses, her face changes as she looks at the mats and looks back at me and says – “what an absolutely wonderful idea.This is what we are looking for.” As she walks out through the door I ask who she is and she turns around to say “I am a school inspector”.

She is not the only one who thinks this way. Increasingly, yoga is catching on in those schools that have realised that they have to address mental health issues themselves and prevent the crisis from happening.

There are a wide range of issues that face young people linked to Mental Health such as:






Behavioural issues

Sleep deprivation


And many many more…

The research shows that all of these are addressed by yoga.

The most recent research led by Westminster University indicates an interesting new aspect which links yoga to increased resilience.

Apart from research, there is also an enormous amount of experiential evidence from yoga in schools. Here is one example:

This is a letter from the Pupil Referral Unit in Milton Keynes. A 14 year old girl who has been absent from regular school for many years.

Since you have been teaching yoga at the Bridge I feel like I have more control out of my life and that I can do anything I put my mind to (eg breathing work and relaxing and stuff) I feel like its gonna be a lot easier. If someone asked me a year or two ago would you ever think you would be doing yoga and in school full time, I would have laughed in their face!”

Imagine if more young people had access to these embodied practitioners before they were moved to the PRU which costs £13000 per year per pupil?

There are three important elements to consider when discussing the role of yoga in schools.

Firstly, up to 2015, yoga was increasingly used as a preventative measure (26% of schools accessed yoga), however due to redirection of Sport England funding, yoga is not as easily available in as many Secondary and Tertiary environments anymore.

Secondly, the increasingly stressful environment that teachers and pupils are facing (testing, lack of trust from leadership – 1 in 3 NQTs leave profession in 3 years!!!)

These first two actually LEAD TO MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES which takes us to the third point:

  1. the on average 30% cut in CAMHS funding over the last 3 years, means that schools are left to deal with something that they are ill-equipped to manage.


The vision we have in this vertical is for yoga to be readily available in each school to reduce the incidences of mental health issues and improve young people’s wellbeing. We see this as involving important cost savings for the NHS, the education system and other areas such as social services.

In order to achieve this, we need your support in three principle areas; curriculum, research and joining the dots between education and the healthcare system.

The First, Yoga in the Curriculum, PSHE, PGCE and SEN

  • The logical place for yoga in schools is within the PSHE (initial exploration of this is already taking place)
  • Yoga is extremely beneficial in the Special Needs context and it would be valuable for SENCOs to have yoga on their list of recommended therapies

For maximum impact and consolidation:

There is a need to be offering yoga as part of the Teacher Training curriculum to support future wellbeing for teachers and students – so directive from government that this is a simple and impactful intervention affording long lasting change.

Secondly, research:

There are plans to implement two large scale research projects, one of which focuses on the ways in which yoga can reduce mental health issues in schools in which the aim is to be partially funded by the NIHR and the other is a longitudinal project aimed to explore how yoga can improve outcomes and reduce costs in a wide variety of ways, academic and other, within schools. And this would be funded by a social impact bond. In both cases, the scale of the endeavour requires an extensive range of support and we request your help in making contact with appropriate stakeholders and decision makers in funding bodies, governmental institutions and the corporate world to support these projects.

The vision for yoga in schools requires joined up thinking. It is vital to develop richer links between those funding health related interventions and school funders. In the current climate in some areas, CCGs are funding yoga for young people. It would be valuable to have conversations with different regional CCGs and NHS England, as well as other organisations, in order to raise awareness and develop policy of the potential impact of funding yoga in schools.

I am sure that the right honourable gentlemen and ladies have particular insights on how government might help to support the propagation of yoga in schools and would welcome any and all insights.”

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Why Teens Need Yoga More Than Ever

On my way to the second day of the Yoga for Teens training course, I reflect over the common themes that always come up on these days, 28 people from all over Europe, united in one vision to support young people with yoga, have all noticed the same thing – young people are increasingly anxious, lacking in self esteem and are suffering. 
Coming together, teachers, psychologists, counsellors, psychiatrists all see one solution – yoga. In their own practise, yoga has taken them through difficulties and shown them hope through self care. We all wonder together with one voice: “what is it that happened, why do young people suffer today?” Huddled in groups, they tackle these questions, investigating the development of the adolescent brain and the psycho-social issues that play such a large part in lives of young people today.
We play, cry and laugh as we remember how tough this period can be and as we examine research around how many mental health issues in middle age have their root in adolescence (75%!)
Bringing yoga into schools no longer seems such an odd idea, as it did 15 years ago when we started mooting the concept in Somerset state sector schools. Now over 25 % of schools offer yoga as either part of the curriculum or as an after school club. The new directive from government to employ mental health leads in every school has opened up the opportunity for so many TeenYoga Teachers to go in and offer yoga as part of a wellbeing programme both for target groups, teachers and for the general student group. Given 75% of 14 year old girls opt out of PE, yoga proves to be a popular alternative, taking them away from the competitive atmosphere of GCSE and into an accepting, self-caring space.
I used to mention yoga as a possibility to the issues facing schools, now I
state it as an obvious solution and they listen.

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Thought for the day

According to one of the most ancient texts, yoga is about avoiding future suffering. It does
this in many ways. When we train our body to be fit and healthy we are less likely to fall ill.
When we train our mind through meditation and special breathing techniques, it is less
likely that we suffer anxiety and depression. But more than this, and the area that is often
overlooked is the philosophy of yoga, which presents human beings as all belonging to one
energy – connected – and divided only by the false notion of separation and individuality.
There is even an understanding that death doesn’t really exist, we simply drop our body. If
we choose to embrace this belief system, there is really nothing at all to be afraid of. We
start to choose love and empathy, not fear.

Then we start to learn from our experiences and simply see life as a series of lessons which
bring us closer to connection, we explore each experience, whether pleasant of unpleasant
as a step towards liberation from suffering. Then we step into life with curiosity, openness,
acceptance and love, the four elements which constitute a joyful and expansive life,
according to Mindfulness expert Dr Dan Siegel. So maybe that can encourage us to explore
what thought pattern or repeated experience is causing us suffering? How can that be
changed, what do you need to learn from this repeated thought, behaviour or response so
that you can let it go and free yourself to embrace joy in its fullest form?

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Yesterday was the 4th International Yoga Day and all over the world, yoga was being practised and celebrated in various ways. I spent the day at the House of COmmons at the APPG on yoga in society, where i found myself pinching myself again and again at the incredible steps we are taking towards the acceptance of yoga as a healthcare initiatave and as support in education.

Theorists say that an idea goes from Ridicule to Rejection to Acceptance. Any of us who have worked in yoga in education or even yoga in general can bear testimony to this. In the 70s Yoga was seen as cultish and hippie, in the 90s it became fashionable among the cognoscenti and today it is being rolled out in all areas of society with government getting on board. Yesterday at the House of Commons, I was invited again to participate in a meeting for the APPG on Yoga at which I represent the Education vertical.

Listening to the peers and experts speaking about yoga and yoga in schools in particular, it is clear that we are at the beginning of a burgeoning surge in interest for yoga. Julie Montagu spoke eloquently about the importance of bringing yoga to everyone as she shared her personal journey from anguish to joy and went on to reiterate the importance of using social media to bring awareness to the general public.

Dr Justin Varney, who works in Public Health outlined the criteria for bringing yoga into the Health Service in a meaningful way. He reiterated that the research on yoga is fundamental and that in 2007 there were only a few meaningful research papers and today there are around 400 research papers being produced every year.  This indicates that there is a rise in interest and serious enquiry into the effects and supposed effects of yoga.  Josefin from Sweden gave us an overview of yoga in Prisons all over the world, from Mexico to India and Sweden.  She gave us some beautiful quotes from prisoners who felt their violence and anger drop away in yoga, positing that the re-offending statistics could drop significantly if many continued with yoga outside of prison, thereby saving countries money and saving lives.

Preaching to the converted, around 100 yogis sat smiling and content that finally what they knew all along was being explored and expressed, namely that yoga brings peace and when practiced extensively could potentially change the heart of our nation, bringing it to joy.

As head of the Education vertical in the APPG, I feel the importance of bringing a solid and unflinching cohesion to the community of yoga teachers working in schools or with children outside of school so that we speak with one voice clearly and concisely, working together in solidarity. When we report to government in this way, our voice wil be heard loud and clear and acted upon without hesitation.  This is a call to all kids’ yoga teachers to come together in harmony and move in the same direction, to bring yoga to young people all across the UK in an optimistic, simple and compassionate way. I believe that yoga in schools and for kids could be the answer to so many issues that we are tackling today: obesity, anxiety, disembodiment (and all that that entails) and failing schools. Mindfulness has paved the way and the UK has been a long-term innovator in society, so let’s lead the world in this vision of yoga for children as a way to bring harmony, authenticity and joy to our kids and for our future. Maybe the yoga community could model a new way of leadership, that supports and empowers, that listens and brings together and that moves as one, adhering in this way to the fundamental principles of yoga.  

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Thought for the Day

Many young people are preparing for exams now – whether it is end of year, GCSEs, A Levels, or Uni exams. Yoga is well known to combat stress. In one study we did together with the CBeebies, cortisol (the stress hormone in the body) dropped by 30% at the end of the class, but more interestingly, the whole class started with a 20% lower cortisol rate than the control groups. This means that week on week, your stress is reducing and the benefits are cumulative.

1 – when we stretch our body, we are indicating to our brain that we are relaxed as a stressed body is a tense body.

2 – when we breathe deeply, we activate the baroreceptors in our lungs which tell the body to relax

3 – when we turn ourselves upside down, the heart gets to relax as it no longer needs to pull the blood back up from the bottom of the body

4 – we focus on one thing, the breath or a mantra, in order to train the brain to be strong and not wander or ruminate, which is the basis of so much anxiety. To be able to focus, brings success in any field.

5 – Philosophically – we distinguish between what is real and what is unreal. We look at our lives and we see it in a philosophical perspective, where we are no longer at the centre, but just someone who is learning lessons, whatever they are – this brings us into a more detached mode of thinking.

So when you get home, lie down and pop your legs up the wall and breathe deeply. Make sure your outbreath is longer than your in breath for about 15 to 20 minutes and you will soon feel a difference.

Good Luck!

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Why are young people ‘disembodied’ and how can we help?

As I was training a group of secondary school teachers, psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists last week to share yoga and mindfulness with teens, it became more apparent than ever that poor mental health of our young adults is not showing any signs of abating. As the group shared the reasons for coming on the course, many mentioned how the young people seemed disconnected from themselves.  The psychologists used the term disembodied.

Many young people, they felt, were disconnected from their bodies, viewing their own bodies as objects, to be controlled or punished with food or exercise, but not to be listened to or respected. Many live their lives as it were, outside themselves, viewed through the lens of the Instagram or snapchat conversation.

Our bodies are wise temples of information, prompts and intuition, our bodies never lie. When we practise yoga, we get in touch with our bodies and we feel into pleasure, as well as aches and pains, to discover and listen to underlying emotions.

When we ignore messages from the depths of our bodies, we are more likely to live in our minds – our minds were never meant to be our masters, they are the servants of our intuition, our knowing. But when the mind runs riot, it plays havoc with our lives and we end up out of balance.

We concluded on the last day of the course that we need to bring young people back in touch with their own bodies, so they might be less likely to fall foul of the vagaries of shifting mood states, emotions and destructive thought patterns that can lead to anxiety and depression.

We need to connect the body with the mind and recognise a third, even wiser dimension, which can guide us towards a more fulfilling life, some call it the soul or the spirit. Yoga opens us up to this possibility.

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Update on the APPG on Yoga in Society

The APPG on yoga in society was inaugurated in the House of Commons on the 22nd March. This a historic moment as it is the only government to introduce this kind of initiative, it follows in the steps of the very successfully APPG on mindfulness and it heralds a new era in acceptance of yoga among the general public.

The aims of the APPG will be thrashed out among the MPS in the coming weeks. The consultants to the group suggest interventions in schools, the NHS, the prison service and the workplace as a salutogenetic intervention that builds health among the British population to alleviate pressures on the strained NHS and schools.

Westminster university are busy measuring interventions and comparing the outcome of mindfulness vs yoga in school settings as well as undertaking a nationwide survey of 2500 yoga practitioners in the uk. The results of these papers will influence how we move forward. Warwick university and Harvard have come together to measure outcome of yoga in the workplace together with the pharmaceutical giant GSK. Currently it is estimated that 7% of the UK population practise yoga and 26% of schools offer it as an after school club or as part of PE. In a trial run by Bangor university it was shown that sick days dropped by an astounding 70% when yoga was introduced to the workplace. It seems that yoga is the magic pill that might finally drive out county towards a compassionate healthy and collaborative future.

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Yoga off the mat

When I hear of the students in Bath supporting their lecturers, I reflect on the first principles of yoga. Since the referendum to leave the European Union, the voice of young people has become more succinct. After what feels like decades of silence, it seems that this generation is engaging more in politics and the future of our country.

Having worked with young people throughout my life, I am often aware of how disempowered they feel in the light of decisions made regarding them and their own future. It strikes me that these honourable qualities of compassion, justice, hope and solidarity indicate a vitality many of us lack due to years of contraction, cynicism and fear. To stand up for what you believe in, shoulder to shoulder with others who feel they have been treated unfairly takes courage and insight and can be a timely reminder to the rest of us to reach towards an expanded awareness of justice for all.

At the heart of yoga lies ten guiding principles, which are often overlooked, including compassion, truth, discipline, contentment, purity, devotion to higher principles.

The yoga practise encourages us to act from these ideals within a framework of self-care. When we act from a place of ahimsa (compassion) – which is the first principle of yoga –  our expression will be gentle and support the greater good.  In a society that mostly encourages comparison, consumerism and rampant egoism, it is refreshing to know that there is a current flowing in the opposite direction, expanding us towards compassion and solidarity.

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BBC Thought for the Day

Teenagers are rowdy, vital, mischievous and give us a run for our money. Their task is to differentiate themselves from adults in order to belong to a group that defines them. This task needs to be met with respect and support, so that they can learn to become responsible adults. When young people misbehave, we feel the need to punish them. When little kids act out, we find ways of controlling or mitigating their behaviour. But teens are bigger, noisier and can seem more threatening. Many teenagers become rowdy because they are feeling upset, insecure, or they want to impress their friends or test the boundaries of carers and other adults who are there to protect and guide them.

Yoga teaches us compassion, it teaches us to embody what we want to see in others. If we want to see tolerant, respectful, responsible citizens, we need to embody that in the way we deal with them. We need to attempt to understand their behaviour and go beyond the chaotic exterior. Many young people are suffering from anxiety and other debilitating mental health issues and they turn to us and ask – help us to help ourselves. In my experience as a school teacher and teacher trainer, I feel we are not doing enough to support young people to navigate their emotions and find an equilibrium in a judgmental and rapidly changing world. We need to find calm and we need to teach young people to find calm, to find a space where they can breathe, relax and let go.

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