Katherine Priore started practicing yoga to help deal with the stress of being a public school teacher. Like many, she found that it helped her to deal with the challenges of her job and daily life. In 2008 she founded Headstand, a non-profit organization which provides regular yoga classes to schools, because she believed that yoga could also benefit kids as well as adults.
The Headstand curriculum teaches yoga exercises, breathing techniques, and stress reduction to students grades K-12. Headstand teachers are required to have at least 3 years of K-12 teaching experience , and have completed a school-based youth yoga certification. Headstand first began a pilot program at KIPP Summit Academy, a San Lorenzo, CA charter school, and is now working in 3 KIPP schools in California and Texas. The program is designed to be part of the curriculum, and is not an elective. Instead, there is a dedicated classroom space for yoga classes, which can also be used as a space for one-on-one mentoring with students. Headstand also makes 2 yoga classes a week available for school teachers.
Yoga lovers know that one of the benefits of yoga is that it helps you keep your focus on the present moment. It’s very difficult to worry about the fight you had with your partner or the project you have to do for work while you’re tackling intense poses or kriyas. One of the students interviewed expressed exactly that when she said, “I forget about the bad things that are happening.” Even if it’s only for the duration of the class, the cumulative effects of spending part of their day focused on the present is bound to have stress reducing effects for these students.
The founder understands the skepticism people might have towards yoga in schools and says “Yoga is simply a word to define the connection between your mind, your emotions, and your physical well-being.” According to Headstand’s website, multiple studies have shown that yoga can contribute academically by improving attention and reducing impulsive behavior in students with ADHD, as well as improving attention, concentration, and class participation in students overall. So while the method may be considered unorthodox for some, the beneficial results have broad appeal. At KIPP Summit Academy, the results of the Headstand program are inspiring – suspensions are down 60% and test scores up. Teachers have noticed a difference in students’ ability to complete assignments and their behavior in class.
While none of this may be surprising for yogis, it’s nice to see a positive story about the benefits of yoga in the news. Particularly as many schools are reducing physical education time, and increasing test preparation time, it’s wonderful to know that some schools are prioritizing students’ physical and emotional well-being by making yoga available.