New Solutions for a New Age

Kids need a physical outlet. They need a healthy and constructive way to process their feelings and emotions without the fear of criticism or rejection. Kids are also dependent on technology; they’re constantly being entertained, inundated by sensory information that exhausts their senses, not to mention their minds and bodies. A lot of their excess energy is expended during play, but because so many kids have limited their “play” to sedentary, electronic activity, they aren’t receiving the physical exercise they need. Once set, these unhealthy habits are extremely difficult to reverse. And when energy can’t find a way out naturally, it tends to manifest itself in the form of temper tantrums and anger.

Public schools offer one hour of physical education about twice a week (typically competitive intramurals or races of some sort), but kids with body issues or those who are not athletic find it difficult to exercise comfortably in front of other students. Families are starting to get hip to yoga and mindfulness techniques—and perhaps schools will, too. Evolving the curriculum in this direction would teach necessary and beneficial coping skills that young people will utilize for the rest of their lives. Keeping the mind calm is essential to building emotional intelligence and absorbing information.

The practice of yoga, Ayurvedic foods and medicine, and wellness in general has gone mainstream in the last decade and is generally accepted as “healthy living,” but the practice hasn’t spread to those who could benefit from it the most: our youth. Children are expected to deal with a nonstop stream of information and emotional responses to our surroundings, but they aren’t taught exactly how to do that. Showing them how to take time to stop, quiet the mind and process their experiences teaches them to refrain from acting impulsively when faced with confrontation. Students in schools where simple mindfulness techniques are practiced periodically throughout the day have seen a notable decrease in bullying, fewer disruptive outbursts and more cognizant control of other behavioral problems. Students have reported feeling more compassionate and connected to other students, and test scores have improved. While the science behind school-based yoga and its effects on young people is still relatively new, the proven effect on adults who practice regularly is irrefutable.

Yoga studios are popping up in shopping centers throughout Jacksonville, and business is booming due to the immediate positive response clients have experienced in both their physical and mental health. Medical studies show people who practice yoga or some form of meditation have improved brain and nervous system function, better immune health and denser bones. Neuroscientists have discovered that through regular meditation and yoga, the amygdala (the emotional part of the brain responsible for our “fight or flight” response) becomes more responsive to rational thought in lieu of acting impulsively to things outside of our control. It also boosts the feel-good chemicals in our brain, which are necessary for mood regulation, relaxation and anxiety relief. Yoga has become a popular way for people with physical injuries, special needs and limited mobility to gently engage in physical exercise without risking further injury. Studios like Soluna in Avondale, Black Cat Yoga in Riverside and Yoga Den (with several locations throughout Jacksonville) offer a variety of classes suited to their clients’ specific needs and skill level.

Yoga and meditation have had trouble finding footing in the public school curriculum largely due to the origin of meditation; it is derived from and practiced in Eastern religions and has been banned from schools across the U.S. for supposedly promoting religion. Yes, the practice of yoga is observed by practitioners of Eastern religions, but it has become secularized since its establishment in this country. Still, the head of the physical education department for Duval County Public Schools said to incorporate yoga into the physical education curriculum would require petitioning the school board with an immense amount of support from parents and teachers—not likely to happen in the near future.

In the meantime, there are ways to expose your kids to meditation. Montessori schools incorporate mindfulness exercises into their students’ schedules to establish a routine pattern for taking time to center and focus on themselves with no interruptions or outside influence. J. Allen Axson Elementary is a highly rated Montessori school offered through the Duval County Magnet Program and available to all currently enrolled Duval County students.

The best way to teach your child healthy coping mechanisms is to lead by example. If you are new to yoga, family classes are available at Grow Family Yoga and Wellness on Herschel Street in Riverside. Additionally, participating yoga studios around Jacksonville offer yoga classes tailored to the active adolescent mind. It’s never too early (or late) to start.