Fortville students, teachers find their focus with weekly yoga at school

An Indian girl performs yoga on International Day of Yoga in Kolkata, India, Thursday, June 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
Yoga at school
Fortville Elementary students do yoga
Successful yoga program in elementary schools
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FORTVILLE, Ind. (WTHR) — Breathe in...and out...in...out.

Relax before the school bell rings.

After backpacks, buses and the morning rush to get to school, students and teachers at Fortville Elementary School spend part of their day relaxing with yoga. For the past school year, they lay down the mats, strike a pose and take time out to just chill out.

Teachers say the once weekly, 40-minute session brings a calm and focus to their day. They see the benefits in their students even more. Yoga strengthens their minds, helps calm emotional reactions and gives students a different type of physical exercise. In fact, the Principal Stacy Muffler said she has seen a reduction in the number of office referrals since the program started.

"This is our opportunity to teach kids to feel their emotions," Muffler said. "Later in the day we talk about 'How do we respond to those emotions?'"

The instructor, Jo-Anne Beitel, said the physical benefits of kids doing yoga is just a bonus to the most important perk: mindfulness.

"Getting these kids away from their rush, rush, rush schedules; getting out of the sympathetic nervous system, into the parasympathetic nervous system, so they can relax," Beitel said. "All of the studies are now showing us that test scores are improving. Kids are moving away from their issues and finding a way to find their peace."

Fifth-grade teacher Nikki Privett said there's a clear difference in her students before and after they do their weekly yoga.

"Kids come in kind of wound up," Privett said. "Once we hit yoga class, the rest of the day is very peaceful. Kids are just more able to focus and get their work done."

The yoga classes are a one-year program, but Muffler said she'd like to try to continue next year. The education foundation and the school's PTO have supported the program this year, but funding to continue could pose a setback. Muffler said she would like to see the program extend to the district's other elementary schools as well, McCordsville Elementary and Mt. Comfort Elementary.

For the students, yoga time has become a pleasant surprise.

"I was very suspicious," fifth-grader Caleb Ashley said about the first time he heard of the mandatory yoga. "But then the first time I went on it, I was like, 'OK, this is pretty good.'" Caleb said yoga is also helping him in sports he plays.

Second-grader Vivian Williams said yoga helps her be calmer and do her schoolwork better.