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Reading, writing and yoga

Akin Road third-grade teacher Becca Gangl believes yoga benefits students and teaches them how to relax and de-stress in school. “I just notice the importance of the breathing and how it immediately calms them down." Kara Hildreth / Contributor1 / 2
Third-graders at Akin Road Elementary in Farmington perform daily yoga. Using breathing techniques and body poses, the students use yoga as a natural way to help them focus on subjects and relax prior to tests. Kara Hildreth / Contributor2 / 2

FARMINGTON — Imagine a glitter ball shaken up with racing, sparkly flecks floating inside a ball of water. When the ball is at rest, the glitter settles to the bottom.

Glitter balls are used as a learning tool to teach youth yoga and show how the discipline can relax the brain's thoughts and the body's muscles.

Three classes of third-graders at Akin Road Elementary perform yoga poses each school day and teachers said they have seen positive results in behavior.

Yoga can perhaps offer youth a natural pathway to more relaxed breathing that may lead to more calm demeanors in school and before taking tests. Yoga can be used to help students wind down, to decompress from a busy day.

"It immediately calms them down after lunch or when we go outside and we use the breathing ball," teacher Becca Gangl said.

The rainbow-colored breathing ball looks like a toy. By watching it expand and contract, youngsters learn proper yoga breathing techniques to inhale and exhale.

Students serve as leaders. After each yoga session, there is time for the class to engage in what is called the compliments session.

"The compliments is when a person chimes in every time they do a job, and the students say 'I am ready' and then students give them compliments," Gangl explained.

Each compliment must be spoken in an affirmative manner and sentiments must be positive, hence the name compliment.

Yoga also can help students prepare for a mindset change from one subject to another.

"The nice thing is that we switch and go into math, and we know that all of our third-graders have done it in the classrooms and so I can do yoga in my math class and they all know what to do because of the consistency," Gangl said.

Yoga came to the third-grade classrooms through a grant from the Parent Teacher Partnership. Stephanie Kennelly from 1,000 Petals came to teach students and teachers poses and techniques in half-hour sessions over six weeks. Now yoga is part of the daily routine.

"I like it because it is calming, fun and sometimes a little boring but most of the time fun," third-grader Martez Cooley said.

Student Luna Johnson said she has taught the yoga poses to her two older brothers.

"We get to learn a lot of yoga poses, and my favorite is the forward fold where you go down and hang your head until the blood rushes to your brain," Johnson said.

The deep breaths and slower breathing help students learn to release energy and refocus their attention and thoughts, according to the teachers.

"One of the big things I focus on in my class is more about the breathing and using that to kind of calm them down and make them kind of center back on themselves," said teacher Dana Nicolai.

"They will do it on their own if they feel like they are getting all crazy, and I have one little boy who turns himself into an eagle quite often" to refocus his energy, teacher Molly Smith said. In her spare time, Smith incorporates yoga into her exercise regime.

Yoga has been beneficial in many ways, the teachers agree.

"There is so much anxious behavior in my class because our kids are anxious about everything, and it not only teaches them and calms them down, but it relieves those anxious feelings and that is why I did it right before our test," Gangl said.

"We have all noticed a carryover in other parts of day and it helps to build community," Gangl added.