As YogaKids teachers, we are always looking for ways to expand our reach and spread the word about the benefits of yoga for kids. One great way to do that is to offer to teach a class for a local Physical Education teacher. They are often looking for new programs to introduce to their students, and many are aware of yoga, but may not feel confident teaching it themselves. A good time to volunteer is during the Great American Teach In, which is usually the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Schools will be looking for volunteers to share their talents with their students.
There are some key differences to be aware of when teaching yoga in a PE class. First, the physical space may be different than what we are used to. Gyms are large, bright and noisy. Some elementary schools in the south don’t even have gyms, and classes meet outside under a pavilion. You will probably have to use a bigger voice than in a studio! At some schools, it may be possible to use a stage, music room, or library for a more intimate space, but often this is not available.
Physical Education classes are often times much larger, as they may have several classrooms combined. They will probably not have yoga mats, but may have gymnastics or wrestling mats. In elementary schools, carpet squares are usually available and work well. As a last resort, you can ask the PE teacher for “polyspots” to help students maintain their space away from others. Music is always good to use, upbeat as well as relaxing. Most gyms have good sound systems, but check before so you know what you are dealing with.
Since it is a physical education class, it is a good idea to focus on poses and activities that emphasize the physical aspects of yoga: flexibility, strength, balance, and coordination. In the past, there has been some controversy about yoga in schools, so I personally avoid using Sanskrit names, chanting, and using “OM.” Sun Salutations, Warrior Series, seated poses, balance poses, relaxation, and guided visualizations could all be included. Simple partner poses, such as back to back Warriors and Triangles would be fun, or partner Tree Pose. Keep in mind that you will have a wide variety of fitness levels and abilities, and it is always best to keep it simple.
In elementary schools, classes are coeducational. Some middle and high schools separate boys and girls during PE classes, and for yoga, I think this would be preferable. Students this age may have body image issues, and may not feel comfortable participating in a mixed classes. In addition, it might be preferable in the middle and high schools to make the class voluntary, so no one feels required to participate.
Teaching yoga in a physical education setting can be challenging, and rewarding. The benefits for the students are many. Working with the PE teachers can open the doors to other opportunities at the school, or throughout the district. Be sure to invite them to attend your next YogaKids Workshop!