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Kids use yoga to learn mythology, fight pre-test jitters

  • Story Highlights
  • Suburban Atlanta elementary offers yoga in class
  • Teacher links mythology characters, symbols to yoga positions
  • Students also use deep breathing, yoga basics to cope with pre-test stress
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By Judy Fortin
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DECATUR, Georgia (CNN) -- Fourth-grade teacher Elisabeth Beckwith wants her students at Fernbank Elementary School in Decatur, Georgia, to pay attention to a lesson on Greek mythology.

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Fourth-graders at Fernbank Elementary in Decatur, Georgia, practice the "dromedary delight."

Instead of staring at the board in the front of the classroom, the kids are lying on the floor near their desks practicing yoga. "It's fun," says 9-year old Jack Besser. "It gets out the cramps after you've been sitting for an hour."

Besser's classmate Medha Prakash says the yoga drills help her to concentrate. "It makes me feel calm, relaxed and it gets all the stress out of me."

Beckwith has linked the symbols of Greek gods to yoga poses, such as down dog and the stork. She's hoping the students will better retain the material and be re-energized in the middle of the day. "It's a fun way for them to think about things," Beckwith says. "You know, it's healthy for them because they're getting the breathing right and getting the stretching right."

Beckwith and other teachers at the suburban Atlanta public school started offering yoga in the classroom two years ago.

They received instruction from YogaKids International, an Indiana-based company that distributes teaching materials to more than 50 schools around the country. A similar program is offered by California-based YogaEd. Video Watch how yoga is working at one elementary school. »

At Fernbank Elementary, teachers hold up large flash cards with kid-friendly poses that are easy for the students to imitate. Step-by-step instructions are on the back for teachers to read out loud.

In addition to incorporating yoga into lesson plans, it's being used in physical education classes throughout the day. PE teacher Katie Bashor says it helps instill discipline. "If you say you're going to do yoga with the kids, they just immediately start focusing."

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From kindergarten through fifth grade, students are learning to use deep breathing and basic yoga at their desks to cope with stress and anxiety that may occur before taking tests.

School guidance counselor June Neal has seen a measurable difference among the students. "We've seen an improvement in test scores and test-taking skills because their stress level is decreased after yoga."

Neal isn't worried about criticism that may be aimed at the school for taking time away from daily lessons to stretch and meditate. "An elementary school is more than reading, writing and arithmetic," says Neal. "You do need some down time, you do need some way to express yourself and to reduce anxiety that comes along with being in school."

Best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil believes anxiety and stress are some of the biggest reasons young students get sick at the start of the fall semester. "I think parents underestimate how stressful going back to school is," he says. "I think it's as stressful as a grown-up starting a new job."

Weil says stressed-out kids may complain of stomach pain or a headache instead of dealing with a stressful situation at school. He recommends training children to do simple deep-breathing techniques, just as adults do, to help with stress management.

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Beckwith's class might be just what the doctor ordered. After 30 minutes of coaching her students through different yoga poses, the kids seem calm but excited about what they've learned.

"They get energized when they're supposed to be energized," says Beckwith. "It just gives them a little tweak to their day so they're not just sitting at their desk." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Judy Fortin is a correspondent with CNN Medical News.

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