Julia Grueskin is on a mission to help people of all ages enjoy holistic wellness. She teaches hatha yoga, visual art, and plant-based cooking classes at schools, after-school programs, camps, and yoga centers around Austin. Here she shares with Alt Ed Austin readers her own yoga story and the benefits of yoga for children. Find out more about Julia and her classes here.
Yoga has been an essential part of my life for about the past four years. I was first introduced to it as a junior in high school, when I spent a semester in Maine and we had the option to take a yoga class once a week. I don’t remember all the poses we learned, but I do remember being in a beautiful space with huge glass windows and a tall ceiling, with the skeleton of an entire whale hanging above us. The atmosphere of the whole school was serene, and getting to practice yoga every Friday afternoon was the perfect way to round out the week and appreciate just how lucky I was to have the opportunity to be there.
Unfortunately, I didn’t pick up yoga again for about another four years, until I was a junior in college in Colorado. Other interests would always pop up, and yoga was no longer in the forefront of my mind. However, the preceding summer, my stepmother suggested I take some physical therapy to help with my posture. I was not in love with those exercises, and at the end of the summer, the therapist told me that I could either continue with those, or I could pick up yoga. That was just the reminder I needed to resume a yoga practice! And I knew that not only would it help with my spinal alignment, but it would also help me return to that space of calm and acceptance that I had been introduced to years before.
Once I picked it up for the second time, there was no turning back. I found a yoga studio I loved, and I began practicing regularly. The more I did it, the better I felt, and I knew that I needed to share that experience with others—especially young ones. Knowing how good it made me feel, I realized right away that I had not only a desire but also an obligation to not keep that secret to myself.
A growing body of research is now revealing the benefits of yoga and meditation. Much of this scientific study builds upon what many of us already know and feel through our own bodies and experiences. For example, through the Yoga Ed program, many high school students across the country are getting exposed to yoga as an alternative to the traditional P.E. class. A controlled study was carried out to evaluate the mental health benefits of practicing yoga vs. participating in a standard P.E. class. It was shown that the students who took the yoga classes significantly improved in measures of anger control and fatigue/inertia. In other factors, such as mood, anxiety, perceived stress, and resilience, the students in the P.E. classes tended to worsen, whereas the yoga students generally had minimal changes or even slight improvements. The conclusion of the study was that yoga can play a protective and even preventive role in maintaining students’ mental health.
Another study examined the benefits of mindfulness practices, which are central to the practice of yoga, and specifically how they can be implemented through arts- based methods. This study was focused in particular on children involved with child protection and/or mental health systems. Researchers found here that this type of mindfulness teaching can help these children with emotional regulation as well as social and coping skills, and that it can also improve their self- awareness, self-esteem, and resilience.
As parents and educators, we see students struggling every day with these sorts of issues, and I am constantly blown away in my yoga classes by how self-aware these children are of the challenges that await them. Yoga classes create a safe and supportive environment for children to be themselves and share their ideas without judgment or ridicule. I believe it is critical for us to provide them these opportunities as much as we possibly can.
So as we get back into another new school year, I am once again reminded of my first experience with yoga, back in the whale room, and I only wish that I had been exposed sooner, and more consistently, from a younger age. I believe yoga can have incredible benefits no matter at what stage of life one begins, but I also know the power of introducing it early on, so that it can become fully integrated into one’s whole way of life.