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Blackshear Elementary Students in Austin Relax with Yoga Class

Students at Blackshear Elementary School in East Austin are learning more than just math and reading.

Some are also learning deep breathing, stretches and relaxation techniques in an afternoon yoga class. It's part of the school’s enrichment program, which offers classes in everything from gardening and cooking to song writing and penmanship.

One Friday in December, about ten elementary school students sit on yoga mats in a dark classroom as teacher Joann Reyes guides them through breathing exercises and yoga poses.

Reyes is with Austin Community Yoga, which helps run the program.

Many poses are named after animals and Reyes has the students make animal noises that correspond with the pose. But then the students transition into quieter poses.

“I like when we relax cause to forget all the things we have to do like taking our dog for a walk, taking a bath, cleaning your room and doing homework," says Briceida Yanez, a third grader in the class.

At Blackshear Elementary, 97 percent of the around 230 students are economically disadvantaged. First grade teacher Jessica Bowden says that can have an effect on students as young as Kindergarten.

“Kids come from stress, responsibility at home, testing grades. Once they can feel empowered by knowing they’re able to calm themselves down and cope with stressful emotions anywhere all by themselves, in classroom, at home," says Bowden.

Bowden says she incorporates some of the yoga techniques into her classroom.

“We do it throughout the grade and it helps revitalize their energy. A lot of carpet time and they can’t sit for more than 20 minutes. Taking stretch breaks a lot to help them stay focused," she says.

Betty Jenkins is the principal of Blackshear Elementary. The school has enrichment programming every day, but students can choose their class on Fridays. She says the enrichment programming helps develop the whole child beyond the classroom, a goal in the Austin School District.

“We have a cycling club, we have a creative dance class, students that are learning and receiving one on one lessons with instruments for the first time in their life," Jenkins says.

Teacher Jessica Bowden says teaching young students how to calm themselves down can be empowering for them.

“Just to know that they can be aware of how they’re feeling and kind of focus in on that. If they choose to do that and if I can teach them directly how to breath, it really does help them cope with stressors," she says.

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