Monroe Township: Yoga Classes in Elementary School Classrooms


After a midday assembly at Woodland Elementary School in Monroe Township, the 20 or so fifth-graders file back into their classroom, chatting and giggling. Their teacher, Danielle Kutcher, asks them to take a seat, fold their arms and rest their heads on their desks. She presses play on a recording of gentle music — fitting for a spa — and starts to read from a big, purple card:

“Imagine there is a big, beautiful star above your head. It is glowing bright and shimmery, sending light out in every direction.” The room is calm and quiet, except for the music and the kids’ rhythmic breathing. Deep inhale, deep exhale. “Notice now that one of the biggest rays of light is streaming right down toward the top of your head. You feel the cozy, warm light touch the top of your head…relaxing all of your face muscles. Now the light is traveling into your neck…shoulders…and arms.”

Unlike a typical yoga class, there are no mats. “There is never a time where their hands are on the floor,” says Kutcher. Another difference is the language. Most yoga poses are referred to by their Sanskrit names in studio classes. For young children, imagery goes a long way. “Smell the flowers, blow out the candle,” is more effective than, “Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth.”

“We’ve always told our students to calm down, but we never tell them how,” says Kutcher, 44, who has taught fifth grade since 1998. “The kids say to themselves, “Okay, I don’t know what that means. I guess that means to sit here quietly.”

The Village Charter School in Trenton introduced mindfulness as a way to cope with what the head of school at the time, Dale Caldwell, calls urban traumatic stress disorder, a term he coined to describe the chronic anxiety felt by his inner-city students. “So much of their life is living on the edge of stress,” says Miele, who helped lead the Village Charter mindfulness workshop. “It could be food insufficiency, it could be general safety, not having a home, it could be abuse…So many things are coming at them in the urban environment.”

Brooklake Elementary School in Florham Park implemented mindfulness and Yoga 4 Classrooms lessons starting this academic year. In Rebecca Corregan’s third-grade class, recent assignments included handouts like the “Frustration Station,” which asked students to draw things that make them frustrated and then write a sentence about what makes them feel better in those situations. One student drew her older brother stealing her iPad and then wrote how she’s learned to handle her frustration: “Take a deep breath and play with my puppy.”

Kutcher says the feedback from parents has been gratifying. She recalls a class mom who pulled her aside during a school fundraiser. “She had tears streaming down her face and said, ‘I’m not quite sure what this program you’re doing is about, but I want to thank you.’ And she hugged me. I got chills. I asked what was going on. She said, ‘I always had to battle my son to do homework, but now I watch him get up from the table, take a balloon breath, stand in mountain pose for a moment or two, and then he goes right back.’ She said, ‘I started to do it too. I started to take these breaths at work and do methods at my desk, and now my son feels like a rock star, because he’s teaching mom.’”

Whatever the age, the lessons are invaluable, says Kutcher — “This is going to carry them through their lifetimes.”

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