Why Some Houston Students Are Practicing Yoga In PE Class

It’s part of a movement to take the exercise into public schools.


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Students in the third and fifth grades at Oak Forest Elementary are practicing yoga as well as breathing and stretching exercises for 30 minutes, twice a week.


Dozens of elementary students are kneeling on green yoga mats. They listen carefully to their coach, Ret Paccasassi.

“So on your hands and knees, as you inhale, drop your belly, look up to ceiling. As you exhale, round in — show everybody your Halloweeen cat. Do that one more time. Inhale, look up. Exhale, round everything in.”

You might recognize this classic “cat-cow” pose if you’ve taken a yoga class. Here at Oak Forest Elementary, students are learning that pose and more.

It’s part of a new wellness program in a dozen Houston schools and also growing movement to take the exercise beyond trendy studios and into public schools.

Madison Brungardt, 10, says her fifth grade class is practicing yoga for 30 minutes, twice a week.

“There’s this one stretch and you kind of like get both of your legs crossed on top of each other and you do like tree and stuff and it’s really fun.”

Her favorite pose is downward facing dog. Her class also does breathing and stretching exercises.

Madison says she likes how she feels after yoga: “I feel really calm and not as stressed as I was.”

That’s one benefit that supporters of yoga in schools point to.

Yoga program director Eddie Stern and trainer Ret Paccasassi say yoga helps students learn life-skills, like dealing with stress and focusing their attention.

Eugene Ruffin directs the Sonima Foundation.

It’s donated almost $400,000 to HISD to buy yoga mats and train P.E. teachers.

Ruffin says yoga is just one part of the curriculum.

“An equal part of that is character education. And another equal part of that is what we put in our bodies and how it’s prepared or nutrition.”

He started the program in Southern California three years ago. It’s also in New York and Florida. In one California school district, the student yoga program sparked complaints and a lawsuit that it promoted religion in public schools.

But researchers at the University of San Diego have followed it and found positive effects.

Ruffin lists them: “Increased attendance, less bullying/violence and increased academic performance.”

Houston school leaders are hoping for similar results. And if there’s interest, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier says it could expand to more schools.

“We see too many of our kids that are overweight, we see too many of our kids that are stressed out and we see too many of our kids that are sitting on the sideline during physical education activities.”

He says participating campuses will add the new yoga program to regular P.E. classes.


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