Application of Yoga in the Classroom

Jacques de Coulon, Switzerland

Experience shows us that many children are handicapped by a dissipation of their physical and mental energies due to the stress of our modern world. This situation has disastrous repercussions on their personal equilibrium as well as on their school work and particularly on their learning capacity.

And what does our educational system do about this? Not very much. Modern education is essentially based on the accumulation of knowledge, and it can be criticised on two points:

  1. It does not concern itself enough with the child himself, and the harmonious development and balance of his personality. We find many tensions in the child, underlying conflicts between his emotions and the demands of his mind. For example: John is supposed to be concentrating on a problem in mathematics, but, at the same time the emotionally charged images of the football game flood his field of consciousness. So there ensues a struggle between this image and the attention required to solve the maths problem.
  2. Our educational system does not base itself enough on the inner conditions necessary for learning in the child; it does not talk much of the qualities which allow a child to learn well and quickly: concentration, attention, etc. Twentieth century education resorts to a whole series of purely external palliatives.

The majority of learning problems are not related to any lack of intelligence but, rather, to the fact that the child is not capable of working efficiently because he has not been taught how to concentrate. This is very important, because, if learning difficulties are due to a lack of harmony and self-control in the child, and not to a congenital lack of intelligence, it is possible to remedy this state of affairs. We must give the child the tools which will allow him to become balanced and to manifest fully the wealth which lies inside him.

The remedy is adaptation of exercises from the yogic tradition which are suitable for the child. By yoga we mean all the techniques which allow the individual to join with his innermost centre and to yoke together the different aspects of his personality. Yoga is independent of any particular system of belief. It is a very practical method aimed at knowing ourselves and harmonising all the different layers of our entire being.

Mandala: a cosmogram, a psychogram

One way to create this harmony is through the use of mandala, the centre of which corresponds to the atman or the soul. From mandala comes the central idea of our work. The mandala is an absolutely universal symbol. It consists of a centre from which emanate symmetrical parts like the spokes of a wheel.

The mandala is, first of all, a cosmogram, representing the infinitely small, the atomic structure of electrons, as well as the infinitely big, the planets revolving around the sun. The intermediary world also often expresses itself in the configuration of a mandala, as in a butterfly, a flower, or a man who has a central axis, the spinal column, with limbs symmetrically placed on either side.

The mandala is also a psychogram. It represents the victory of harmony over chaos. We have noticed that the simple act of concentrating on the centre of a symmetrical design such as a mandala will very quickly induce a relaxed state of calmness and concentration.

Basic approach to the work

Our major effort has been to adapt an ancient tradition to the child of the twentieth century. We have based our work on the following criteria:

  1. The motivation of the child: the yoga exercises are attention-holding. In choosing them we let ourselves be guided by the child and from this comes an efficient training, which corresponds to the likes and aptitude of the child.
  2. Holistic approach: the training is a synthesis; all the levels of the personality are harmonised simultaneously.
  3. Structuring: we have experimented for a long time before being in a position to structure these exercises in progressive stages.
  4. Location and material: these exercises do not need sophisticated materials or a special locale.

Outline of exercises proposed for the classroom

  1. Work on the body:
    • a) The body in space
      - becoming aware of the centre of gravity
      - balancing exercises; to develop the balance of the body is also to balance the psyche - stretching, opening the body in the six directions: high/low, left/right, front/back.
    • b) Becoming aware of the central axis and making it more flexible- the vertebral column.
    • c) Exercises of body immobility in a correct position.
  2. Work on the breath (in relation with the emotions):
    • a) Learning complete breathing, making use of simple movements (growing tree, windmill, flying swan).
      b) Work on the breathing rhythm which can be used to obtain certain states (dynamism or calm, for example).
      c) Use of sounds (Om) chanted on expiration.
  3. Work on the senses, notably turning the senses inward, centring exercises for the senses of hearing or vision.
  4. Work on the mental level:
    • a) Receptive concentration (development of memory power)
      - concentration on a symmetrical design -concentration on different colours in order to evoke the complementary colours
      - listening exercises.
    • b) Expressive concentration (development of will and imagination); above all, to learn the technique of visualising mental images which, accompanied by a positive attitude, produce a desired state of calmness and concentration. The mind can become a very powerful instrument if we learn how to use it.
  5. Simple relaxation exercises. Many exercises of this sort are well known and should be adapted for children.

Application of the practices

Many of the practices can serve as a transition to work which require sustained attention for example, stimulating the faculty of concentration via the medium of vision, trataka.


  • Stare at a little white dot in the centre of a geometrical design for about thirty seconds. Think only about your gaze which must not waver.
  • Suddenly shift your gaze to a small black dot placed to the right. You should see the exact replica of the design at the left, only the colours will be reversed, i.e. what is black on the left will become white on the right. N.B. This exercise is more effective if it is practised with coloured designs. After gazing, one sees the mandala appear in the complementary colours, red becomes green, etc. The eyelids can be closed lightly after the concentration and the design will be seen inside.
  • Other exercises can be used to calm an agitated mind, and they also allow the repetition of an auto-suggestive phase in a conducive state. For example, rhythmic breathing combined with eye movements.
  • Close your eyes lightly and repeat silently to yourself a positive sentence, such as 'I am becoming more and more calm', or 'I will solve this problem perfectly'. Or you can visualise yourself glowing with happiness at the idea of finding the solution.

More exercises can be integrated directly into the school program, for example, the mandala form can be applied as well in mathematics as in learning a language. For example, find all the ideas associated with a central concept.

Effects of the exercises

Having practised these exercises for many years, we have noticed a very swift sharpening of concentration and of the capacity for attention; a diminution of body agitation as well as a deep sense of calm in the body. All this translates into a very clear improvement in academic results. But above these utilitarian results, we should also consider the general effect of well being on the personality of the child. When the child learns to exercise a certain degree of control over his inner states by simple and natural means, he can marshal his energies himself. He will be able to bypass drugs and to find in himself the source of inspiration.