Evaluation of a Stress Control Course for Year 9 School Children

Louis Lucas, Australia

Conducted by - Louis Lucas, M. Ed., Psych., Health Education Officer. Assisted by - John Hickman, Marian Van Munster and Physical Education staff at Woy Woy High School, Woy Woy, Australia. Participants - Two Year-9 groups: total number 47 children. Boys- 22 Girls- 25 Duration - Once weekly for 6 weeks

Objectives

  1. To test in a school situation a series of simple yogic techniques for self-control, release of muscular tension, anxiety and general stress.
  2. To determine the suitability and effectiveness of such a program in terms of student acceptance, teacher acceptance, and pupil self-evaluation of benefits.
  3. To use the feedback gained in order to design a course for high schools.

Course contents

  1. Surya namaskara to systematically loosen up muscles and develop and express energy.
  2. Full deep breathing to achieve optimum slow deep breathing and to correct faulty inter-costal breathing patterns. Participants lay in supine pose and directed awareness to natural breath rhythm without control. Then they were taught to increase the depth of breathing by expanding the stomach muscles slightly. This automatically slows down and deepens the respiratory rate, thus bringing maximum relaxation and oxygenation.
  3. Deep relaxation - performed in supine pose with rotation of awareness through the body centres and then counting breath back from 27 to zero.

Analysis

Participant's acceptance- 43 students completed; 'post-course evaluation' sheets were received from 19 boys and 24 girls.

There is a distinct difference in responses between the girls, of whom some 60% found the course pleasant and wished further relaxation lessons after the course ended, and the boys of whom 26% found the course pleasant and 31% wished for continued lessons. Only 4% of the girls found the lessons 'unpleasant' against 26% of the boys. More of the boys (47%) than girls (33%) were non-committal.

The teachers concerned consider those groups to be, in many cases, highly resistant to learning and also restless and difficult to motivate. It is their considered opinion that the mere 14% of the group who found the lessons 'unpleasant' (mostly boys) reflect certain male-bravado attitudes, while the 86% who responded more positively constitute, in their view, an overwhelming vote of confidence from a group which had never attempted anything similar before.

There was a steady and marked improvement in behaviour, concentration and general group relationships during the course. The group increasingly made a marked effort to be ready and organised, with the mats laid out. They also displayed an increasing resentment against any interruption from outside, which happened from time to time, as the gymnasium is an open, multi-use building.

Surya Namaskara: With a few exceptions, the pupils were very stiff, however, 62% of girls and 58% of boys enjoyed the practice, and 58% of the girls and 47% of the boys felt that they had benefited (see previous comment on male attitudes).

Breathing Exercise: 50% of girls and 26% of boys stated that they enjoyed the exercise; 46% of girls and 10% of boys felt they had benefited. Deep Relaxation: It should be noted that there was no requirement to practise at home, however, 54% of girls and 32% of boys stated that they felt that the relaxation exercises did help to control anxieties and tensions. Sixty three percent of girls and 42% of boys felt that the relaxation exercises helped them to think more clearly. Forty six percent of girls and 21% of boys considered that the exercises helped them concentrate on their studies better.

Remarkably, since the exercises covered only 1 ½ hours a week, 38% of girls and 11% of boys considered that they had learned from them how to cope better with home situations.

Conclusions

The program achieved a remarkably high acceptance-rating from pupils and staff, both of whom considered the results highly beneficial.

Lessons learned

  1. The pupils require physical exercise in order to relieve physical tensions and express energy, as well as improve their remarkable lack of flexibility. Likewise, breathing and the deep relaxation exercises, are necessary and integral parts of the program, since children are characteristically intercostal breathers and somewhat tense and overactive in expression and behaviour.
  2. The optimum lesson plan that emerged from this field test is: 15 to 20 minutes flexibility exercises, 10 minutes slow, deep breathing, and 15 to 20 minutes deep relaxation- a total of 40 to 50 minutes.
  3. Also, the deep relaxation segment of 5 to 15 minutes and / or slow deep breathing segment of 5 to 10 minutes, could both be equally useful as part of a straight sports or exercise class, or as part of a classroom training lesson.
  4. A purpose dedicated room, free from interruptions, is very necessary for any lesson which includes deep relaxation or slow, deep breathing exercises, performed lying down.
  5. The groups should be limited to 15, as groups of over 20 are difficult to relate to in a personalised way.