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Yoga Breathing New Life Into Fitness Classes In San Diego And New York

A yoga-based health and wellness program that was piloted in Encinitas schools — and drew protests from some parents — now is being adopted in Cajon Valley Union School District, Monarch School in San Diego and three New York schools.

Encinitas students demonstrate yoga poses, April 2014.

The University of San Diego has preliminary research showing students who practiced the yoga classes had more core strength and flexibility than students who did not, as measured in state fitness exams.

The Sonima Foundation, which sponsors the school based yoga classes, held an open house in Encinitas. Executive director Gene Ruffin said yoga is a prudent way to improve the health of children.

“The way we use it is a cost-effective means towards stress reduction, flexibility, the California Physical Fitness Test,” he said. “Our kids are doing better who take yoga.”

Ruffin said other school districts around the country are enquiring about the program. Each school district and pilot site develops a custom program to suit its student population, he said. All programs include yoga time on the mat and Common Core state standards for physical education.

Still, some Encinitas parents, who thought it might include religious teaching, questioned the idea of teaching yoga in schools. They unsuccessfully sued the district, but an appeal is pending.

Ruffin said yoga instruction in schools is designed to be kid friendly and fun, and has positive impacts beyond physical fitness.

“There is something else there other than physical,” he said. “Kids do feel better about themselves, other than flexibility and strength, they are getting things other than that from it. Exactly what it is, all I know it seems to be positive, because the results are positive.”

Encinitas Union School District has included the yoga classes for two years, as part of a wellness program on character building, nutrition and gardening.

Cajon Valley Union School District began piloting the program this year, and is focusing on fitness benefits. Its program includes yoga, circuit training and recreational sports.

The Sonima Foundation is documenting the impact of yoga-based health and wellness programs through research studies by USD.

Quantitative results show students had improved attendance, with fewer sick days, as well as scoring higher on the California Physical Fitness Test.

After one year of classes in Encinitas Union School District, teachers reported students are more focused, and bullying decreased.

Research from the second year of classes will be shared in August. Ruffin said he expects those results to “wow people.”

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