Teaching is a tough profession. Heavy workloads, challenging students, and lack of support are just some of the issues today’s teachers have to handle. Many educators choose their career because they feel it’s their calling, but that makes them more susceptible to compassion fatigue and burnout. A recent study finds that higher rates of burnout occur in people who view their profession as their life’s mission.
Despite the statistics and outlook, there is hope for relief. It comes in the form of an ancient and scientifically proven relaxation technique: yoga. There are several proven benefits for yoga practitioners:
Yoga lives in the moment. Every breath, every pose, every movement happens now, and that is where our attention is focused — not thinking ahead or worrying about what happens next. Yoga teaches us to simply exist. We give up the notion of being right or wrong. Instead of struggling to make a situation work for us, we focus on how to work with a situation.
You don’t have to practice gravity-defying inversions to reap the rewards. Even the simplest yoga pose can calm your mind and relax your body. Just 5-10 minutes a day can lead to improved physical and mental health.
If you’re ready to try yoga, here are 10 easy poses to start with — specifically curated for teachers to address the most common symptoms of burnout. You can incorporate these into classroom activities as well.
Stand tall with your feet together and firmly planted on the floor. Imagine roots extending down into the earth, rooting you to the spot. Let your arms hang relaxed at your sides and face your palms out in front of you. Close your eyes and focus on breathing.
This is a great pose to help you reset. It not only gives you time to find your center, but it also helps increase awareness and focus, and improves posture.
From mountain pose, bend your body over at the hips (not your waist, as this can strain your lower back) and either let your arms hang down to the ground, or grip the opposite elbow in each hand. Release any tension and let gravity pull you towards the ground.
This pose is a great stretch for your hamstrings and calves, and it also relieves shoulder tension while maintaining flexibility in the spine. It is used for stress, anxiety, and fatigue, and when your students aren’t listening you can let out a big sigh and drop over into this pose. It may not restore order, but it will give you time to reign in the frustrated scream that’s been building.
On first glance, this pose looks a little challenging, but it’s actually quite simple. Just be careful not to place your foot against the side of your ankle or knee, as this can result in injury as well as throw off your balance.
From mountain pose, shift your weight onto one leg and slowly raise the other up to either your inner calf or thigh. You don’t have to place your leg too high in the beginning. Choose whichever spot is comfortable, and fix your gaze on an unmoving spot. This is known as your drishti. If you are not completely focused on your drishti, your focus will falter and your balance will be affected.
The reason balancing poses are so effective is because they require your full attention. They are all about finding your inner focus and quieting everything else so that all you have to pay attention to is the moment and the pose. It’s a great lesson to take into life: find your focus, and balance will follow.
If you found Tree Pose intriguing, you’re going to love Eagle. Once again, it looks much harder than it is. There are also variations to make it less complicated, but once you try it you will most likely find that it is the perfect blend of challenge and simplicity.
Like Tree Pose, Eagle is all about concentration, but with the added element of coordination. In addition to promoting mental awareness, it opens and stretches the shoulders, works out your lower body, and challenges both the mind and body at the same time. When your students are having trouble focusing, get them together for a 30 second to 1 minute round of Eagle Pose. Try not to spin it as a punishment, but rather a classroom reset where everyone can take a break, have a bit of fun, and re-focus.
Starting in Mountain Pose, bend your knees and shift your balance to the right foot. Lift your left leg and cross it over the right, hooking your left foot around your right calf. Next, hook your right arm under the left and bring your palms together. Hold this pose for as long as you can, then release and switch sides.
Yes, yoga even has its own version of a squat! Also known as Garland Pose, this asana is a meditative pose that invokes concentration, relieves lower back pain, and tests out the complete range of motion of the legs. This is a great pose for teachers and students who are stuck sitting at desks all the time, as it works the entire lower body.
Spread your feet out hip distance apart, point your toes slightly outward, and bend your knees while dropping your bottom straight down. It helps to press your palms together in front of your chest as you do this. Once you’re down as far as you can comfortably go, press your elbows (if you can) into the crook of your legs. Keep your back straight, close your eyes as long as it does not affect your balance, and rest here.
Yes, you’re thinking, this is more like it. Child’s pose is extraordinarily restive, calming the mind, and slowing the breath. There is something very nourishing and comforting about this pose, as it is reminiscent of a baby in a womb. In addition, it opens the hips, relieves strain in the back, and reduces stress and fatigue. This pose is all about resting. Hang out in it as long as you need.
Child’s pose can be a great tool in younger classrooms. When there is anger, a tantrum, or frustration, try this. For an upset student, let the child rest in this pose to return to a calmer state. Once again, this is not a punishment: it’s a break (for both of you).
Rest on your knees and sit back on your heels, hands resting on your thighs. Spread your knees apart and slowly bend forward, stretching your arms out in front or letting them rest at your sides. Your whole torso should be laying on your thighs, with your forehead on the ground. Stay wrapped in your makeshift cocoon until you feel you can handle parent-teacher conferences with minimal headache.
You may not be a teenager blasting pop-rock in the bedroom to shut out the world, but there’s no denying that this is a comfy position. Not only is it great for headaches, but it also slows your heart rate, relieving symptoms of stress, and soothing your tired legs after days of standing with no break. It comes from restorative yoga, which is all about rest and relaxation.
This pose couldn’t be simpler! Find a wall, lay down on your back with your sit bones touching the wall, and extend your legs all the way up. Spread your arms out along the floor, and let your body sink down.
For a sore back, tight hips, and exhausted mind, the remedy is Supine Twist.
Lie on your back with your knees drawn into your chest. Slowly drop your knees to one side of your body, keeping your upper back on the mat as much as possible. After resting here for a minute, bring your knees back to your chest, then drop them to the other side.
This one is also good for the lower back, but more than anything it releases tension in the hips which is where, according to yogic teachings, we store a lot of negative emotions. Bound angle also helps relieve stress, anxiety, and even depression.
Lie on your back with your hands either resting at your sides, placed on your belly, or set one hand on your heart and the other on your stomach. Bring the soles of your feet together, then gently let your knees fall away from each other. Don’t force the movement, but let gravity naturally pull them down to either side. If this gets uncomfortable, put a few blankets or pillows under each knee to give them a surface to rest on.
It’s every yogi’s favorite pose, particularly after a vigorous or challenging practice. The adult version of naptime. The simplest, yet in some ways the hardest, of all asanas – Savasana, or Corpse Pose. The goal is to achieve a meditative state of pure relaxation, to be completely at rest while remaining awake. It’s not easy, when you think about it. The only thing you are trying to do in this pose is relax, and trying to relax is not relaxing!
Savasana is seen by many as a difficult pose because it requires that we do nothing. We always feel like we need to keep moving, keep doing, keep going, and we are rewarded for this behavior externally while inside we are exhausted. Corpse pose teaches us that sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves is nothing at all.
To achieve Savasana, just lie on your back and spread your limbs out, letting go of any and all tension while your body melts into the floor. Once again, let gravity do all the work. While your body is motionless, your mind will try to take over and “restore the busyness,” so to speak. Try your best to resist. Any time a thought of the past or future comes up, gently let it go. Focus on breathing and keep your mind clear of distractions. It won’t be easy, and it will take time, but eventually, you will find that it’s not so hard to be in the moment. In fact, it’s quite a relief.
If you want to explore more yoga poses, visit YogaBasics.com.
No one enters their career thinking they’re going to become another statistic. You can beat teacher burnout, but you need the right tools. In addition to yoga, try incorporating mindfulness meditation into your day. This can be as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes, or practicing deep breathing when you feel the stress piling up.
Another great resource is the Breathe for Change organization, which is dedicated to helping teachers on their wellness journey. Their mission is to “Change the World, One Teacher at a Time.” Alternatively, start your own yoga group with your colleagues. Schedule a time each week to come together to re-center yourselves in the staff room or a cleared space in a classroom. Even just fifteen minutes before or after school could make a big difference in how you handle stress.
Yoga can’t eliminate every stressor, but it can help you better manage the physical and mental effects. A happy teacher is a more effective teacher, and your students will benefit immensely.