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Kids Yoga Classes on UWS Aim to Take Stress Out of Test-Taking

By Emily Frost | October 31, 2013 9:15am
 The company said parents and kids noticed a difference when they practiced yoga techniques during tough tests. 
Lil Yogis Offers Classes to Reduce Test Taking Stress
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Don't sweat it.

An Upper West Side yoga company is looking to take the stress out of test-taking by teaching yoga poses and breathing techniques to elementary school students. 

"There’s so much pressure for these kids," said Erica Held, the founder of Lil Yogis, which offers an array of yoga classes for local kids. 

Yoga gives them "tools in their belt" to deal with their anxiety and "more confidence going in [to the test]," she said. 

In 2012, when Held heard a cry for help from Jamie Mendelsohn, an Upper East Side public school teacher whose fourth grade students were about to take the required state exams in math and English, she realized the benefits of yoga could extend into the classroom.

Mendelsohn, a literacy coach at P.S. 59, said springtime at the school marked the onset of a greater degree of stress and pressure as classrooms prepared for the exams.

"A lot of her students get very anxious and some of them completely freak out," Held said.

So, rather than pile on more test prep, the school's fourth-grade teachers met with Held and learned how to lead yoga sessions geared toward better test taking. 

However, Lil Yogis' practice doesn't require spreading out onto mats or a lot of huffing and puffing. 

"A lot of times people see yoga as a an extra-currciular or theater-type thing," Mendelsohn said, notingthat yoga could also work at the school desk.

The 45-minute sessions led by teachers in each class focused on key confidence-building poses, twists that could be done at a desk, simple palm presses and relaxation breathing, Held explained.

Controlling breathing and the mind are a big part of yoga, and it becomes essential during tense moments when the mind has the tendency to race — like during a test when students don't know the answer immediately, she said. 

"If you can close your eyes and learn how to hold your breath and count back and forth to five, instead of that panic, you can just bring yourself back [with greater focus]," Held said.

Students can also try "imagining yourself melting or on a sandy beach," and come back from a two-minute break more energized and ready to continue with the test, she added. 

During tests that sometimes span up to three hours for those granted additional time, simple ways of calming and centering oneself were a tremendous help for the students, Mendelsohn said. 

"We can’t always get into downward dog in the middle of test," she noted, "but how can we learn techniques to help us refocus our energy?"

In most cases, students would breath out of one nostril or press their palms together while taking the actual test, Mendelsohn said. 

"Some of the children were actually teaching their parents these calming techniques at home," she added.  

While Lil Yogis classes are cropping up across the Upper West Side, with classes at Reebok Sports Club for the first time next month, Held is just starting to make test-taking yoga a bigger focus of the company.

The studio-less organization has worked with the JCC, local schools P.S. 199 and P.S. 452,  the Ethical Culture Fieldston School and the Heschel School, among others. 

Now, it's looking to train elementary school teachers and students in the stress-relieving techniques. 

Held also said she was in early talks with a local tutoring company interested in incorporating yoga into its arsenal of test-prep methods.