Opinion | Michigan student says PE, mindfulness critical to mental health
Editor’s note: Bridge Michigan routinely seeks perspectives from Michigan residents across the state. We often write about Michigan’s K-12 schools and concerns about student mental health. This column presents a fifth-grade student’s thoughts on how schools can help students cope with their feelings. Simran attends a private school in Oakland County.
When I started fifth grade this fall, I was asked to pick my top 14 electives. My school offers so many wonderful electives like yoga, nature walk, mindfulness and dance, etc., so I had a tough decision to make.
Coming out of the pandemic and doing school has been hard on many students. During a regular school day, we can feel all kinds of emotions like frustration, anger, sadness, joy and excitement. How do we stay calm and cope with these emotions while at school?
This time when I picked my electives, I decided to make sure I picked the ones which require some sort of movement because when I am moving, I am calm.
I think physical education, yoga and mindfulness should be mandatory in all schools. Based on Michigan Department of Education guidelines, every child from prekindergarten to grade 12 should participate in quality physical education.
Exercise is healthy because it makes you move. When you move, positive hormones called endorphins are released in our bodies , which improves mental health.
Obesity, which is very common among our youth, can lead to heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. All these can lead to an early death. Exercise helps you stretch and move, which can help you live longer, lose weight and help with the obesity epidemic. Exercise also improves self confidence, team spirit and leadership skills. Mindfulness makes you calmer and eliminates stress, which can improve your mental health.
When I surveyed my friends to understand their knowledge and attitudes about physical education and mindfulness, 64 percent (16 of 25) said they feel more focused and less anxious when they do some exercise during the school day. 80 percent (20 of 25) believed they would get better grades if yoga and mindfulness are mandated in schools.
Look here to view new K- 12 Michigan standards on physical education in schools.
The electives I picked this year are PE, mindfulness and nature, science, art, and theater. So far I have completed PE, art and mindfulness and nature. Mindfulness and nature is a science elective where we take a walk in the woods and learn about the brain and its functions. It is a very calming experience since we are surrounded by nature while learning about which parts of the brain help regulate our emotions. This has been one of my favorite electives.
Since the pandemic, I have been practicing yoga twice a week with my instructor outside of school.It's the most fun and relaxing class I attend. Each class starts with chanting “ OM” followed by practicing various yoga poses like the tree pose which teaches balance, cobra pose which is great for the back, and lotus pose which increases flexibility.
I practice 10-15 poses each of which have their unique benefits. The practice ends with breathing exercises followed by focusing my eyes on the candle light after switching off the lights, which some people believe helps with eyesight.
Lastly, I pay my gratitude to my yoga teacher and hug myself. Yoga makes me feel lighter, focus on my breath, and turn off my mind. It is my happy space.
Recently my teacher asked me what my ideal elective would be. My answer was, “An elective where I could move, work as a team, and have fun.”
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