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Yoga & Mindfulness to Support Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Emotional Intelligence

What is SEL?

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as:  “The process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”1

SEL prepares students to Solve Problems, Manage Emotions, and Communicate Effectively. The emphasis of SEL is to help children succeed in school, the workplace, and life. The intention or focus of SEL is to help children and youth build crucial life skills such as…

  • Empathy
  • Self-Awareness of Emotions
  • Self-Regulation of Emotional States
  • Communication
  • Problem-Solving
  • Impulse Control
  • Confidence & Assertiveness

More and more research and studies are showing the importance of teaching children emotional intelligence in order to succeed and become contributing citizens of society. For many years the emphasis has been on children’s IQ or academic performance in school, but what research is finding is that in order for children to have success in school and their futures, they must develop these crucial social-emotional skills.

“Emotional Intelligence is a key to high performance.”  – Daniel Goleman

In order to understand the framework of how our emotions and ability to self-regulate impact our capacity to learn, let’s talk about the impact of stress on the nervous system and the brain.

When children are over-stressed or in the fight, flight, or freeze mode, their logical or “thinking” brain, the frontal lobe, shuts down and they move into the primal part of the brain, the limbic system, more specific, the amygdala. The area in the brain responsible for BIG emotions.

The Limbic system’s job is to keep us alive. It’s built for survival. The stressors children and adolescents experience become their “tigers,” the “perceived threats” to their survival.

Not only do persistent stress and anxiety impact children’s thinking and the ability to learn, but there is also a somatic or physical experience that happens in their body. When our emotions are activated, they are accompanied by bodily changes and sensations. Our biochemistry actually changes in response to stress.  Blood flow moves away from the brain and moves to the external limbs preparing to fight or flee to “escape the tiger.” This somatic component of the response to stress is important to understand because it helps us to recognize that “talking things out” is not always the best or only option in teaching children and adolescents how to cope with stress when challenges arise.

When children lack self-awareness, connection to their bodies, and coping skills, they can have a difficult time self-regulating their emotions and can become stuck in the fight/flight/freeze mode. This is often when we see behaviors and emotional experiences such as impulsivity, isolation, agitation, aggression, anxiety, and depression.  It’s not the stress that is the unhealthy factor, it’s the response to the stress that causes us to either feel balanced and empowered or out of control and unable to cope. This is the difference between a child having a “Growth Mindset” or a mindset that challenges in their life are unmanageable and their thoughts, actions, and ways in which they cope with those challenges are out of their control.

Social-Emotional Learning is about teaching children and adolescents not only to recognize their own thoughts, emotions, and actions but how their actions and behaviors impact their future and greater society as a whole.

This is when yoga and mindfulness come in…a systematic review of Research of Yoga in Schools has shown that the practice of yoga and mindfulness increases self-awareness and self-regulation, improves focus and concentration, and decreases stress and anxiety.

Through connection to the body and breath (mindfulness) and the practice of physical poses (asanas) and breathing activities (pranayama), children and adolescents develop a greater sense of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in their bodies (self-awareness) and a greater ability to cope with their emotions (self-regulation), which directly impacts their learning (problem-solving), attitude (confidence and assertiveness), behavior (impulse control), and ability to get along with and work with others (communication and community).

The Pillars of Yoga parallel the emphasis of Social-Emotional Learning

Integrating the practice of yoga and mindfulness in school curriculum helps build emotional intelligence, supports healthy behaviors, and encourages connection and community. These pillars can be taught through a variety of mindfulness activities.

Pillars of Yoga and Activities to Support Social-Emotional Learning

EMPATHY: Non-violence and compassion for ourselves, and others.


Mantras can be very powerful. Our thoughts about ourselves directly impact our belief systems, our relationships with others, and our nervous systems. When we have negative thinking about ourselves this causes stress and elicits that fight/flight/freeze response.

Positive mantras, if practiced consistently, can rewire our brains!

  1. Write down I AM at the top of a piece of paper
  2. Write three words about yourself that are strengths or will serve you well in your life. The words can be the opposite of the negative thoughts you have about yourself.
  3. Sit in a comfortable position.
  4. Close your eyes if it feels comfortable to you (option to keep eyes softly open).
  5. Breathe in (through the nose if accessible) and say in your mind “I Am.”
  6. Breathe out slowly and say your first positive mantra word in your mind.
  7. Repeat for the next two positive mantra words.
  8. When you breathe out your positive mantra, you’re sharing your truth with the world!
  9. Practice, Practice, Practice – it takes repetition to rewire our brains!

SELF-AWARENESS: Recognizing our thoughts and behaviors and how those impact our well-being and the well-being of others.


SEL Goal 1 – Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
Heart/Belly Breathing encourages connection to the body, sensations, and emotions. This is what is referred to as “Interoceptive Awareness,” the ability to recognize internal sensations and emotions.

  1. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart.
  2. Close your eyes if it feels comfortable to you (option to keep eyes softly open).
  3. Notice if you can feel your heartbeat.
  4. Notice how your heart feels in this moment.
  5. Notice how your belly feels in this moment.
  6. If you have thoughts swirling around in your mind, notice them and allow them to pass through. Try not to judge your thoughts.
  7. Take a deep breath (in through the nose if accessible) into your belly like you’re filling your belly up like a balloon. Breathe the air out slowly.
  8. Take a deep breath (in through the nose if accessible) and feel your ribcage expand. Breathe the air out slowly.
  9. Repeat 6 & 7 two more times.
  10. Now pause and notice how your heart and your belly feel.
  11. Notice if you feel any different or the same.
  12. Do your heart/belly breathing whenever you begin to feel stress or tension arise.

CONNECTION & UNITY: We are all one, interconnected as human beings.  We are part of a greater whole; therefore, our actions and behaviors not only impact ourselves but those around us. This pillar also reminds us of the importance of community, working together for the greater good.


SEL Goal 2 – Use social-awarenesand interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.

Partner and Group poses are a wonderful activity to support connection, community building, communication, cooperation, working together, and problem-solving.


SEL Goal 3 – Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.

Allowing children and youth the opportunity to be leaders supports leadership skills and boosts confidence & self-esteem.

  1. Designate a student or ask for a volunteer to be the “Yoga Teacher” for the day or a period of the day.
  2. Allow the student to choose the activity (sequence of yoga poses, breathing activities, meditation, etc.) that they would like to lead.
  3. Allow the student to lead the group through the activity.
  4. At the end repeat this Leadership Mantra together as a group (if it’s an appropriate activity for the age group – can be shortened to the first four sentences for younger children).

I’m a leader

A strong leader

A kind leader

A humble leader

I choose to lead with openness & compassion

I know I’m the strongest leader when…

I allow help and support from others

I listen to and respect others needs

I treat others with care

I lift up and support others

I’m a leader

A strong leader

A kind leader

A humble leader

A key component to SEL not only involves an emphasis on children and youth’s social-emotional skills, it also emphasizes the importance of school-wide practices as well as community involvement and connection. Not only do children and youth benefit from the practice of yoga and mindfulness in the school setting, but also if offered as a “systematic approach” to learning and seen as a crucial and integral component to children’s social-emotional well-being, learning and success, the students, teachers, school, and community benefit as a whole.


Mindful Administration + Mindful Teachers + Mindful School Climate + Mindful Students = A Recipe for Self-Awareness, Self-Efficacy, Learning, and Success!

For Breakfast, I ate Yogurt with Gluten Free Granola, blueberries and strawberries.

1 “What Is SEL?” CASEL,

Author: @yogabyshawnee

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