Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Little Yogis, Big Relief

Student anxiety has been increasing incrementally for years, and slowly creeping into the younger and younger age groups.

Picture this:

Pressure of success blossoms in the mind of a second-grader, who worries that if she does not get a spotless report card, she will have no future. A boy in his fourth grade class is unable to finish his math test because he has forgotten 9x5. An eighth grade girl is still terrified to speak in public because of one stuttered project in elementary school.

This stress has been all too real for students growing up in and after the Millennial Generation, with job competition and academic expectation skyrocketing.

Jennifer Cohen Harper has decided to change all that. She takes a comprehensive, and somewhat radical approach to calming the young and developing minds of elementary-aged children, known as Little Flower Yoga. Yoga has been proven to give great results in decreasing stress levels in adults, and Harper is hoping to bring the practice to youth subject to stress.

She is not only encouraging children to begin a yoga practice, but is incorporating a 5 part method: Connect, Breathe, Move, Focus and Relax. The goal of this mindfulness program is not just to encourage physical movement and progression at a young age, but one of her main ideas is to  "incorporate learning goals throughout every class...challenge students to learn in new ways, make connections, and recognize their tremendous capacity to achieve."

Harper's entire curricular concept is creative in that it reinvents existing fields, combining the worlds of meditation and education. Interdisciplinary creativity is another aspect that allows this to be considered Big C creativity, along with the fact that she already reaches over 3500 children per week between her in class and after school programming. The mindfulness exercises increase emotional control and understanding as well as healthy development. Combined with the physical aspects of yoga, these exercises decrease likeliness for unhealthy lifestyles later in life, and increase the likelihood of these students performing well in their academic efforts.

In addition, Harper is trying to implement this strategy for improving the lives of our children throughout the country. Currently she is based in New York, but has also written three books about her creative experience in teaching children, all incorporating the duality of mindfulness and yoga education, with each book being targeted to a specific age group of developing children and teens.
Her creative experience began for her in 2006, when she implemented a small yoga break during the day instead of open-ended free time allowed by other kindergarten teachers. Her coworkers quickly realized the possibilities of this program, and she immediately had a following as well as volunteer yoga instructors with educational backgrounds. She looked out into a classroom full of five year old children, and saw how she could improve their coping techniques and set them up to be emotionally and physically healthy later in life-- an insight only someone who could think beyond themselves, or with divergence, could possess.  

She also possesses the characteristics of Creatives that seek the ability to mentor, or pass along their experiences onto the new generation. She begins directly at the root of the generation, in a group of children who both need her, and have plenty of opportunity to grow with and around her teachings.

Jennifer Cohen Harper utilizes the six creative resources presented by Lubart and Sternberg, particularly intellectual styles and environmental context, to contribute to her creativity, Her intellectual style involves thinking on the level of an elementary school student, as she planned lessons around that thought process and has multiple degrees researching this particular age group and their emotional and intellectual ranges. Her environmental context is what allowed for her breakthrough, as she was surrounded by fellow educators who both fostered and encouraged her advancements, and eventually volunteered to be part of her revolution of childhood stress management education.

Her classes are expanding, and increasing attendants are all reporting favorably. Hopefully Little Flower Yoga, a wonderful stride in creative childcare, will be able to reach and calm the stressed and pressured developing minds of our country's future generation.


  1. I think it is heartbreaking that the public education system and system of higher education in the United States both place such an enormous psychological strain on students. Under some circumstances, I can see how some pressure might be beneficial to the development of a student. However, I think the immense amount of pressure placed on students in this day and age to be "perfect" stifles academic as well as creative growth. I am glad that Harper realized that this is a concerning issue, especially with the exponential increase in diagnosis for mental health diseases, and more specifically mental health diseases related to crippling anxiety. In addition, I believe Harper serves to remind everyone to care for himself/herself and to practice mindfulness.

  2. In healthcare we talk a lot about levels of prevention - primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary prevention includes things such as education, preventative treatment (i.e. immunizations). Secondary prevention is the early detection of a disease process through screenings and wellness visits. Tertiary prevention is the treatment and management of a disease process. Reading this blog post, I am immediately reminded of the primary level of prevention. Unfortunately, however, mental health can be somewhat of a taboo subject in our culture. Most people or organizations would recommend (sometimes require) a yearly flu vaccination; few would encourage yoga to prevent mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety. Ironically, the cases of the flu I have encountered in the hospital have been much less harrowing than those of mental health illness.

    Fortunately for humankind, creatives such as Harper exist. In line with Sternberg's personality variables, Harper's work expresses integration (puts things together in a new way), a lack of conventionality, and, arguably most importantly, is perspicacious, or challenges societal norms. I would argue that Harper is an example of why creativity holds such importance in our world. She, uninhibited by societal prejudices, is able to objectively look at date regarding anxiety and depression. Rather than being constrained by stereotypes that mental health problems are due to mental weakness, or a slew of other uneducated and judgmental reasons, Harper is able to truly create and promote a system to benefit the mental health of all.

  3. We were recently discussing the power and increasing popularity of mindfulness practices in my Abnormal Psych class. I loved reading about Jennifer Harper's dedication towards teaching such practices in an intentional and meaningful manner to the cohort who they will have the greatest impact on: children. Freshman year, I was a team leader and Americorps member of JumpStart, a federally funded program geared towards early childhood literacy. We were educated about how and why the preschool years are so incredibly impertinent to a child's future psychological, emotional, social, and academic well being. Jumpstart acts upon the notion that it is imperative that we prepare children with the tools to learn and read at an academically appropriate level starting at a young age. Jennifer Harper parallels this idea, preparing young children with the tools of mindfulness practice so that they may be better prepared to face a world full of pressures; a society that is constantly asking us to do and be MORE.


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