Namaste COVID stress away: School therapist helps kids combat worries with yoga

Classroom Progress Report

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) —  With anxiety and mental health issues on the rise for children during the pandemic, one Guilderland School District therapist teaches kids to cope with the new onslaught of stressors.

Michelle Kiernozek—known simply as Miss K to her students— uses “evidence-based” yoga and mindfulness techniques in classrooms and studios across the Capital Region.

“I’ve seen a lot more fear and anxiety about the future. You know, we’re living in a very uncertain time,” Kiernozek said.

Although Miss K has been using these techniques as an occupational therapist in schools for the past eight years, she only began offering her “kids yoga and mindfulness activity classes” outside of the classroom in the past year. Why now? Because she said kids thrive on stability, and this pandemic has brought them everything but that.

Yoga and mindfulness techniques have been credited to combat stress in children by such institutions as Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the Mayo Clinic.

“It’s not about the stretching and the meditation. It’s about being kind to yourself and being mindful to yourself,” Anjali Mack, a 9-year-old regular at Miss K’s yoga classes, said.

“When I meditate sometimes, like, all the school thoughts go away, and I know I don’t have to worry,” said Mack.

However, Anjali isn’t the only child with more worries than usual these days. According to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, childhood anxiety, depression, and overall uncertainty have increased due to the pandemic.

“It causes children to go into that fight or flight state,” Kiernozek said. “They can’t learn, they can’t attend, they can’t focus if their brain is not ready.”

For children to tackle that stress and tendency to overthink —get off the “hamster wheel in your mind,” as Miss K called it—she uses fun mind and body exercises inspired by yoga and mindfulness practices.  

“Parents have told me, oh, my child can’t sit still. There’s no way they can do yoga, but with kids’ yoga, I have developed a little outline that I know to be evidence-based and to be fun,” Kiernozek said.

For parents who’d like to try incorporating mindfulness at home, Miss K suggested they start small with a few minutes of breathing exercises in the morning that can make a big difference.

Mack said she uses a few deep breathes just like Miss K taught her when she gets frustrated. And when News10 asked her what she feels like after doing those exercises? 

“I feel more relaxed,” Mack said. “I feel more calm.”

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