'Relaxed and a little tired': Westminster Elementary fifth-graders practice yoga to promote mental well-being

Lynn Olexy stood at the front of a school cafeteria Thursday afternoon surrounded by 25 cats and cows — or, at least, 25 students stretching with the cat/cow yoga pose.

Olexy, who is the co-owner and operator of Downtown Yoga in Westminster, visited the fifth-graders of Westminster Elementary School during Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week to lead them through short yoga sessions where they focused on building strong breath and stability.


“We are trying to promote students starting to pay attention to their own emotional and mental well-being,” said guidance counselor Melissa Doan, who organized the activity.

She hopes that by learning mindfulness practices and relaxation techniques that are a part of yoga, students can use them when they are feeling restless or anxious.

After the activity of their recess, the students filed into the cafeteria with their classmates. About 100 fifth-graders were broken up into four groups for half-hour classes.

Student Emily Legler was excited to give yoga a try. Though she danced when she was younger, she has never been to a yoga class, she said.

Afterwards, “I felt relaxed and a little tired,” she said.

The students started out by focusing on their breath as Olexy guided them to breathe deeply through their belly, ribs and heart before exhaling in the opposite order.

“You’re super relaxed. Everything is relaxed,” she coached.

They moved on to strength and balance builders like Chaturanga, a warrior series and a chair pose.

Chair pose, which challenges the yoga practitioner’s leg strength and core balance while they try to hold a deep squat, left the students in giggles as a few hopped around or fell over. But they dissipated quickly, and the students were quiet and composed for the final Namaste.

It was not the first time doing yoga for Kaden Provenza because it had been part of his class at another school, but he thought Olexy was a “really good yoga teacher” even though some of the poses were more difficult than he thought they would be.

“I actually feel really calm and comfortable,” he said

Though they hoped to take the activity outside, grey weather that threatened rain moved the activity into the cafeteria. Olexy brought colorful blankets for students to cushion their knees or backs, and the school provided bright purple mats.

The activity was built for the fifth-graders because they are beginning the transition to adolescence and experiencing more complex emotions.

“More of an awareness of [their] surroundings, as well as the transition to sixth grade, was the reason I really wanted to focus on our fifth-graders,” said Doan, the guidance counselor.