Heritage Elementary School students this semester are learning how yoga can help form positive habits and improve focus both inside and out of the classroom.

Heritage Elementary School students this semester are learning how yoga can help form positive habits and improve focus both inside and out of the classroom.

For years, teachers and staff members at Heritage have maintained a "Leader in Me" program, based on Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," to aid learning and foster proactive behavior among students.

Close to 20 leadership teams take part in regular exercises to create better students and environments that have yielded such projects as a "Little Library" at Heritage's entrance and donations of handmade jump ropes to children in Haiti.

Last Thursday, students went from chaotic hallways filled with bodies and chatter following a morning bell, to a more serene setting where first- through fourth-graders on the Yoga and Mindfulness Leadership Team slipped into a classroom and sat on the floor for their second session with third-grade teacher Lisa Bristle and intervention specialist Jody Schwartz.

"This helps us to be proactive, to make better choices and it helps us focus on what's in the moment and not what's bothering us outside the classroom," Bristle said. "We train our brains to help us focus in the moment and we focus on one thing."

During the class, students learned yoga movements such as Downward Dog, The Monkey and Wonder Woman.

Another pose had the students sit cross-legged the floor, placing their hands over their heart and practice breathing techniques.

When instructed to switch hand placements, students were asked what they felt.

"Warmth," replied first-grader Mohammed Abdullah.

"That's right," Bristle said. "You captured warmth.

"You weren't just breathing. You were training your brains, and when you're training your brains you're teaching yourself to focus on the task at hand."

Through other movements, Bristle talked about how the techniques temper emotions, and asked why such a practice might be helpful.

One student said it could help her focus on her class work instead of dwelling on recent deaths in her family.

Third-grader Marilyn Osei-Afrifaa said it could help calm her when "doing ST Math."

Others said lessons from Yoga and Mindfulness could help quash disputes on the playground or with siblings at home.

"That sounds to me like you're choosing to be proactive and not reactive," Bristle said.

From there, the teachers led students through Sun Salutation, a series of stretching movements designed to teach minds transition from one task to the next.

Fourth-grader Logan Kessler said it helped her relax her body and focus.

"You're not paying attention to the people around you," Kessler said.

Others said the movements slowed their heart rates.

Bristle said students could use the movements and what they'd learned Thursday to relax them or to prepare themselves for difficult tasks, ranging from tests to traversing the playground monkey bars.

"The amygdala -- the part of your brain that controls emotions and feelings -- your amygdala is calm and you're ready to focus," she said. "When you go back to classes, are you ready to learn?"

With that, students throughout the classes responded, "Yeah!"