Can we put a grade on yoga?

The first time I tried yoga, as a 15 year old at home along to a DVD, I remember thinking it was too easy and not challenging enough, and yet I wish I had been offered yoga classes at school – I really wonder how I would have responded! The varying responses to yoga from teenagers is fascinating, understandable and sometimes surprising. They are generally intrigued and curious, sometimes resistant and reluctant but quite often completely engaged and willing! Recently I have been asked to grade yoga as part of GCSE PE and I have mixed feelings about doing so.

Amongst the various groups of teens I teach, since last September I have been teaching yoga to the Year 11 girls at a local school as part of their PE classes. I have seen two groups a week for 6 weeks and we are now on the third block, with the head of PE saying, ‘it brings me joy to be offering this’. It’s been so interesting to observe the difference in the groups, particularly between those who are taking PE as a GCSE qualification, compared to those who detest taking part in PE at all!!

YOGA FOR GCSE PE – yay or nay?!
These girls were a real joy to share yoga with! Most of them were totally into it and the hardest part for them is quite obvious – meditation and relaxing! These girls are active, sporty and competitive. Apart from the few who go to yoga class outside of school, they rarely spend much time sitting still unless they have to. But it clearly got easier for them once they knew what to expect and became more comfortable; and then…

“Give them a mark out of 10”, says the head of PE. I am overjoyed at being able to offer yoga to these girls, and I know the teacher is, however is it right to grade them? Is it going to ruin everything I have taught them?! About doing everything to your own degree? About the importance of it feeling good over looking good?
According to the exam board syllabus I was meant to give them a grade out of 10 on developing physical skills (including poses, breathing and relaxation) and also for being creative and making decisions. I gave them all 9s and 10s, which they deserved – they all tried hard and were all clearly benefitting, despite some difficulty with relaxing for some, and obvious difficulty for some with certain postures. How can you give someone a low score for not keeping their eyes closed when you have no idea what is going through that young person’s head? Or for not being flexible?! Especially when you know that they play netball 5 times a week! Anyway – as we know, we all excel in some areas and not in others. The beauty of yoga is discovering our strengths and our weakness, inside and out (more on this another time).

At the same age I know that I would have found sitting or laying down with my eyes closed difficult because I was too concerned with what my peers thought about me, too concerned with doing what was cool, and not doing something that I may have enjoyed on my own – but not with others because I was too self-conscious. In addition, I was used to working hard and pushing my body physically, and I (my ego) couldn’t see the point in anything physical that didn’t challenge me.

I want to teach athletic young people that they need an element of relaxation in their lives, how much stretching with awareness can benefit them and how yoga in general can aid their sport. In addition, I know that yoga asana practice can be physically challenging and I want to make the link between this and the mental focus that it can give to young people.

I will be personally writing to the exam board with my suggestions for the content of the yoga ‘syllabus’, and with my recommendations on personal reflection and growth, perhaps journaling, rather than a formal grading system.

As for the non sporty girls – they love the yoga, because they can all do it. In fact, after my current group’s first session the teacher told me, ‘that is the most I’ve seen them do all school year!’. Result.

Would you like to share yoga with adolescents? would you like how to learn how to teach them effectively with greater empathy and compassion? Whether you are a yoga teacher, parent, school teacher or even social worker – you could be eligible to join a 5 day TeenYoga teacher training course. I am leading the next one here in Cornwall 29-31 January and 6-7 February. See my TeenYoga page for more details and booking.

I would love to know your thoughts, so please leave a comment below and please share with anyone who you think may be interested!

Comments (6)

  • Pip


    Very interesting… My immediate thought towards the ‘grading system’ says it has to be what we were graded on to qualify to teach Yoga. The exam we have is practical & theoretical, so the only thing we can exclude would be the adjustments. When school students partake in ‘GCSE Yoga’ it would need to include sit down sessions to cover the theory – Anatomy of the body, Philosophical Yoga, 8 Limbs etc depending on what the syllabus is.
    Practical would be the Yoga itself, (75%?) but the exam (judgement) would be the student privately performing 2 asanas requested by the teacher/examiner, correctly = recognising the sanskrit word, entering into the correct asana, holding, and exiting the pose, safely.

    I’m very excited to read & suggest ideas on this topic!!

    Much love x

  • Helen Clare


    Hi Pip! Including a small amount of philosophy and anatomy subtly in their classes is important, but we aren’t training them to be yoga teachers! We need to consider what we ultimately want the pupils to achieve – which is peace and contentment. So I don’t want them doing a sit down yoga exam because I don’t want it evoke the same stresses and pressures that their other subjects do, I want to relieve this! Yoga builds self-awareness, which is why I think that rather than us grade them, perhaps the idea of them journaling their whole experience would be much more beneficial to them.
    Thank you for your knowledge and insights Pip, I look forward to hearing more! xx

  • Tanya


    Hi Helen,

    I think what you are doing is awesome- really believe that yoga should be part of the curriculum… Yet I totally disagree with grading yoga or taking any sort of exam in it for pupils who are clearly enjoying it for what it is – rather than another subject for which content should be memorised and tested upon. There is enough of that in school already- yoga gives kids a chance to escape all that surely!?! Interested to see how this develops. Tanya xx

  • laura


    hi Helen,
    long time no see ?
    my first reaction is Noooooo to grading but I then have to accept that to get yoga to kids and teens u have to give a little to “tick the boxes” that have got u into the school in the first place. if this was me I would maybe grade on coursework- journaling etc how their attitude changes and how they are able to use the tools of yoga in their own life away from the mat. my gut reaction is not to mark the asana?

  • Helen Clare


    Hi Tanya!
    Yes I completely agree that they are already doing too much in school that causes anxiety and stress. I often tell them in yoga that this will probably be the only time that day they get asked to do completely nothing! And when everyone can do yoga to their own degree how do you possibly grade that?
    Lovely to hear from you xx

  • Helen Clare


    Hi Laura!
    I know what you mean! But you’re absolutely right – if there is the chance of getting yoga in school, even if it means grading, we do it! Give the young people the opportunity to experience yoga and we can worry about the grading part of it ourselves. I did tell them in the last lesson that I had to give them a score, but next time maybe I won’t even mention it!
    Great to hear from you! xx

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