On a recent afternoon, Riverdale Country School students stretched in the dark, streaks of sunlight illuminating yoga mats and bowed heads. In gym class at the elite Bronx private school, monitors strapped to students’ chests beamed their heart rates to display screens suspended from the ceiling. In a course on study habits, the class closed their eyes for a moment of guided meditation.

More independent schools are pushing to redefine what it means to teach health, shattering the stereotype of awkward classes and squirming students.

Many New York schools are incorporating mindfulness training to help students handle stress and replacing lectures on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases with interactive sessions on life skills, such as communication and decision-making.

For a long time “the definition of success for our members was mainly focused on the academic part,” said Amada Torres, vice president for studies, insights and research at the National Association of Independent Schools. “But now the research is stressing the importance of developing these noncognitive skills.”

The National Association of Independent Schools conducted its first-ever survey this spring on health education among its members. While 85 percent of the schools surveyed called health and well-being an essential or high priority, only 41 percent described it as part of their school’s mission.

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