Yoga Impact in Schools

Adolescents from vulnerable and underserved communities are exposed to unique life stressors and trauma that may negatively affect academic achievement and performance. Yoga and mindfulness programs in K-12 have gained popularity over the last decade, as a promising intervention that could alleviate some of these inequities. While these programs cannot erase the structural issues that beset many public schools (e.g., discrepancies in funding, chronic teacher shortages and turnover), they may prove to be an effective and powerful set of tools that can empower children and lead to stronger academic engagement and achievement.

Research that measures the effectiveness and impact of yoga programs on a variety of educational and psychological outcomes have also increased over the last couple of years.  There is emerging evidence that suggests that school- based yoga may improve academic achievement (Butzer et al., 2015; Kauts & Sharma, 2009; Wang & Hagins, 2016). Similarly, it might be an effective way to help students develop self-regulation, mind-body awareness and physical fitness, which may, in turn, foster additional and positive student outcomes such as improved classroom behavior, mental health and academic performance (see Butzer et. al 2015; Khalsa, 2012). 

 Increasingly, yoga and mindfulness interventions are showing student gains in self-regulation, cognition and attention that extend into academic performance and achievement; thus, yoga and mindfulness interventions may be a vehicle for reducing educational inequality. These psychological benefits at the individual level lead us to suggest that the collective impact of such programs would promote resiliency, support social cohesion, improve community connectedness, and ultimately help reduce inequities found in the school system. 

Given that the availability and strength of these studies continues to develop, there are limitations important to note. 

  • Studies can use a variety of different protocols in their yoga programs. Some examples include: mindful breathing, yoga postures, relaxation exercises. The time each is instated can also be difficult to standardize. Some programs are embedded during the day while others happen after school. Finally, many programs include time for students to do partner or group activities with their peers in addition to weekly yoga classes. 
  • Many studies identified “at-risk” populations and have measured yoga and mindfulness programs’ effectiveness. “At-risk” can also be identified and defined differently across the board.  
  • Many studies show that yoga/mindfulness interventions are generally accepted by students and parents in the school community. These studies showed signs of a positive impact, whether that was with stress resiliency, cognitive performance, or mood. Students with low depressive symptoms responded better to the intervention than did those with high depressive symptoms. 
  • Some common challenges and limitations studies identify include resources available in urban public schools to implement and maintain the interventions, small sample size, the implementation of each intervention, small population sizes, student absences, the absence of control groups, and the nature of the self-report data.  Find a summary of studies below. We hope to grow this resource, and contribute to the research around yoga in schools.  If you would like to see a more complete list, check out this link. 
Source Summary
Meliné Sarkissian, EdD, Natalie L. Trent, PhD,Karen Huchting, PhD  Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD (2018). Effects of a Kundalini Yoga Program on Elementary and Middle School Students’ Stress, Affect and Resilience. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The quantitative results of this study indicated that the yoga program significantly improved students stress (p < 0.05), positive affect (p < 0.05), and resilience (p < 0.001). The qualitative results indicated that students, school teachers, and yoga teachers all found the program to be beneficial for students’ well-being. Taken together, these data suggest that the Y.O.G.A for Youth program may provide students in low-income urban schools with behavioral skills that will protect against risk factors associated with the development of behavioral and emotional problems
Daly, L. A., Haden, S. C., Hagins, M., Papouchis, N., & Ramirez, P. M. (2015). Yoga and emotion regulation in high school students: a randomized controlled trial. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine This study evaluated the impact of a yoga intervention in a high school on emotion regulation. Emotion regulation increased significantly in the yoga group compared to the PE group after the 16 week intervention. This study is especially relevant because it focused specifically on the high school settingAdolescents are more at risk of emotional instability and emotion dysregulation, which contributes to a variety of psychosocial difficulties. 
Menezes, C. B., Dalpiaz, N. R., Kiesow, L. G., Sperb, W., Hertzberg, J., & Oliveira, A. A. (2015). Yoga and emotion regulation: A review of primary psychological outcomes and their physiological correlates. Psychology & Neuroscience, 8(1), 82. This review investigated the potential of yoga as a tool to strengthen emotional regulation. Results suggest that yoga produces improvements in emotional functioning in healthy subjects and people who suffer from some physical illnesses. Study also suggests that yoga may help foster healthier psychological responses, indicating its potential as an emotion regulation strategy 
Harris, A. R., Jennings, P. A., Katz, D. A., Abenavoli, R. M., & Greenberg, M. T. (2016). Promoting stress management and wellbeing in educators: feasibility and efficacy of a school-based yoga and mindfulness intervention. Mindfulness, 7(1), 143–154. This study incorporated mindfulness and yoga in school by providing yoga class (led by a trained instructor) to educators. The teachers and school personnel attended 20 min. yoga sessions 4 times a week for 16 weeks during summer vacation. Each class centered around a theme, like self-care or compassion, and the classes were structured as follows: 3 minutes of centering, 2 minutes of breath practice, 7-10 minutes of movement, 4 minutes of relaxation and meditation, and 1 minute of intention setting. Participants were allowed to practice in a chair or on a mat, and were only required to attend 2 sessions per week. 
Butzer, B., LoRusso, A.M., Windsor, R., Riley, F., Frame, K., Khalsa, S.B.S., Conboy, L., (2017) A qualitative examination of yoga for middle school adolescents. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 10(3), pp. 195-219.  Results indicated that students who participated in the TLS demonstrated reductions in anxiety, depression, global psychological distress, rumination, intrusive thoughts, physical arousal, and emotional arousal. Students exposed to TLS also reported being significantly less likely to endorse revenge-motivated actions. No significant improvements in somatization or general affect were found