Effects of a classroom-based yoga intervention on cortisol and behavior in second- and third-grade students: A pilot study.
The study was designed to determine the effects of a classroom yoga and mindfulness program on students’ physiological stress, perceived behavior and attention. The scientific manuscript has been accepted for publication:
Butzer, B., Day, D., Potts, A., Ryan, C., Coulombe, S., Davies, B., Weidknecht, K., Ebert, M., Flynn, L., & Khalsa, S. B. S. (2015) Effects of a classroom-based yoga intervention on cortisol and behavior in second- and third-grade students: A pilot study. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 20(1), 41-49.
Pictured: L. Flynn, A. Potts with study poster at the Symposium for Yoga
Research, June 11-13, 2013, Boston, MA.
This uncontrolled pilot study examined the effects of a classroom-based yoga intervention on cortisol concentrations and perceived behavior in children. A 10-week Yoga 4 Classrooms intervention was implemented in one second- and one third-grade classroom. Students’ salivary cortisol responses were assessed at three time points. Classroom teachers also documented their perceptions of the effects of the intervention on students’ cognitive, social and emotional skills. Second, but not third, graders showed a significant decrease in baseline cortisol from before to after the intervention. Second and third graders both showed significant decreases in cortisol from before to after a cognitive task, but neither grade showed additional decreases from before to after a single yoga class. The second-grade teacher perceived significant improvements in several aspects his/her students’ behavior. The third-grade teacher perceived some, but fewer, improvements in his/her students’ behavior. Results suggest that school-based yoga may be advantageous for stress management and behavior. (Abstract has been published on JEBCAM.com.)
Read the full manuscript.
The study was presented at the research symposium session of the 2014 Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference in San Diego on February 7th, 2014.
The poster with the study's results was presented at the Symposium for Yoga Research (SYR) organized by the International Association of Yoga Therapists on June 11-13, 2013 in Boston, MA. You can view the scientific poster here.
The abstract for the pilot/feasibility study was published in the Final Program Guide and Abstracts for IAYT's Symposium on Yoga Research (SYR) in September, 2011.
Second, but not third, graders showed a significant decrease in baseline cortisol from before to after the intervention.
PERCEIVED BEHAVIOR: Teacher surveys
Teachers reported an improvement in the following characteristics that were significant regardless of grade (both second & third graders improved):
- ability to be in control of behavior
- ability to manage anger
Overall improvements in 2nd graders only (statistical interaction effect of time and grade) in:
- social interaction
- attention span
- ability to concentrate on work
- ability to stay on task
- academic performance
- ability to deal with stress/anxiety
- confidence and self esteem
- overall mood
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS:
- No acute effect of a single yoga class on cortisol concentrations in second or third graders.
- Second graders did, however, show a longitudinal effect in which baseline levels of cortisol significantly decreased from before to after the entire 10-week intervention.
- Second and third graders also both showed significant decreases in cortisol from before to after the ANT-C cognitive task.
- Second graders generally exhibited more perceived behavioral changes than third graders.
As with any study, there are limitations and the need for further tests and analyses. Because of the pilot study design, these results do not allow us to attribute the changes in stress response or other characteristics to the yoga classes specifically, although they do show the possibility of longitudinal effect of yoga on children’s stress levels, and their ability to self-regulate. Due to lack control group, these differences may be attributed to the student’s maturity level, the activity level of the students, class dynamics, and the willingness of the students to learn. Nevertheless, this study is important as it suggest that a long-term practice of mind-body skills positively impacts the stress levels of students, especially at a younger age.
We are looking forward to the follow-up study that will address some of these limitations.
We want to thank Dr. Danielle Day, Dr. Adam Potts from University of Massachusetts- Lowell and their research team for conducting the study, as well as Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa and Dr. Bethany Butzer at Harvard Medical School/ Brigham and Woman's Hospital, for preparing the scientific publication of the study results.
Many thanks to the students and teachers of the Horace Mitchell Elementary School in Kittery, ME and Principal David Foster for their support and enthusiasm in conducting this study, our lead Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer Sharon Trull for facilitating the program's implementation in the school, and Marina Ebert for her assistance with the research project.
This study was funded by a grant from David McGillivray and was supported by the DMSE Children’s Fitness Foundation as well as UMass-Lowell faculty start-up funds. BB and SBSK were supported in part by a grant from the Institute for Extraordinary Living of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. SBSK was also supported in part by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health (Grant No. 5R34DA032756-02).
Questions regarding this study can be directed to Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.