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Scientific Evidence for Yoga and Mindfulness in Schools: How and Why Does It Work?

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

As an education professional who is interested in school-based yoga, you might have already witnessed the benefits of yoga for your students. Still, a question remains. How and why is yoga beneficial for children and adolescents, and specifically, in the school setting? Research on yoga in schools has grown exponentially over the past 5 - 10 years, and while the results are still preliminary, scientists are beginning to understand why yoga serves as such a valuable component of school curricula nationwide.

Research suggests that school-based yoga cultivates competencies in mind-body awareness, self-regulation, and physical fitness. And classroom teachers benefit as well. Taken together, these competencies may lead to improvements in students’ behavior, mental state, health, and performance, as well as teacher resilience, effectiveness and overall classroom climate. 

The figure below outlines some of the potential benefits of yoga for youth (and adults):

Develops Mind-Body Awareness

By training students how to pay attention to the relationship between their mind and body, school-based yoga helps children notice the impact of stress on their well-being. For example, a student might start to notice that their stomach gets tight when they're worried about a test, or that they tend to gravitate toward unhealthy food when they're feeling down. This awareness (also known as mindfulness) may lead to changes in behavior by, for example, choosing to do 5 minutes of breathing exercises to relax a tight stomach or opting for an apple instead of chips. Preliminary studies of yoga for youth (Benavides & Caballero, 2009Wang & Hagins, 2016) and young adults (Eastman-Mueller et al., 2013) are starting to support these ideas.

Improves Self-Regulation

At a very broad level, self-regulation refers to our ability to manage our stress, emotions, and behaviors. Psychological and neuroscientific research (MLERN, 2012) is starting to show that yoga and meditation may help youth manage their stress and mood (Kaley-Isley, Peterson, Fischer, & Peterson, 2010Miller et al., 2014) and behave more positively (Butzer et al., 2015Schonert-Reichl & Lawlor, 2010). The basic idea is that yoga helps calm the fight or flight response, and induce the relaxation response, thus helping children calm themselves down and be less reactive in difficult situations. So instead of lashing out in anger on the playground, a student might take a deep breath and walk away.

Cultivates Physical Fitness

An important difference between yoga and mindfulness meditation is that yoga includes physical postures. In essence, yoga is a practice of “mindfulness in motion” that uses the body to promote awareness of the present moment. Given that more than one-third of American children and adolescents are considered overweight or obese (Ogden, Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2012), school-based interventions that encourage the development of physical fitness are sorely needed. Research suggests that yoga may improve physical fitness in adolescents (Purohit et al., 2016) as well as benefit several aspects of physical health, such as improved respiratory function (Liu et al., 2014), increased exercise adherence (Bryan, Pinto, & Parasher, 2011), and reduced obesity risk factors (Cramer, Lauche, Haller, et al., 2014).

Enhances Student Behavior, Mental State, Health, and Performance

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social-emotional learning involves developing 5 core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making (CASEL, 2015). Research strongly suggests that school-based programs that enhance these competencies help students succeed not only academically, but personally as well (Durlak et al., 2011). Early evidence is also beginning to show that yoga and meditation might help students be more self-aware (Monshat et al., 2013), manage their emotions (Noggle, Steiner, Minami, & Khalsa, 2012), enhance their relationships (Conboy et al., 2013), and make better decisions (Barnes, Bauza, & Treiber, 2003).

Research also suggests that school-based yoga may improve academic achievement (Butzer et al., 2015; Kauts & Sharma, 2009Singh et al., 2016; Wang & Hagins, 2016) and classroom behavior (Barnes, Bauza, & Treiber, 2003; Koenig, Buckley-Reen, & Garg, 2012; Schonert-Reichl & Lawlor, 2010). In addition, yoga-based physical fitness may result in numerous positive outcomes including improved mood, reduced risk of psychological disorders, and enhanced cognitive performance (Fox, 1999; Sibley & Etnier, 2003).

In summary, a growing number of scientific studies suggest that yoga may enhance students’ mind-body awareness, self-regulation, and physical fitness which may, in turn, promote improved behavior, mental state, health, and performance (Butzer et al., 2016Ferreira-Vorkapic et al., 2015; Khalsa & Butzer, 2016; MLERN, 2012; Serwacki & Cook-Cottone, 2012).

Supports Teacher Resilience and a Positive Classroom Climate

Importantly, the benefits of school-based yoga also extends to classroom teachers.Recent research suggests that providing educators with training in yoga- and mindfulness-based skills may have several beneficial effects for educators, including increases in calmness, mindfulness, well-being, and positive mood, improvements in classroom management, emotional reactivity, physical symptoms, blood pressure, and cortisol awakening response, and decreases in mind and body stress (Harris et al., 2016; Jennings et al., 2013; Kemeny et al., 2012; Nosaka & Okamura, 2015Schussler et al., 2016; Sharp & Jennings, 2016). Indeed, providing teachers with skills and practices to enhance their own self-care is a crucial step toward improving classroom climate, teacher effectiveness and student outcomes (Roeser et al., 2012).

Based on the increasing evidence supporting the efficacy of yoga for children, school-based yoga programs are being increasingly implemented across the United States. These programs are designed to address stress and anxiety, and promote social and emotional learning, physical and emotional health and well-being, all basic requirements for readiness to learn and a positive, healthy school climate.

Ultimately, anecdotal evidence about the benefits of school-based yoga is not enough. Rigorous scientific research is what’s needed to change educational policy and make yoga a universal component of the public school system. Yoga 4 Classrooms® is excited to be part of the growing evidence-base for school-based yoga (you can read about our research study here).

Announcing the "Research Repository: Yoga and Meditation for Children and Adolescents"

With the intention of providing a FREE, helpful resource for educators, schools, program providers, researchers and others interested in the body of evidence supporting yoga, meditation and mindfulness for children, adolescents and in schools, Yoga 4 Classrooms and ChildLight Yoga founder, Lisa Flynn, and Bethany Butzer, PhD, partnered to compile a comprehensive research repository. This organized reference list of peer-reviewed published studies and research reviews provides links to abstracts and full-text publications when available. And, it's updated quarterly!

Download the Research Repository FREE from our Supporting Research Resources page here.

Portions of this blog were derived from a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Children’s Services titled “Implementing Yoga within the School Curriculum: A Scientific Rationale for Improving Social-Emotional Learning & Positive Student Outcomes” by Bethany Butzer, Denise Bury, Shirley Telles, and Sat Bir S. Khalsa.

Article Author:
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
serves as a research consultant for Yoga 4 Classrooms. Bethany received her Ph.D. in psychology in 2008 from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and she recently spent 2.5 years as a postdoctoral research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, where she studied the effects of yoga in school settings. Bethany is also an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Learn more at 

Lisa Flynn, E-RYT, RCYT,
is founder and CEO of ChildLight Yoga
and Yoga 4 Classrooms, and author of the Yoga 4 Classrooms Activity Card Deck; and Yoga for Children: 200+ Yoga Poses, Breathing Exercises, and Meditations for Healthier, Happier, More Reslient Children. Lisa contributed to the first research study to use subjective and objective data to examine the acute and longitudinal effects of a school based yoga intervention in young children. Recently honored as Dover, NH region’s “Small Business of the Year,” her studio and training center, serves as headquarters for its internationally recognized trainings and products while providing award-winning yoga programming for local families. Learn more about Lisa.

Related Articles from Our Blog:
Yoga in Public Schools: A Nationwide Grassroots Movement
Educators Use Yoga 4 Classrooms to Help Ease Student Anxiety Over Testing
An Antidote to Teacher Burnout: How Yoga and Mindfulness Can Support Resilience In and Out of the Classroom
Mindfulness in Schools: What Research Tells Us
Yoga in the Schools Movement: Defining Success
Research Report: Bridging Yoga Practice and Scientific Research


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Best Practices for Yoga in Schools White Book Created by Yoga Service Council

Monday, October 19, 2015

We are thrilled to announce "Best Practices for Yoga in Schools," a yoga service guide for yoga teachers, school teachers, school administrators, social workers, and anyone else interested in bringing yoga to kids safely and in a just and inclusive way is soon to be published. Book content was a collaborative effort of many leaders in the field, including Yoga 4 Classrooms founder, Lisa Flynn, and is being produced by the Yoga Service Council and the Omega Institute.

Click to watch the video and donate what you can - a donation of just $25 gets you first edition copy of this wonderful resource!

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Yoga in Public Schools: A Nationwide Grass Roots Movement

Monday, October 19, 2015

According to recent national surveys, there is currently a large and growing burden of psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse in our youth that is almost universal. In addition to this, a significant percentage of youth are obese and at risk for lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, behavioral problems such as physical inactivity, bullying, and school dropouts are becoming commonplace. Key factors contributing to these problems are the inability of youth to cope with the chronic stress of modern society and a lack of mind body awareness. Unfortunately, the focus of our school system has been exclusively on academic performance and preparing children to succeed in the adult job market, and it has essentially ignored the teaching of life skills such as stress and emotion regulation that would represent an education of the whole child.

Yoga includes practices designed to calm the nervous system and is ideally suited to alleviate the stressors faced by students. It represents a lifelong skill that can be learned and applied over a short period of time. Furthermore, yoga promotes mind-body awareness that can lead to sustainable and long-term positive changes in behavior. It is therefore logical and likely that school-based yoga interventions may have a preventive impact, targeting early risk factors for physical and psychological disorders and negative behaviors.

Remarkably, the implementation of grassroots yoga programs in public schools by both individuals and by formal yoga in school organizations offering school-specific yoga curriculums has actually become a movement. In a paper recently accepted for publication in the journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine (School-Based Yoga Programs in the United States: A Survey by Butzer B, Ebert M, Telles S, and Khalsa SBS), a survey of these yoga in schools programs across the U.S. was conducted. The study identified and characterized 36 programs, which have been offering yoga in over 940 schools and have formally trained over 5,000 instructors in their curricula. To be included in the analysis in this study, yoga in school programs had to include yoga physical postures and exercises and/or yogic breathing practices, but virtually all also included relaxation techniques and meditation/mindfulness practices. The study analyzed each program’s scope of work, curriculum characteristics, teacher certification and training requirements, implementation model, mode of operation, and primary geographical region.

All programs were designed to be secular and teach universal values or life skills, which makes them suitable for public school settings. Most programs also included aspects beyond the physical by incorporating ethics or philosophy in their lessons. Several additional activities were also included in a number of these programs. Games, songs, journaling, crafts and team building exercises that would not typically be considered yoga per se are common auxiliary learning tools that have been seamlessly woven into the yoga lessons. The inclusion of those non-traditional components allows the yoga programming to be integrated with school values and social and the few social and emotional learning programs already in existence. In recognizing the need for this social and emotional component, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has been promoting the inclusion of social and emotional learning in schools. Although the majority of the yoga programs have no formal relationship to the CASEL, many of the program goals are aligned with the core CASEL competencies of enhancing students' self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

While some programs focus exclusively on school programming, others also run their yoga programs at mental health organizations, community youth programs, or at-risk community youth organizations. The Kundalini Yoga-based Y.O.G.A. for Youth program based out of Los Angeles offers yoga classes to urban youth, giving them tools for self-discovery, discipline, self-respect and community engagement (see: Since its inception in 1993, Y.O.G.A. for Youth has served over 16,000 young people in Los Angeles county alone. Y.O.G.A. for Youth offers opportunities for youth to practice yoga and relaxation in schools, community facilities, hospitals and detention centers. Its unique programs have been designed to combat a myriad of issues that plague our youth today including stress, anger, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor concentration and obesity. A recent research study was conducted on Y.O.G.A. for Youth programs in L.A. charter schools, in which notable improvements in stress, resilience and mood were noted. An ongoing research study is evaluating the benefits of an after school Y.O.G.A. for Youth program in North Carolina.

Traditional bureaucratic structures and misunderstanding amongst parents about the secular nature of yoga has led to some reluctance in the implementation of yoga in schools. Future research should examine the most effective and feasible avenues for delivering school-based yoga programming given these unique challenges. The yoga in schools movement is an appropriate countermeasure for the current challenges in our youth’s health and behavior and should lead to improved social and emotional skills, classroom behavior, and academic performance. There is also a critical need for research studies to quantify and document these benefits in order to provide policy makers with the justification to support the widespread implementation of yoga in our school curricula.


This article was reprinted with permission. It was originally published in the Kundalini Research Institute Newsletter, September 2015, written by Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer, Nikhil Ramburn and well-known yoga researcher, Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D., co-author of our published research study.  Visit Nikhil's blog.

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Peace Corps Volunteer Introduces Yoga 4 Classrooms to Teachers in Rural Madagascar

Friday, April 10, 2015

The reach of Yoga 4 Classrooms sometimes surprises even us! We were thrilled to hear from Peace Corps Volunteer Heather Rockwood about her desire to share yoga with teachers in Madagascar. Heather's story warmed our hearts and we're certain it will make you smile as well. Meet Heather and hear how she used the Yoga 4 Classrooms curriculum to provide teachers in Africa with a fun training and tools to share yoga with their students...  

All about Heather

My name is Heather Rockwood and I am a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in the rural town of Antsenavolo, Madagascar. I am a Master's International Student which means I am finishing my MPH while serving here in Madagascar.  I work closely with a USAID funded project called MIKOLO which works on primary health care for rural communities. I am lead in a pilot program for Youth Health Leaders and Clubs. As a secondary project I work on community permagardens and spend just about every other spare moment I have with children. 

I am originally from California and received my Bachelor's Degree in Food Science with a Minor in Religious Studies. I have many hobbies, but all things food consistently makes the top of my list. It is a little more difficult for creative cooking here in the bush, but I gladly accept the challenge. I also am a vegetarian (once a vegan, but it is incredibly difficult where I currently live) and take my health, well-being and that of others very seriously which is part of my inspiration for sharing yoga with my friends and family here. In a nutshell, that about sums me up.

Teaching Yoga to Teachers 

The benefits of yoga are renowned worldwide and the discipline has found its way into all parts of the world, even a small classroom in rural Madagascar. This past week in rural Antsenavolo, about 15 elementary school teachers took part in a 3-day training on the basics of introducing yoga into the classroom with the help of one Health PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer), a near 100+ anticipating eyes of eager children and the indispensable tool -- Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck. The teachers were mazoto (diligent) from the beginning and eager to introduce new activities into their classrooms that have the potential to create a safer, better and happier learning environment for each child. The teachers had no previous knowledge of yoga, but by the time the training ended and they completed the post-test, there was a significant and encouraging increase in knowledge and skills acquired. The training was greatly enhanced by the use of the Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck

The entire training took place in Malagasy, and the cards were translated so the teachers could use them. The basic ideas and accessibility of the main ideas presented on the cards made bridging the two languages easier and helped add to the accessibility of the knowledge presented during the training. There were laughs as the teachers tried to stand in Eagle Pose. There were smiles as the children watched their teachers dance to songs and of course there were many mistakes. These mistakes presented a perfect opportunity for the teachers to get a hands-on opportunity to embrace the yoga mindset of accepting what you are capable of at the current moment and letting go of the rest. It was a great success! The teachers left the training asking for more, so another training is soon to be in the works. 

Thanks again Yoga 4 Classrooms for your generous contribution to making the lives of my friends and family here in Antsenavolo more peaceful and full. 

And we say a sincere thank you to Heather for being so 'mazoto' in sharing yoga as a health intervention in Africa!

Are you working with a unique population or perhaps you are on a personal mission to make a difference through yoga and mindfulness education? Let us know how we can help!

Edited by Amy Taylor, Ph.D., Licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer

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Mindfulness in Schools: Effective Tools to Calm, Focus and Self Regulate - a Free Podcast

Friday, March 27, 2015

We're excited to share the recent Yoga In My School podcast featuring special guests Lisa Flynn (Yoga 4 Classrooms), Leah Kalish, MA (Move with Me Yoga Adventures) and Kelli Love (Girls Prep Bronx Elementary).

These women have a passion for sharing yoga and mindfulness with students, educators and families. In this interview, they discuss how to help build integrated self-awareness and regulation in our young people.

Learn what's happening with yoga in education, including how school-based mindfulness practices are helping students with test anxiety, supporting family health and prompting research.

As host Donna Freeman notes:

“The mindfulness revolution has begun in classrooms everywhere. Students and educators from California to New York are discovering simple and effective tools that promote calm, clarity and peace of mind.”

Also, be sure to check out the following resources referenced by the participants in the discussion…

Aliza and the Mind Jar 

Educators use Yoga 4 Classrooms to help ease student anxiety over state testing  

Yoga 4 Classrooms in Sustainability Academy Vermont

Please share this post with friends and colleagues who care about whole-child health and development. Let’s continue the conversation and support one another as we strive to create positive change in our schools. Contact us today!

Attend a Yoga 4 Classrooms Professional Development Workshop. 

Bring Y4C to your school.

Learn about IMPLEMENT Leadership Training.

Written by Amy Taylor, Ph.D., Director of Communications and Licensed Trainer, Yoga 4 Classrooms

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Educators use Yoga 4 Classrooms to help ease student anxiety over state testing

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

As a school psychologist, I’m lucky to get to share yoga and mindfulness education every week in an amazing elementary school in Indiana. This school isn’t amazing because it has wealth or prestige. Quite the opposite, in fact; many students at this school have had few privileges or perks in their young lives.

The other day, a first-grader tugged at my sleeve.

“Guess what? I don’t have any parents.” 

I fumbled for a reply, finally settling on, “Well, I’m really glad you are here today.”

And I was, because we were getting ready to do Yoga 4 Classrooms. We were learning how to breathe and move and calm ourselves. We were learning to be mindful, gain the ability to regulate our emotions while creating a safe, productive classroom climate.

The teachers at this school are significantly challenged on a daily basis, but they are just as amazing as the kids. Last week, several told me they planned to use techniques from their Yoga 4 Classrooms Activity Card Decks to help their students get through ISTEP+, our state’s version of the annual, high-stakes assessments. Of course, the “new and improved” version of the test is longer and more rigorous than the previous one. My understanding is that most adults would be lucky to pass the assessment for third-graders!

So, yeah, stress levels at this school have been high of late. A little girl plucked out her eyebrow hairs, one at a time, due to anxiety over these tests. Many students wither and fade. Some lash out; others engage in serious self-harm.

I sometimes wonder if we are fueling a mental health crisis in our children.  But no one asked my opinion on the value of the new mega-assessments. If I were asked, here's what I'd say:

While we try to find more reasonable ways to assess student growth and progress, we must give young people the tools needed to thrive in a fast-passed, high-pressure world. I'm talking about real-life, in-the-moment things they can do when anxiety begins to peck.

Many educators out there are working to shift the climate of their classrooms and schools to a more positive place. At my school, I help equip my beloved teachers and students with self-regulation techniques which help improve their resilience and well-being short and long-term. Whatever demands the state hurls at these good folks, I believe they will be okay.

Here are a couple of inspiring stories from educators who took action in their schools:

Jacqueline Killorin is a kindergarten teacher and Licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer who decided to do something about assessment time stress in her home state of Massachusetts. She offered before-school yoga classes to 3rd and 4th graders to help prepare them to cope with the stress of upcoming state assessments. 

Afterwards, she asked students for their feedback via surveys. All agreed that yoga helped reduce their stress.  Why did they choose to sign up for the class?  Of the possible answers offered, 85% answered “to reduce stress and relax”. Ninety-two percent said that they used the tools they had been taught and 96% said that yoga helped them with the assessments.

Other studies have found similar results. Students (and educators) tell us that yoga helps them feel better and manage their stress more effectively. In addition, teaching students strategies for relaxation and self-care has been linked to improved academic performance. Reducing stress and improving self-regulation ability bolsters learning.

This year, Jackie is volunteering her time again at the request of the students who want to start off their mandatory testing days with yoga. She's hoping to continue to "plant the seeds" that will grow into a garden of yoga and mindfulness in her school. Her survey results show that her students would like to see this happen.  

Licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer and special education teacher Jennifer Griest Hayes recently made the local news in Ohio for the second year describing the week of yoga and mindfulness she designed to coincide with testing week at her school (read also our blog post about Jen's efforts last year). During the week, Valley View students did physical activities during gym class and in their classrooms during art and music class they did quieter activities such as making Zen gardens or making stress balls. And, because yoga is just as much about taking care of the mind and our relationships as it is the body, students and staff reflected on a special word each day of the week, many of which were inspired by the 'Be Well' section of the Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck. Her principal was thrilled.

“I am very excited to see we have something that helps our kids learn to relax especially this week when we have testing,” said Valley View Principal Paula Trenta. “This is the first time for the testing and teachers and students were stressed. I see this being a good benefit for our kids.”

Second-grade teacher Mari Beth Tinley agreed.

“I feel like they are more focused and ready to learn,” she said. “You can see the difference on the days when the students do have yoga compared to the days when students don’t.”

I was fortunate to have my school approach me about Yoga 4 Classrooms, viewing it as a natural part of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Some mindful educators won't be so lucky. Like Jackie and Jen, you may have to start small and be creative in order to show what a big difference yoga and mindfulness practices can make to the educational process. But these efforts will pay off. Before long, you may have administrators singing your praises and wanting more for the benefit of their students and school.

As Yoga 4 Classrooms founder, Lisa Flynn, says often, "Have a mindset of planting seeds and just do what feels natural for you and your students." Inevitably, those seeds will sprout and grow. Let us know how we can help!

Wondering how you could start implementing Yoga 4 Classrooms in your school or district? Contact us today and we will help guide you to the best option for your particular school.

Schools, bring Yoga 4 Classrooms to you.

Get the Y4C Activity Card Deck.

Educators, sign up for a Y4C Professional Development Workshop on location or online.

Written by Amy Taylor, Licensed Trainer and Director of Communications for Yoga 4 Classrooms

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Yoga Recess Day Inspires Ohio Educator to Design a Yoga and Mindfulness Week for Her School

Sunday, February 15, 2015

To help combat the winter blahs, I decided to design a yoga-focused winter Field Day. Many teachers and students in our building had already learned about Yoga 4 Classrooms so a yoga-themed spirit day felt like a natural fit. When I realized that I could not pack all the desired events into a single day, I changed my vision to a week-long yoga and mindfulness celebration culminating with Yoga Recess Day. Yoga Health Foundation sponsors Yoga Recess Day and Yoga 4 Classrooms is a proud educational partner of the annual event.

How did I make it happen? First, I secured the support of my building principal as well as our school's parent group. I worked hard to keep my plans financially feasible since resources were limited. Using my Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck, I designed a week of themed days based on the Be Well cards. I focused on fun, kid-friendly yoga and mindfulness activities which would fit easily into the existing curriculum.

Daily themes included:

Day One: "Unity/Connection" 
Day Two: "Kindness" 
Day Three: "Positivity" 
Day Four: "Love and Friendship" 
Day Five: "Peace"  

Each morning, we shared a reading about the day's focus and a related classroom activity over announcements. Activities included theme and yoga-related online videos that could be played on teachers' interactive white boards and then discussed in the classrooms. Our library's window wall showcased a daily theme-related poster panel to which students contributed throughout the week. Parent volunteers visited individual classrooms to help construct colored-rice mandalas which were hung in our hallways. 

Our week concluded with school-wide Yoga Recess activities in our gymnasium, library, and cafeteria/auditorium. The main activities occurred during the students' already scheduled "special" classes (art, music, gym and library). Lunch featured a healthy eating station sponsored by local organic food supermarket Earth Fare while local musician Zach Friedhof provided entertainment infused with peace, mindfulness and positivity.  

In advance, I provided teachers with an itinerary of events which included time intervals, event and theme descriptions as well as the pertinent video links with descriptions.

Events and activities included:

A Lego display demonstrating our building's interconnectedness
A large Grinch poster highlighting how students helped the Grinch grow a kind heart
Boards featuring students' Random Acts of Kindness
Classroom Affirmation Posters 
Student-created Positivity Stickers 
Student-generated bandages with healing messages to help soothe a “wrinkled” heart 
A large peace sign filled with the thumbprints of each student 
Colorful and intricate rice mandalas created by each classroom 
Individual yoga video sequences, Kid President videos and uplifting music 

On Friday, students engaged in energizing group activities in the gym. Over in the library, activities included gluten-free lavender "play dough," Zen garden sand trays and yoga-themed coloring pages. Students also made their own granola and learned about healthy food options.  

Expenses totaled $150 which the parent group graciously covered. Local media even came out to cover the Friday festivities. As you can imagine, the building was buzzing with excitement!  

Why am I sharing all this? Well, Yoga Recess Day is coming up again on February 27th, 2015! It’s a great time to introduce yoga and mindfulness to winter-weary students and teachers. I hope reading about my experience will encourage you to think about the possibilities for sharing yoga and mindfulness techniques with your own students and school. You can find loads of resources at Yoga 4 Classrooms

Let us know how it goes!

Want to learn more about integrating yoga and mindfulness into your school? 

Shared by Jen Griest-Hayes, a special-education teacher in a self-contained multiple-disabilities unit at Valley View Elementary in Wadsworth, Ohio and a Certified ChildLight Yoga Instructor and Licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer.

Edited by Amy Taylor, Director of Communications for Yoga 4 Classrooms.

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An Antidote to Teacher Burnout: How Yoga and Mindfulness Can Support Resilience In and Out of the Classroom

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A movement to bring yoga and mindfulness to children is blooming. Many schools have implemented contemplative programming to help kids thrive, and research studies document the positive effects of yoga and mindfulness practices for children. But, what about the teachers, administrators, and other school personnel who work with children on a daily basis?

It’s no secret that teacher burnout is a pressing issue in our educational system. A shocking statistic: nearly one third of all newly recruited teachers are either resigning or reporting burn out in their first 3 to 5 years of professional experience. Gallup’s State Of America’s Schools 2012 Report says nearly 70% of K-12 teachers surveyed do not feel engaged in their work. The study said they are likely to spread their negative attitudes to co-workers and devote minimal discretionary effort to their jobs.

Even more so, 8.7 percent of educators reported major depression symptoms in the NSDUH study. "Teachers have to deal with low starting pay, stressed parents, misbehaving kids, and demanding administrators, all of which are potential threats to emotional health”.

Besides the effects on teachers personally, the teacher stress has also been linked to student achievement, making this an even greater concern. The classroom can be a challenging environment, and everyone in this environment contributes to the success of the educational system.  As a society, we need to be more insightful and proactive in addressing the challenges faced by educators today. After all, a teacher's role cannot be underestimated.

In his classical 1971 book, Dr. Ginott powerfully noted:  "As a teacher, I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal". 

What does research say? 

Among many studies linking yoga and mental health, there is a significant research agenda studying the effects of contemplative practices specifically on teachers.

A recent study published in the Mindfulness Journal by Dr. Patricia Jennings, examined data from early childhood educators on indicators of well-being, mindfulness, and self-compassion. The results from the teachers' self-report surveys, independent observations of classroom quality and interviews about the most challenging children in the classroom, suggest that teachers' self-care practices significantly impact their ability to create and maintain effective and supportive classrooms.

A randomized controlled trial led by Dr. Margaret Kemeny found that teachers who participated in an eight-week intensive meditation and emotion regulation training intervention experienced less negative emotions, depressive and anxious thoughts, and were more positive and mindful as compared to the group of teachers who did not take the course. “What’s more, after beginning to meditate, the teachers were also more compassionate and empathetic to others."

In a great video, Dr. Richie Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, reports on his team’s recent study showing that mindfulness meditation fights teacher burnout. "Imagine a teacher in her classroom attempting to teach material that he or she is focused on, and a child has an emotional outburst," Dr. Davidson said. "To some teachers that outburst would really jangle their performance. But others are able to respond appropriately - with the help of mindfulness training”.

Another study published by Drs. Mark Greenberg, Patricia A. Jennings, Jennifer L. Frank, and others, is a randomized controlled trial on the program called Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE for Teachers), which is a mindfulness-based professional development program “designed to reduce stress and  improve teachers' performance and classroom learning environments” . Teachers who participated in the study viewed CARE as a feasible, acceptable, and effective method for reducing stress and improving performance.

What can yoga and mindfulness practices do for school teachers?

Here is a summary of benefits backed up by research, which were also echoed at the 2014 Yoga in Schools Symposium at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health:
- Improved self-awareness of thoughts, emotions, and causes for behaviors
- Improved conflict resolution ability
- Improved empathy and compassion, for self and others
- Reduced stress, burnout, depression and anxiety
- Reduced reactivity and negativity

Many anecdotal accounts also confirm that education professionals long for stress reducing, emotionally balancing self-awareness and mind-body practices. After every school Yoga 4 Classrooms residency program, we ask the participating teachers about their experiences with our program, including the impact of yoga and mindfulness on their own well-being and professional and personal development. Here are just a few quotes from school teachers who attended a Yoga 4 Classrooms Professional Development Workshop and/or who had classrooms where the Yoga 4 Classrooms residency was implemented:

"Teaching is so stressful and hard sometimes. This helps both myself and my students feel more joy and less stress every day. Thank you for sharing this gift!"
“Now I am interested in taking a few yoga classes.  I love the idea of taking a moment with the class and finding Zen within the day.  I find that shared experiences build community."

“Y4C has helped many of my students with anxiety be calmer in certain subject areas and before tests - especially math. It has helped many of my students to be more aware of what helps them be the best they can be. It has really helped me be more patient and calmer, have more energy in the afternoons."

"Practicing yoga in the classroom helps me feel more relaxed. I am more patient with the children. I am able to remain calm during stressful and anxious situations that may occur during the day."

The bottom line is this: it is not enough to teach mindfulness to students - at Yoga 4 Classrooms, we believe school leaders, teachers and other school professionals need to nurture themselves. Embodied contemplative practices can provide an amazing opportunity leading to personal transformation, providing the foundation for systemic transformation. Embracing the concept of self-care and personal mindfulness, teachers will not only improve their own well-being, but also support their classrooms and the larger community.

From our standpoint, there is no doubt teacher health and resilience should be made a priority in education policy. What are your thoughts?

For more information about contemplative practices for educators:

Using Mindfulness for Teacher Wellbeing - Happy Child

Developing Mindfulness for School Leaders - Education Week

Garrison Institute’s CARE for teachers program


Marina Ebert, MA serves as Director of Research and Relationship Development for Yoga 4 Classrooms. She also is a research assistant at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Lisa Flynn, E-RYT, RYT 500, RCYT, is the Founder and Director of ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms. Lisa's books include the Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck (2011) and Yoga for Children: 200+ Yoga Poses, Breathing Exercises, and Meditations for Healthier, Happier, More Resilient Children (Adams Media, 2013).

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Society of Behavioral Medicine: Elementary Schools to Provide at least 60 min of physical activity

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Did you know that only 4% of elementary schools provide daily physical education and less than half of US schools offer recess? While in its Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report (2008) the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity for all school aged children, only half of kids meet this guideline.

Shocking as it is, those are the results of two nationwide studies. That is the reason why, last week, the Society of Behavioral Medicine released a powerful statement advocating that elementary schools provide as many of the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to vigorous physical activity during school hours as possible.

In their statement, the SBM provides an impressive list of references to research on benefits of physical exercise on children development, well-being, and academic outcomes. Not only does exercise help children stay healthy, but it also aids kids achieve school success.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in a report that showed the positive associations between school-based physical activity and academic performance, has delivered a similar powerful message in 2010. Studies reviewed showed that the in-classroom brief physical activity interventions improved the kids’ “indicators of cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behavior, and academic achievement” (p.6).

Supporting the studies on the benefits of physical exercise in general, the studies on school-based yoga for children show improved coordination, focus, and academic achievement.

Recent attempts have been made to investigate the effects of yoga on pediatric obesity and weight management.

A review paper published in 2012 in the Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice journal summarized the research on benefits of exercise on such outcomes as obesity, chronic illnesses and mental health among children. The studies reviewed included yoga and tai chi interventions. “A potential underlying mechanism for the positive effects of exercise, yoga and tai chi may be the stimulation of pressure receptors leading to increased vagal activity, decreased stress hormones and increased production of anti-pain and antidepressant neurotransmitters such as serotonin”.

Among the recommended ways to incorporate physical activity into the daily school routine, the SBM mentions “brief bursts of classroom physical activity breaks”, which have been scientifically shown to “improve response time and accuracy on cognitive tasks both during and after physical activity”. Another approach that the SBM enlists involves implementation of the curricula that incorporate exercise as a means for learning, that is, integrate activities with academic learning concepts. This kind of intervention has been shown to improve attention and reading, math, spelling, and composite scores in elementary school children.

Bringing simple and effective yoga curriculum to over 65 schools, Yoga 4 Classrooms fits with both kinds of programs as prescribed by the SBM. Our curriculum is flexible so that teachers can choose to spend as little as one minute or as many as 30 minutes on yoga-based movement in their classrooms. With over 200 activities in the Y4C manual and card deck, there are ample opportunities to boost kids’ learning readiness and infuse yoga fun with basic language learning and math concepts, with the added benefit of social-emotional learning skill building. Once implemented in the school, the program could be expanded to offer both short in-classroom activities, and longer classes during recess and after school.

In addition, Yoga 4 Classrooms meets the national standards for health and fitness education, including National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the CDC's National Health Education Standards (NHES).

The Society of Behavioral Medicine is a multidisciplinary organization of clinicians, educators, and scientists dedicated to promoting the study of the interactions of behavior with biology and the environment, and the application of that knowledge to improve the health and well being of individuals, families, communities and populations.

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Retired Educator Inspired to Become a Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer

Thursday, June 05, 2014


Shelly McGrath, a retired preschool and kindergarten teacher, had been teaching yoga for many years when she decided to research ways to expand her practice. She came across Yoga 4 Classrooms and knew she had found her answer. 

“As a retired classroom teacher and yoga teacher, Yoga 4 Classrooms immediately made a lot of sense to me. It is a clear and concise program that can be implemented in the classroom, as needed, without any special equipment,” says McGrath.

With the training and support she received as a Licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer, McGrath has been inspired and empowered to share what she has learned with educators and children's health advocates in Canada. She sent out over 200 letters to schools and area health organizations along with Yoga 4 Classrooms educational materials. She was also pro-active and successful in obtaining media coverage with the mission of educating the public about the power of yoga and mindfulness in the classroom to support learning, behavior, attention and classroom climate.

While facilitating the Yoga 4 Classrooms residency curriculum in a Grade One class at Buena Vista School in Saskatoon, which is in the Saskatchewan province of Canada, she contacted the local paper. The result was an article in the Star Phoenix.  

"While participating in the Yoga 4 Classrooms training I learned that Lisa Flynn, its founder, is a rare person in that she has the yoga heart and a sharp business mind. She has done all the hard work needed to make Yoga 4 Classrooms trainers successful. No detail has been missed. Anyone who is interested in helping children, educators and schools simply and sustainably integrate yoga and mindfulness techniques into the class day should consider learning more about the Yoga 4 Classrooms program.”

McGrath's outreach led to an invitation by leaders of the federally funded Health Promoting Schools project to offer Yoga 4 Classrooms as a health program option to schools in the city of Saskatoon. To date, she has provided professional development to the staff of  four Health Promoting Schools. She also shared the 10 lesson residency component of the program in each classroom, sometimes teaching five classes per day. "It was a tiring experience at times, but extremely rewarding!"

“I know I can’t help the children I work with with many of the challenges they face, but it feels good to be able to give them the tools to cope with whatever comes their way,” says McGrath. Recently, her work with Health Promoting Schools was featured on a local TV news channel, Go! Saskatoon.

Learn how you can attend a one-day professional development workshop held in 50 locations across the country or online, become a Yoga 4 Classrooms Licensed or Schoolsite Trainer
or bring Yoga 4 Classrooms to your school.

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