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Yoga in the Schools Symposium: Reflections of a Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The first Yoga in the Schools Symposium
was convened on April 23-25 at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Lenox, MA.  The Symposium was an opportunity to be together with others who are working to bring yoga and mindfulness practices to children and teachers in the pre-k-grade12 schools, including:

•    Pre-K-12 Teachers, who are integrating yoga practices into their daily classroom routines
•    Yoga Practitioners, who are teaching yoga to children
•    Developers of yoga programs for children and yoga programs for the classroom
•    Principals and Superintendents, who are integrating yoga practices into their school and /or district curriculum

•    University Professors, who are conducting research studies focused on the questions of: What are the outcomes of integrating yoga and mindfulness practices into the classrooms in public, private and charter schools?  In other words, what are the benefits for children and youth (and for teachers)? What are the best practices/approaches for bringing yoga practices into the pre-k-12 classrooms, as well, for integrating the practices into the school culture?

The first morning’s small group focus questions were: What is your aim regarding yoga in the schools? What are the guiding principles that shape your work? What are the most important guiding principles the group should take away?

On the first afternoon there was a Research Panel. The panel included Researchers from Western Illinois University, University of Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education, John Hopkins University School of Public Health, Research Triangle Institute International, University of Virginia’s School of Education, and Sat Bir Khalsa, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School. (Sat Bir Khalsa, Ph.D. and Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. collaborated with Lisa Flynn and the Yoga 4 Classrooms team to complete the Yoga 4 Classrooms pilot research study: Effects of a Classroom-Based Yoga Intervention on Cortisol and Perceived Behavior in Second- and Third- Grade Students.)

Mark Greenberg, Pennsylvania State University, moderated the panel. Mark and Tish Jennings, University of Virginia are conducting the CALM (Comprehensive Approach to Learning Mindfulness Practices) pilot study. Mark and Tish are testing whether a short daily intervention involving yoga, somatic breathing, intention-setting and caring practices results in reduced psychological and physiological symptoms related to stress and burnout among school teachers.

Andrea Hyde, Professor at Western Illinois University has been conducting qualitative research.  Both quantitative and qualitative research approaches are critically important to contributing to the development of evidence-based yoga practices. Qualitative research is focused on the narrative— listening to the stories of the research participants— and noticing the patterns and themes in the stories to form hypotheses that can be applied and potentially generalized to a broader population. Andrea shared the importance of conducting qualitative research that works towards honoring and being informed by the data from teachers’ stories. To hear the essence of each story that can inform the practices we are teaching children and youth, and the essence of each story that can inform the way school yoga programs are framed and developed.

Andrea’s thinking brought to my mind Lisa Flynn’s story of how she developed the Childlight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms programs. As well, it brought to mind Susan Kaiser Greenland’s story of how she began developing mindfulness practices for children.  To paraphrase from Susan’s book, The Mindful Child—How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder and More Compassionate, Susan began developing mindfulness for kids on a day when she was watching her own child and his friend lose their ability to be calm. She took a snow globe down from a bookshelf and began winding up the music box at its base. She shook the snow globe, put it down on a table, put her hand on her abdomen, and asked her son and his friend to put their hands on their tummies. Together they felt their breaths move up and down as they watched the snow settle in the globe. When the snow settled to the bottom, she shook it again. As they watched the water in the globe gradually clear, they felt themselves breathing. After a short while, the boys’ breathing had slowed; their bodies had relaxed and calmed. Then they could talk about what had upset them…Susan is the founder of the “Inner Kids” program affiliated with the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.  
On the afternoon of the second day there was a School Leader panel. The panel included: Tracy Affonso, Newton Public School System teacher and Yoga 4 Classrooms Licensed Trainer, Timothy Baird, Superintendent, Encinitas (California) Union School District, Scott Himelstein, Director, Center for Education Policy and Law at University of San Diego and former deputy secretary of education for the State of California, Deborah Hoffman, Principal, Lincoln Elementary, Madison, Wisconsin School, and Alan Johnson, Superintendent, Woodland Hills School District, Pittsburgh, PA

Tish Jennings, Associate Professor at the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia, moderated the panel. Tish, Mark Greenberg, Richard Brown and Christa Turksma developed the CARE (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Educators) for teachers program. Tish is a former Montessori early childhood teacher.

It was a comprehensive discussion that brought together stories of the strategies and approaches of school leaders who have developed and integrated yoga programs into their schools. Given that Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer, Tracy Affonso, was representing direct service in the classroom, I thought her stories were particularly grounding. She shared stories of how yoga practices have effected her children’s ability to self-regulate, to focus, to plan and to problem solve. She shared how integrating the practices of yoga into her classroom community have affected both her ability to teach and her children's ability to learn. Her stories related how incorporating yoga into the daily life of her classroom has effected the children’s relationships with each other and her relationship with the children.

In closing, I would like to summarize the threads of discussion from the symposium that noted the importance of:

•    Defining yoga: creating a common description of the components and the intentions of the practices being offered in the secular school setting, for research, implementation, and sustainability purposes.
•    Honoring /respecting the authority of teachers’ voices as they share stories of their experiences and their students’ experience.

•    Seeing yoga, mindfulness practices, contemplative practices, and social emotional learning (SEL) through a lens of their similarities, rather than through a lens of their distinctions or differences, i.e. as approaches for supporting the growth and development of the whole child rooted in the mind-body connection.  

•    Seeing yoga, contemplative practices and SEL* curricula as approaches and/or teaching strategies, which can contribute to creating the conditions that can foster a culture of well being for all children and youth. In addition, as approaches that can promote a school culture that supports teacher self care.

•    Bringing this work to pre-service student teachers.

Esther Brandon, M.S.Ed
Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer

* The Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning (C.A.S.E.L), has developed SEL competencies that are available on the C.A.S.E.L. website.

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Mindfulness in Schools: What Research Tells Us

Saturday, October 19, 2013

With growing concern in the society on finding ways to improve mental well-being, including the ability to focus, ability to constructively reflect, and ability to choose most adaptable strategies to cope with stress, mindfulness has become the hot and timely topic.

At the forefront of school-based programming, mindfulness and yoga curricula are not only highly beneficial, but also affordable ways to improve school outcomes - see more on this discussion in recent Forbes Magazine's article.

Now Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley brings us the research round up of the most recent scientific papers published on school-based mindfulness programs.

Emily Campbell of Greater Good Science Center writes:

"The last decade has seen a huge spike in secular applications of mindfulness, the practice of focusing our attention on our thoughts, feelings, and environment in the present moment. While the first wave of mindfulness-based programs were for adults, more recent efforts have targeted the well-being of children and adolescents; as a result, mindfulness programs in schools are becoming more and more widespread.

But until recently, “enthusiasm for promoting such practices [outweighed] the current evidence supporting them,” to quote a 2012 review of the research on mindfulness practices with children and youth.

That has changed in the past year with a spate of new studies: Researchers have been aggressively testing the effectiveness of school-based mindfulness programs, and they are starting to publish their results."

To read the article in full, visit the Greater Good Science Center website.

Other notable articles on cognitive benefits of mindfulness for kids:

Can Mindfulness Really Help You Focus, Time Magazine, March 2013
Forget Delayed Gratification: What Kids Really Need Is Cognitive Control, Time Magazine, October 2013
Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to Kids, Greater Good Science Center, May 2010

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Making an Impact: 50 schools and 22,000 students served

Monday, September 23, 2013

We are thrilled to announce that as of Fall 2013, Yoga 4 Classrooms has directly served an estimated 5,000 school children in nearly 50 schools via the 10-week in-classroom residency and/or training for the entire school staff.

In addition, over 1000 educators have been trained privately by attending the Y4C Professional Development Workshop (on location or online) designed to give them the tools to share yoga and mindfulness-based activities in their own classrooms from year to year. That amounts to an estimated 22,000 children reached each year!

This fall, 4 new schools in New Hampshire and Vermont have begun implementation of Yoga 4 Classrooms with a professional development workshop for the entire school staff, the program’s 10-week in-classroom residency and parent education through a kick-off event and weekly family letters.

All components of the program are carefully designed and tested to ensure long-term program sustainability in the school. In many cases, Licensed Trainers and Schoolsite Trainers work together in the school before and after implementation to ensure longevity and ongoing support.

Learn more about becoming a Y4C School.

Here is what others say about Y4C in schools and more testimonials on our website:

"Yoga 4 Classrooms seems to be the missing link our schools need to bring all types of learners together.  Present, grounded and ready to learn!" J Gauer, ADHD Coach

"The techniques in Y4C are like a gift...for my students and myself."  K Kinneen, Classroom Teacher

"Our goal is to create opportunities for kids to be successful. This program teaches kids to let go of things — stress, anxiety — and move on. Math and reading are important, but students need these life skills as well.”  Peterborough Elementary School Principal

Also, check out the great stories about two Y4C Schools covered by mass media: Greater Catholic School Board in Saskatoon, Canada and  Peterborough Elementary School in New Hampshire.

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Y4C card deck now included in cost of Professional Development Workshop

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Yoga 4 Classrooms is pleased to announce the inclusion of the Y4C card deck with Y4C Professional Development Workshop's $180.00 registration fee. That's a savings of $32.00!

The card deck is the perfect companion to the 230-page illustrated Yoga 4 Classrooms® Manual. The 6x8 card deck highlights the 67 yoga and mindfulness activities, including illustrated instructions, discussion points, educational tie-ins, sub-activities for a total of more than 200 beneficial classroom practices. All activities can be done standing beside or sitting at desks, while bodies and hands remain off the floor, away from dirt and germs. The cards include a mix of yoga postures, brain boosting movements, breath exercises, visualizations, mindfulness activities, creative movement and community-building games. Also included are wellness and character-building discussion points such as the power of positive thinking, nutrition, and being a peacemaker, addressing the whole child – physical, social and emotional.

Currently offered in 15 states, this one day  workshop is appropriate for all K-12 classroom teachers (with special focus on primary school), administrators, school counselors, phys ed teachers, health educators, therapists, paraprofessionals and other school professionals seeking to bring simple yoga and mindfulness techniques into the classroom or similar setting for a more peaceful, productive class day.

Professional Development Workshop's Tuition of $180 now includes:

  •   6 hr. interactive workshop (includes 45 min. lunch or dinner break)
  •   Fully-illustrated, tabbed, 230 pg. Y4C® Program Manual
  •   Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck, the popular classroom tool which supplements this program
  •   PDP or CEUs and possible reimbursement from your school
  •   Certificate of Completion

Learn what others are saying and join us to see for yourself:

“Thank you! What a great workshop! It felt great to de-stress too!” - Reading Specialist

"So many ways to benefit students, calming, focusing, energizing. I am hoping to see a strong benefit for the students with special needs.” - Special Education Elementary Para educator

“I have a student with ADHD and I am always looking for new techniques to help this student with focus, control and relaxation. I am so excited to begin!” - 1st Grade Teacher

”I never thought I would like yoga, but after taking this workshop and realizing all the benefits, I really enjoy it!” - 1st Grade Teacher

"I was not familiar at all with any types of yoga, when I read the description that this was a yoga to benefit children in the classroom and needed no special equipment and on the floor activities I was interested. I wanted another positive avenue to use with my students. Great workshop! I am so looking forward to using this relaxation, transition, exciting pump up with my children.” - 1st Grade teacher 

 Learn more and register! 

Can't find a workshop near you? Check out our online version and do the workshop any time at your convenience.

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Forbes: How Yoga Could Help Keep Kids In School

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How can trauma-informed mindfulness practices at school, aka, YOGA, help kids stay in school, stopping up the 'school to prison pipeline', saving us trillions of dollars? Just ask Forbes Magazine.

How inspiring and encouraging it is to see a major business publication focus on yoga as an effective transformative practice promoting stress resilience in children. Why the interest? It's becoming increasingly clear that mind-body practices can improve self-awareness while promoting positive life skills ultimately leading to less violence and incarceration and higher graduation rates...and that translates to startling cost savings, both human and economic.

Powerful math described by BK Bose, PhD of Niroga Institute, shows that the practice of mindful yoga can address many issues we face in education and economy, including the high costs to society resulting from increasing school drop out rates and juvenile crime.

"This is about more than just mindfulness,” says Bose. “It’s about the integration of these modalities. This is not some feel good, foo-foo practice from the Himalayas. This is based in cutting edge neuroscience, trauma research, and in somatic psychology. This is vital to ensure our well-being, and to our economy.  Let’s come together under the banner of transformative practices, and put forward the essence of yoga, not the hype. This is simple. Anyone can do this, anytime, anywhere. If you can move, if you can breathe, then you can do the practice.”

This is a must-read article - please follow the link directly to it to

As well, we'd like to mention some of our colleagues in the field cited in the article, who are doing a wonderful work as it relates to growing this movement:

Niroga Institute and Transformative Life Skills
Give Back Yoga Foundation
Yoga Service Council
Holistic Life Foundation


Read the full article here.

More news on yoga and mindfulness in schools:

Mindfulness Programs In Schools Reduce Symptoms Of Depression Among Adolescents: Study - Huffington Post
Reading, Writing and Mindfulness
Meditating with Kids - Greater Good Science Center
Congressman Tim Ryan - Mindful Nation

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Bringing yoga to the classroom, Yoga Therapy Today

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Our article, "Bringing yoga to the classroom: Tools for learning, lessons for life", has been published in the Summer issue of the Yoga Therapy Today, a publication of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

In this article, we argue that "a well-researched and properly designed program implementing yoga at school typically provides consistent repetition of key activities and concepts. This is achieved through systematic integration of activities into the class day as necessary to produce long-term effects on children, ultimately providing a foundation for lifelong well-being."

We offer specific advice to yoga teachers interested in implementing yoga in their community's schools, and share one of our effective pre-writing or writing break yoga sequences.

Overall, we encourage teachers to follow the core principles in rolling out their yoga in schools: prepare, invite, serve. These are keys to the successful and sustainable implementation of yoga programming in schools.

We hope this article inspires you to further investigate and support the movement to bring yoga to school, and learning about the ways to do this important work.

You can download the full Yoga Therapy Today article and learn more about our research and conference activities, presentations and publications by reading our Special Issue newsletter.

We have recently presented our research study results at the Symposium on Yoga Research in Boston, MA, and shared our work at the presentation during the annual American School Counselor Association in Philadelphia, PA.

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First Y4C School in Canada featured in The Star Phoenix

Friday, June 28, 2013

Shelly McGrath, a Licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer, has been featured in the Star Phoenix newspaper article with her work at the first Y4C School in Canada. In fact, Shelly is one of the first three Y4C Trainers in Canada, and we're excited to bring the program to the schools across the border! With this successful beginning, in the fall her local school board will be implementing the Y4C Program in its entirety - learn more about how your school can become a Y4C School!

You can read the full article at the Star Phoenix website. Below is a short excerpt about what the first graders do during their Residency - the "Yoga Fridays":

"McGrath teaches yoga to every class, except the Grade 8s (due to scheduling), and the school’s principal Darrin Sinnett isn’t the only one who finds it “extremely beneficial.” When he sent out a newsletter to parents outlining the programming he was flooded with only positive responses.

“We have a multitude of students at various levels, different medical conditions and diagnoses. Everybody can do yoga. It’s a community building thing within the school,” he says.

“Kids intuitively know that these are things that their minds and bodies are seeking; kids are naturally intuitive to their inner needs,” says McGrath. “They just need time and space to get reacquainted to themselves.”

Read more about this inspiring story from the first Y4C school in Canada and learn how you can bring yoga to your school, become a Trainer or take the Professional Development Workshop.

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Yoga in Schools Promotes Spiritual Development & it Has Nothing to do With Religion

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What is spirituality and what role does it play in the whole child development? What is the scientific basis for the importance of spiritual development? Does spirituality belong in the school? 

These important and timely questions, and a more instrumental one "How can the practice of yoga be utilized to enhance spiritual development for school-aged children?", are addressed in our recently published in Elephant Journal article, Yoga in Schools Promotes Spiritual Development & it Has Nothing to do With Religion . 

You can read the full post by clicking here. Below is a part of this article highlighting the benefits of spirituality for holistic development.

"The following quote, excerpted from the Exercise for Spirit section of the new book by Lisa Flynn, Yoga for Children (F/W, Adams Media, May 2013), illustrates this connection between yoga and spirituality for kids.

“Your child’s spirit connects him with others and is essential to a healthy, well-adjusted child. Yoga practices will help foster your child’s spiritual growth by helping him see the beauty and light within himself, boosting confidence, and allowing him to feel more comfortable in his body. Yoga will help your child get in touch with who he is inside, and in turn will help connect with himself, others, and the world in a richer, more positive, and peaceful way”.

An integral part of psychological well-being, spirituality can be enhanced through the practice of yoga. The following are some important spiritual benefits of yoga for children: (adapted from the Yoga 4 Classrooms® Program Manual)

> Builds confidence and self-esteem
>Supports character development
> Enhances team skills and social interaction
> Develops discipline and self-control
> Supports individuality and self-expression
> Encourages social and environmental awareness and responsibility
> Supports a sense of universal connectedness
>Inspires respect for self and others"

Read full article here.

What are your thoughts on the differential role of religion and spirituality, and the role of yoga in schools? We'd love to hear from you!

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Yoga 4 Classrooms study results are in - learn what researchers report on yoga in classrooms

Thursday, June 06, 2013

We are excited to report about the results of our study, Effects of a Classroom Based Yoga Intervention on Stress & Attention in Second & Third Grade Students, conducted by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell Department of Exercise Physiology research team.

The study’s goal was to see if yoga classes in school have an effect on students’ attention span and stress levels - something that teachers reported has improved following a Yoga 4 Classrooms residency. Rigorous tests were used to get scientific data, such as salivary cortisol test as the marker of stress level. In addition, teachers were asked to rate each student on a number of academic, social and emotional outcomes before and after a 10 week yoga intervention. 

Statistically significant improvements were observed in both 2nd and 3rd graders in the areas of ability to be in control of behavior, to manage anger, and creativity. As well, according to the teachers, overall improvements in 2nd and 3rd graders were evident 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

Positive significant results also came from the second grade classroom, showing lower cortisol stress response in students after the 10-week classroom yoga residency, which might suggest that students felt less stressful after learning yoga and mindfulness activities in their school.

As with any study, there are limitations and the need for further tests and analyses. Due to 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. Nevertheless, this study is important as it suggests that a long-term practice of mind-body skills positively impacts the stress levels of students, especially at a younger age. 

Read more about challenges facing research on yoga on our blog: Why do we need science to prove the effectiveness of yoga-based programs in education? and Bridging yoga practice and scientific research. 

To learn more on the science of yoga and mindfulness, visit our Supporting Research page, Garrison Institute’s Research Database, and IAYT website.

The poster with the study's results will be presented at the Symposium for Yoga Research (SYR) organized by the International Association of Yoga Therapists on June 11-13, 2013 in Boston, MA. Y4C team is proud to participate in the SYR for the 3rd year in a row. Taking place on June 11-13, 2013 in Boston, MA, this symposium brings together the researchers, practitioners, teachers, students and policy makers for a dialogue and support in the field yoga therapy. One of the highlights of the conference will be Plenary Presentation: An Overview of Research on Yoga for Youth by Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa of Harvard Medical School. Lisa Flynn and UML researchers would be happy to connect with you at our study poster presentation - Learn more and register to attend!

We are excited to have taken the first step to test the effects of yoga programming on a number of student outcomes, and looking forward to the next phase of the research. We want to thank the amazing research team at the UMass-Lowell, lead by Dr. Danielle Day and graduate student Adam Potts, for their great work, as well as Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa and his lab for consulting on this project.

We would also like to extend our gratitude to the students, teachers and administration of the Horace Mitchell Elementary School in Kittery, ME, and personally to the school's Principal David Foster, for offering their enthusiastic support along every step of the research process. KMS is dedicated to creating a sustainable school environment to foster children's physical and psychological well-being through the practice of yoga and mindfulness. Lead Yoga 4 Classrooms Trainer Sharon Trull facilitated the implementation of the program in the school and we appreciate your support with conducting this research.

For more on the details of the study, visit our website.

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Defending yoga in schools: what is the controversy all about?

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The recent controversy in the Encinitas Union School District in CA brought up a lot of heated discussions and news coverage. A small group of parents recently sued the school for implementing the Ashtanga-based yoga program funded by K. P. Jois Foundation, which they believe “unlawfully promotes religious beliefs, while disfavoring and discriminating against other religions”.  This group of parents claims that yoga instruction in public schools violates California law because it is a form of religious indoctrination.

On the other end of the controversy is a group of parents and supporters of the Ashtanga-based yoga program YES! Yoga for Encinitas Students,  supported by Yoga Alliance. Here's the statement Yoga Alliance issued:

"From our work with the yoga community over the past 13 years, we have interacted with people of many faiths, along with agnostics and atheists, as they engage in the practice and teaching of yoga. We believe that yoga can be taught in a completely secular manner and that children and adults alike can benefit from this transformative practice".

As the yoga in schools movements grows and gains support, all of us in the field need to be aware of the actual facts, underlying reasoning behind any public conflict of the kind, and make informed decisions. With this in mind, we encourage everyone to read as many sources of information as possible to gain clear understanding of the "issue."

Currently, the court case is on break until June 24th. When it reconvenes, we'll be sure to keep you updated.

Here are a few articles that cover the trial and what led to it in great detail:

Yoga trial without resolution, Yoga Alliance
Yoga witnesses: No indoctrination agenda, by Gary Warth, UT San Diego

Yoga Goes On Trial Today: Encinitas Case Pitting Parents Against School Yoga Classes and ‘Religious Indoctrination’, YogaDork blog
Parents Step Up and Sue Encinitas School District Over Yoga Program, YogaDork blog

And a few articles on related issues:

Yoga in Schools Promotes Spiritual Development & it Has Nothing to do With Religion, by Lisa Flynn and Marina Ebert, Elephant Journal
Let's Get it Straight: Yoga in Schools is Not a Religious Practice,
by Lisa Flynn, Elephant Journal
The Encinitas Yoga Case: Yoga is Religious, Only It’s Not,
by Philip Goldberg, Huffington Post

We Want To Hear From You!
What is your opinion of the trial over yoga in schools? Let us know your thoughts!

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