Improve Schools with Yoga

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Today’s students face tremendous pressure to achieve within a world that is often overwhelming. The tools of yoga and mindfulness offer proven methods of developing the inner resilience needed to navigate physical, mental and emotional stress. . . and can increase their capacity to learn effectively, manage challenging emotions, self-regulate behavior, and achieve personal and academic success.” – Little Flower Yoga


Childhood can be a wonderful time of life. But, it is often fraught with problems that can stress the child. School aged children are exposed to many stressors including problems at home. These can vary from simple disciplinary problems to physical and sexual abuse to familial economic stresses. At school they can be discriminated against, teased, bullied, or laughed at. In addition, modern testing programs insure that these children are constantly exposed to high stakes testing. All of these stresses can occur while the child has yet developed adequate strategies and mechanisms to cope with the stress. So, there is a need to develop methods to assist young children, perhaps even more so than adults, to cope with stress.


Yoga practice has many positive physical and psychological benefits including reducing the physical and psychological responses to stress in adults. But, it would seem to be particularly appropriate for school children. These children have tremendous amounts of energy yet are asked to sit quietly all day in school. Yoga practice can provide a physical outlet for this energy. In addition, yoga practice has been shown to improve attention even in school children. Hence, yoga practice could not only calm school children but improve their ability to pay attention, making them much better students.


Indeed, yoga practice has been shown to help high school students maintain their grades. It is known that mindfulness training has positive effects on 4th and 5thgrade children and even with preschool children.  In addition, yoga practice has even been shown to reduce stress and even ameliorate the effects of trauma on children. These positive benefits suggest that there is a need for further exploration of the effects of yoga practice in schools.


In today’s Research News article “Yoga in school settings: a research review”

Or see below

Khalsa and Butzer review the published literature on the effects of yoga practice on school aged children. They find that research on yoga in schools is a very new but a rapidly growing area of study with most work having been performed since 2010. As such, much of the work is preliminary research lacking the tight controls demanded by rigorous scientific study. As a result, strong, firm conclusions cannot be reached. Given this caveat, however, the published research is very encouraging.


Students self-report that yoga practice has produced a wide variety of positive psychosocial and physical benefits. These include improved mood state, self-control, aggression and social problems, self-regulation, emotion regulation, feelings of happiness and relaxation, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, social and physical well-being, general distress, physical arousal, and hostility, rumination, emotional arousal, and intrusive thoughts, alcohol use, self-concept, tolerance, nonviolence, truthfulness, overall, general, and social self-esteem, positive health, self-adjustment, and working-memory capacity, ability to focus, control behavior under stress, enhance a sense of calm, increase self-esteem, greater kinesthetic awareness, mood management, stress reduction, and social cohesion, improved stress management, and focus, perseverance, and positive relationships.


Teachers also note improvements in their students following yoga practice. These include classroom behavior and social–emotional skills, performance impairment, concentration, mood, ability to function under pressure, hyperactivity, social skills, and attention. In addition, school records, academic tests, and physiological measures have shown that yoga practice produces improvements in student grades and academic performance, cortisol concentrations, micronutrient absorption, flexibility, grip strength, abdominal strength, respiratory muscle strength, heart rate variability, and stress reactivity.


This long list of benefits of yoga practice for school children is remarkable. But, before jumping to conclusions, these findings need to be confirmed with rigorous scientific study. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that yoga practice may be an ideal, safe, and effective method to improve the psychosocial, physical, and academic well-being of school children.


So, improve schools with yoga.


“A healthy body and mind is important for the development of all children. At all grade levels, from preschool through high school, students have shown improved academic and behavioral performance when yoga has been introduced in the school.” – The Association for School Yoga and Mindfulness


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies



Study Summary

Khalsa SB, Butzer B. Yoga in school settings: a research review. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016 Feb 25. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13025. [Epub ahead of print]



Research on the efficacy of yoga for improving mental, emotional, physical, and behavioral health characteristics in school settings is a recent but growing field of inquiry. This systematic review of research on school-based yoga interventions published in peer-reviewed journals offers a bibliometric analysis that identified 47 publications. The studies from these publications have been conducted primarily in the United States (n = 30) and India (n = 15) since 2005, with the majority of studies (n = 41) conducted from 2010 onward. About half of the publications were of studies at elementary schools; most (85%) were conducted within the school curriculum, and most (62%) also implemented a formal school-based yoga program. There was a high degree of variability in yoga intervention characteristics, including overall duration, and the number and duration of sessions. Most of these published research trials are preliminary in nature, with numerous study design limitations, including limited sample sizes (median = 74; range = 20–660) and relatively weak research designs (57% randomized controlled trials, 19% uncontrolled trials), as would be expected in an infant research field. Nevertheless, these publications suggest that yoga in the school setting is a viable and potentially efficacious strategy for improving child and adolescent health and therefore worthy of continued research.