Mindfulness in Human Development (2017-2018)


Although the nonprofit organization Y.O.G.A. for Youth has taught over 20,000 young people in its 20-year history, only one published research study has been conducted on the effects of the Y.O.G.A. for Youth curriculum. Nationally, interest in the possible role of yoga and mindfulness in the educational setting to improve mental health, academic achievement and behavior management is exploding.

In 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act, which includes a broader definition of student success, one that includes “activities to support safe and healthy students,” “a broader approach to professional development and learning” and “the inclusion of specialized instruction support personnel in developing state and district improvement plans.” This legislation recognizes social-emotional learning as a necessary component of school curricula, affirms that educators need to be life-long learners and practice their own self-care and opens the door to bringing yoga teachers into school settings as “specialized instruction support personnel.”

This legislation is game-changing for embedding yoga and mindfulness practices into the school day, and quality research is needed to support administrators and educators who wish to introduce the tools of yoga and mindfulness into their schools.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project brings together Duke and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill faculty and students, Y.O.G.A. for Youth NC and community educational partners to analyze the effects of a regular yoga and meditation practice on students’ mindfulness, emotional regulation, self-esteem, stress response, resilience, academic performance, social behavior and body image.

The presence of yoga and meditation in educational settings has quietly but steadily increased over the last five years, making its way from the periphery (after-school programs, yoga clubs) to a central part of school culture and curriculum in innovative programs springing up in different parts of the country. This project’s goals and objectives for 2017-2018 align with this trajectory, and are a shift both organizationally and methodologically from previous versions of this project team. Organizationally, the team will move from analyzing a yoga intervention during after-school programming to embedding yoga and mindfulness programming and practices into the school day. Methodologically, the team will pilot original scales and instruments developed by the 2016-2017 team to support the empirical study of yoga and mindfulness in schools.

The team will bring on board a partner school that would like to embed yoga and mindfulness practices into the curriculum. Activities to introduce yoga into the school day will include:

  • Training of key administrators and selected school teachers in the team’s Spring 2017 40-hour Y.O.G.A. for Youth Teacher Training
  • Weekly classes by Y.O.G.A. for Youth teachers in the classrooms of those school teachers who have undergone the Teacher Training
  • School teachers reinforce the weekly Y.O.G.A. for Youth lessons with “yoga and mindfulness moments” throughout the school day
  • Y.O.G.A. for Youth teachers function as mentors for the classroom teachers, supporting and advising as needed.

Team members will analyze the effectiveness of this two-tiered approach through pre-, mid- and post-surveys of the yoga classroom students and a non-yoga control classroom; pre- and post-individual class mood scales of the yoga classroom students and a non-yoga control classroom; individual interviews with the yoga classroom teachers; teacher observations of yoga teachers and of classroom teachers by team members; focus groups with yoga classroom students; yoga classroom students and a non-yoga control classroom academic and discipline records pre-, mid- and post-intervention.

The team will host a daylong Embodied Learning Summit that will bring together educators, parents and students.

Anticipated Outcomes

Presentation at Embodied Learning Summit as well as other national/international conferences, including the Yoga in the Schools Symposium and Research Summit, National Kids Yoga Conference and the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies; publication of results from previous years’ studies and the 2017-2018 study; creation of a sustainable model for bringing Y.O.G.A. for Youth and other yoga programs into the school setting

Student Opportunities

Students will develop research skills through assisting with onsite data collection; recording, coding and analyzing data; conducting teacher observations and recording, coding and analyzing the data; assisting with setting up and conducting individual interviews and focus groups and recording, coding and analyzing the data. They will be responsible for a variety of written assignments (e.g., preparing field notes based on participant observation of classes), including a paper that reflects on what they learned.

Students will be assisting faculty with all aspects of the research and logistical collaborative work with Y.O.G.A. for Youth and the partner school. Through this project, they will gain practical experience with designing and implementing a research project; analyzing qualitative and quantitative research; working in a public school setting; working in a nonprofit organization; yoga and meditation practices; and collaborative writing of scholarly articles.

The team will include approximately eight students, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, in both credit-earning and paid roles. A Ph.D. student will oversee the biomedical data collection and analysis. Majors/disciplines most pertinent to this project are the Dance Program (Duke), Education (Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill), Sociology (Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill), Psychology (Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill), Global Health (Duke), The Program on Integrative Medicine in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (UNC-Chapel Hill), Department of Women’s and Gender Studies (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Department of Exercise and Sports Science (UNC-Chapel Hill). We would like a mix of humanities, social sciences and natural sciences perspectives. Students with a background or interest in statistics, qualitative methods, experience with coding, interest in working with children and interest in western and alternative medicine are especially encouraged to apply.


Fall 2017 – Spring 2018

Team meetings for Fall 2017 are tentatively scheduled for Friday afternoons. In Summer 2017, student team members will undergo CITI training (if they have not already done so) and a school background check.

  • Fall 2017: Planning for Embodied Learning Summit; yoga and research project orientation sessions for school staff and for students; parental notification/parental consent as required by IRB; pre-intervention survey administered; Y.O.G.A. for Youth weekly classes and daily “yoga & mindfulness moments” implemented; team members observe Y.O.G.A. for Youth and yoga classroom teachers; team administers 5-minute mood measure before and after yoga classroom classes and control group classroom classes; mid-intervention student survey administered
  • Spring 2018: Collection of pre- and mid-academic and discipline records; data entry; individual interviews with yoga classroom teachers; observe Y.O.G.A. for Youth and yoga classroom teachers; administer 5-minute mood measure before and after yoga classroom classes and control group classroom classes; transcribe and code interviews with classroom teachers; Embodied Learning Summit continued planning and hosting; administer post-survey and collect post-academic and discipline records; focus groups with students; transcribe and code focus groups with students; analyze data and begin writing for publication


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding

See earlier related team, Mindfulness in Human Development (2016-2017).

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Liz Harden, Trinity - Dance
Keval Khalsa, Trinity - Dance*

Undergraduate Team Members

Matthew Kaplan, Program II (AB)

Community Team Members

Michele Berger, Department of Women's & Gender Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill* (Co-PI)
Multiple Contributors, Y.O.G.A. for Youth
Patrick Curran, Department of Psychology, UNC-Chapel Hill

* denotes team leader