Mindfulness in Human Development (2018-2019)


The presence of yoga and meditation in educational settings has steadily increased, making its way from the periphery (after-school programs, yoga clubs) to a central part of school culture and curriculum through innovative programs. A promising new field of study has emerged as researchers examine the mental, emotional and physical effects of yoga on children and adolescents in school settings. Despite the interest in yoga and mindfulness in K-12 settings, this developing research area faces many methodological and theoretical challenges. Many studies are small, rely on a single interval, do not have control groups and do not use a mixed methods or interdisciplinary approach. Moreover, there are questions about the elements of yoga practice as opposed to mindfulness itself, and gaining buy-in from parents, teachers and school administrators is often a challenge. These questions need to be investigated empirically to provide a trajectory of best practices.

Project Description

This multiyear Bass Connections project brings together Duke and UNC Chapel Hill faculty and students, the nonprofit organization Y.O.G.A. for Youth NC as well as community educational partners. The researchers are analyzing the effects of a regular yoga and meditation practice on students’ mindfulness, emotional regulation, self-esteem, stress response, resilience, physical health, academic performance, social behavior and body image.

Although Y.O.G.A. for Youth has taught over 20,000 youth in its 20-year history, only one published research study has been conducted on the effects of its curriculum. The team’s findings will provide the organization with important information regarding the effectiveness of the curriculum and contribute to the growing field of yoga and mindfulness in K-12 settings.

The 2017-18 Bass Connections team expanded the work from the afterschool program to the school day at Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill. The team introduced yoga into the school day through training key administrators and teachers in the 40-hour Y.O.G.A. for Youth Teacher Training program. Y.O.G.A. for Youth teachers led weekly classes in the classrooms of those teachers, who also began each day with five minutes of yoga/meditation (Monday through Thursday) and time for writing in journals about their the experience every Friday.

The 2018-19 team will analyze the effectiveness of this approach through administering surveys and mood scales; conducting interviews with the yoga classroom teachers and their students; observing yoga teachers and classroom teachers; and obtaining academic and discipline records pre-, mid- and post-intervention of all yoga and control participants.

The team will also host an Embodied Learning Summit that will bring together educators, parents and students to explore the intersection of social justice, educational systems and research on yoga and mindfulness. Open to all community members, the free event will feature a keynote speaker, several workshops, panels and time for yoga practice. Following the event, the team will collect feedback from attendees and facilitate the continuation of conversations around these topics by sending out a monthly newsletter to connect attendees to relevant events and resources.

Anticipated Outcomes

Presentations at Embodied Learning Summit and other conferences (Yoga in the Schools Symposium and Research Summit, Contemplative Practices for 21st Century High Education Conference, National Kids Yoga Conference, International Symposium for Contemplative Studies); two manuscripts for publication; sustainable model for bringing Y.O.G.A. for Youth and other yoga programs into the school setting

Student Opportunities

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. They will gain practical experience with designing and implementing a research project, analyzing qualitative and quantitative research, working in a public school setting and in a nonprofit organization, yoga and meditation practices and collaborative writing of scholarly articles.

The team will ideally include approximately eight students, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, in both credit-earning and paid roles. Majors/disciplines most pertinent to this project include the Dance Program (Duke), Education (Duke and UNC), Sociology (Duke and UNC), Psychology (Duke and UNC), Global Health (Duke), The Program on Integrative Medicine in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (UNC), Department of Women’s and Gender Studies (UNC) and Department of Exercise and Sports Science (UNC). Skills that would be ideal to have on the team include a background or interest in statistics, qualitative methods, coding, working with children and western and alternative medicine.

Elizabeth Harden will serve as project manager; Kibby McMahon will be the research manager.

The team will receive a syllabus that outlines expectations, learning objectives, reading and written assignments and grading framework. A weekly two-hour team meeting will be mandatory. Team members will develop research skills through assisting with onsite data collection; recording, coding and analyzing data; conducting teacher observations and recording, coding and analyzing that data; assisting with setting up and conducting individual interviews and focus groups and recording, coding and analyzing that data. They will be responsible for a variety of written assignments (e.g., preparing field notes based on participant observation of classes). At the end of the semester they are required to write a 5-7 page paper that reflects on what they learned.

In the summer of 2018, student team members will undergo CITI training (if they have not already done so) and a school background check.

Students will be registered for course credit and receive a grade.

Duke undergraduates and graduate students can apply for this project team beginning on January 24. The priority deadline is February 16 at 5:00 p.m.


Fall 2018 – Spring 2019

Team meetings will take place on Fridays 1:45-3:45 p.m.

  • Fall 2018: Planning for Embodied Learning Summit; yoga and research project orientation sessions; pre-intervention survey administered; Y.O.G.A. for Youth weekly classes and daily “yoga & mindfulness moments” implemented and continue for the year; 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 2019: Collection of pre- and mid- academic and discipline records; data entry of academic and discipline records, fall teacher observations and pre- and post- class mood surveys, and Y.O.G.A. for Youth and yoga classroom teacher protocol forms; individual interviews with yoga classroom teachers; 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; data entry of teacher observations and pre- and post- class mood surveys; transcribe and code interviews with classroom teachers; Embodied Learning Summit planning and hosting; administer post-survey and collect post- academic and discipline records; focus groups with students; data entry of post-survey and post- academic and discipline records, Y.O.G.A. for Youth and yoga classroom teacher protocol forms from January to April; transcribe and code focus groups; analyze data and begin writing for publication


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

See earlier related team, Mindfulness in Human Development (2017-2018).

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Michele Berger, Department of Women\\'s & Gender Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill*
Liz Harden, Arts & Sciences-Dance
Keval Kaur Khalsa, Arts & Sciences-Dance*
Katherine (Kibby) McMahon, Trinity - Psychology and Neuroscience-PHD

Community Team Members

Y.O.G.A. for Youth
Phillips Middle School
Sat Bir Singh, Harvard Medical School

* denotes team leader


Active, New