Mindfulness in Human Development (2019-2020)


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 some schools’ culture and curriculum through innovative programs. A 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 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.

Adolescents from vulnerable, underserved communities are exposed to unique stressors and trauma that may affect academic achievement and performance. Although yoga and mindfulness programs in K-12 can’t erase structural issues, they can provide a powerful set of tools and lead to stronger academic engagement and achievement.

Project Description

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

The 2019-2020 project team will replicate the previous study conducted with Chapel Hill-Carrboro public middle school students on Durham public middle school students, which will allow the team to compare results from the schools while also aggregating the data for a larger sample size and greater impact.

The team will also host a day-long 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.

Anticipated Outputs

Papers for publication; sustainable model for bringing Y.O.G.A. for Youth and other yoga programs into schools

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 5-6 undergraduates and 1-2 graduate students representing a mix of perspectives from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Amy Patel will serve as project manager.

Majors/disciplines most pertinent to this project include Dance (Duke), Education, Sociology and 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), Department of Exercise and Sports Science (UNC-Chapel Hill), Public Health (UNC-Chapel Hill).

Desired skills include flexibility, listening, statistics, qualitative methods and coding. Students interested in education and contemplative practices, working with children and western and alternative medicine/holistic health are encouraged to apply.

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 the data; assisting with setting up and conducting individual interviews and recording, coding and analyzing the data. Students will be responsible for a variety of written assignments (e.g., preparing field notes based on participant observation of classes). At the end of each semester, team members are required to write a 5-7-page 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. Students will gain practical experience with designing and implementing an applied research project; analyzing qualitative and quantitative research; working in a public school setting; working in a non-profit organization; yoga and meditation practices; and collaborative writing of scholarly articles.

Since this project is multiyear, students will have the option of continued participation.


Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Fall 2019: Plan for Embodied Learning Summit; hold yoga and research project orientation sessions for school staff and for students; administer pre-intervention survey; implement Y.O.G.A. for Youth weekly classes and daily “yoga and mindfulness moments;” 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; administer mid-intervention student survey
  • Spring 2020: Collect pre- and mid- academic and discipline records; enter data from academic and discipline records, fall teacher observations and pre- and post- class mood surveys, Y.O.G.A. for Youth and yoga classroom teacher protocol forms; conduct 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; enter data from teacher observations and pre- and post- class mood surveys; transcribe and code interviews with classroom teachers; host Embodied Learning Summit; administer post- survey and collect post- academic and discipline records; conduct individual interviews with students; enter data from post-survey and post- academic and discipline records, Y.O.G.A. for Youth and yoga classroom teacher protocol forms


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

See earlier related team, Mindfulness in Human Development (2018-2019).


Image: Courtesy of Y.O.G.A. for Youth North Carolina

Courtesy of Y.O.G.A. for Youth North Carolina.

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Michele Berger, Department of Women's & Gender Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill*
  • Keval Kaur Khalsa, Arts & Sciences-Dance*
  • Amy Patel, Social Science Research Institute*

/graduate Team Members

  • Kibby McMahon, Psychology-PHD

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Harvard Medical School