Mindfulness in Human Development (2020-2021)


The presence of yoga and meditation in educational settings has quietly but steadily increased, making its way from the periphery of after-school programs and 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. However, this developing research area faces many methodological and theoretical challenges. Many studies are small, rely on a single interval, lack 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 in project implementation as well as research tools and methods.

Project Description

This project brings together Duke and UNC-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’ emotional regulation, academic performance and social behavior. In 2020-2021, the team will collect data at R.N. Harris Elementary School and continue to analyze the data collected up to this point with the goal of producing publications and conference presentations.

This year’s project team will evaluate a pilot program implemented at R.N. Harris Elementary School in Durham in Spring 2020, and will collect data as the program and research continue in 2020-2021.  The intervention consists of five minutes of yoga and mindfulness practice per day in select classrooms. These same classrooms will receive a full Y.O.G.A. for Youth class with a professional teacher once per week. For the purposes of the team’s evaluation, control classrooms will be identified. The team will collect data using surveys, interviews, teacher observations and academic and discipline records from both intervention and control classrooms.

The team will also host the annual 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. The event will feature a keynote speaker, several workshops, panels and time for yoga practice, breakfast and lunch. A free event for all community members who wish to attend, it is designed to foster the growth of an academically engaged community dedicated to integrating yoga and meditation as standard mental and physical practices, particularly for youth and underserved populations.

Anticipated Outputs

Manuscript publication; journal publications; book chapter; presentations for Durham Public Schools


Fall 2020 – Spring 2021

  • Fall 2020: Begin Embodied Learning Summit planning; begin survey administration; begin classroom observations
  • Spring 2021: Collect student academic and discipline records; code classroom surveys; conduct individual interviews with teachers and students, host Embodied Learning Summit

See earlier related team, Mindfulness in Human Development (2019-2020).


Image: Mindfulness summit in 2019, by Milena Ozernova


Team Leaders

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

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Avery Brown II, Computer Science (BS)
  • Balraj Dhanoa
  • Michaela Kotarba, Psychology (BS)
  • Kate Leonard, Neuroscience (BS), Cultural Anthropology (AB2)
  • Lindsey Noonan, Biology (BS)
  • Sierra Winters, Cultural Anthropology (AB)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Y.O.G.A. for Youth
  • R.N. Harris Elementary School
  • Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Harvard Medical School