Building a Curriculum for School-based Yoga

Project Team

Mindfulness summit in 2019 (Photo by Milena Ozernova)

Despite being thousands of years old, the practices of yoga and meditation have only risen to prominence in the United States in the past sixty years. During the 21st century, a significant number of American instructors began to implement yoga and mindfulness practices with children.

The mission of the Mindfulness in Human Development research team is to further school-based yoga and mindfulness research and build the body of research on the Y.O.G.A. for Youth curriculum, while training and mentoring students in interdisciplinary research through a social justice lens and modeling a mindfulness approach to all aspects of life. The first inter-collegiate Bass Connections team, our professors and students hail from both Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Each class begins with Professor Khalsa leading us in a Kundalini yoga practice, which includes breathwork, movement, and meditation, followed by a wellness check-in from Dr. Berger. For most of us, this is the class we feel most at home in, the most accepted, and the most mindful. And there is a reason for that; as we have discovered in our research for our next publishable article, the more mindful and self-reflective the researchers, the more accurate and respectful the results.

We have brought this mindset with us as we have interviewed children, analyzed both quantitative and qualitative data, and conducted many literature reviews to situate our findings in the broader scientific community. Through an initial study we conducted in the 2015-2016 school year, we found that an after-school yoga program significantly improved emotional regulation. These findings were published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. Since 2017, we have been studying the effects of weekly one-hour school-day programs and five-minute “Mindfulness Moments” at the beginning of classes with both elementary and middle school populations.

“[Yoga] makes me calmer. It doesn’t make me stress about things as much, and it makes me think it’s going to be okay if something bad could happen.” -Phillips Middle School Student

Though the pandemic ended our research early in 2020, we have continued to meaningfully engage with the students and our data. This year, we observed several Zoom yoga classes for students at R.N. Harris Elementary School, coded qualitative data from past years’ interviews, and conducted literature reviews for our upcoming paper.

For the past seven years, we have hosted the annual Embodied Learning Summit, which brings together researchers, community members, students, and activists to engage across themes of yoga and accessibility. Examples of past topics include sexual violence, body image, racial justice, and, most recently in 2021, the decolonization of yoga. We have had internationally recognized keynote speakers, such as Dianne Bondy, Susanna Barkataki, Chelsea Jackson Roberts, and Zabie Yamasaki. The Summit has also allowed space for local yoga leaders and members of our team to present workshops. The virtual nature of 2021’s summit allowed us to engage with members of the yoga and mindfulness community from all over the world.

While our time as a Bass Connections team has come to an end, we are excited that researchers are increasingly turning to the yoga and mindfulness field as both a site of analysis and a tool to conduct more ethical and unbiased research.