Why use Yoga in Schools?

—Health science research suggests that yoga and meditation can decrease school behavior referrals, increase “time-on-task,” and improve academic performance by reducing stress.

—School psychologists use yoga as an alternative or complement to behavioral and medical interventions for children with attention problems and other social, emotional, behavioral and academic difficulties.

—Yoga in School’s programs conform to Universal Design for Learning (Guideline #9), PA Standards for Health, Safety and Physical Education (HSPE 10.4), and PA Standards for Student Interpersonal Skills (SIS). 

—Studies of school-based yoga programs have indicated the following specific benefits to students:

—Emotional Benefits Less reactive; More optimistic

—Mental Benefits Increased focus and concentration; Improved quality and duration of sleep; Reduced stress

—Social Benefits Dissolved social barriers; Enhanced peer-to-peer relationships; De-emphasized belief in stereotypes

—Scholastic Benefits Improved academic performance; Improved school attendance and enthusiasm for school participation

—Physical Benefits Improved athletic performance; Increased bodily awareness; Increased flexibility, alignment, and core strength; Increased confidence in physical abilities

—For specific studies, see Benefits

Is Yoga a Religion?

Yoga is not a religion, but it’s a good question to ask when planning programs in public schools. The practice of yoga is not faith based; yoga neither requires, nor prohibits, the expression of a spiritual belief. Including yoga and meditation in public schools as part of the regular school day, or as a before- or after-school program, does not constitute an establishment of religion

Yoga, as a complete system of self-care, was recorded by the Indian sage, Pantanjali, around 400 CE. Some of these practices may have originated from the cultures of the Indus Valley at least 2,500 years ago.  However, the physical poses that most people practice in the U.S. as yoga are more closely related to early 20th century European gymnastics than to any religious practice. Yoga, as it is most often practiced in the United States, is a system of mind-body techniques that includes physical postures, conscious breathing, and deep relaxation.

Children and adults can experience the breathing exercises and postures of yoga and relaxation as therapeutic interventions without adopting any particular philosophical or spiritual aspects of this ancient tradition.

People who belong to cultures that practice Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity may practice aspects of yoga. People with no religious beliefs practice yoga, too. In fact, learning about how various cultures use yoga can be a way to explore cultural beliefs, both secular and religious. In this way, yoga can be seen as inclusive multicultural education. 

Can Yoga Improve the Behavioral Climate in Your School?

—To note any influence of the YIS program on the behavior climate of the district, we required additional responses from participants. In May, 2014, we issued an online survey to all district staff in the district we were working in at the time, asking specifically about behavior.  141 staff members (out of 148 total), including 133 teachers, 1 behavioral specialist and 7 who identified as “other staff,” responded. An analysis of the responses indicate that most staff (64%)  were aware of both the HPE training program and the MBTT program. Another 33% knew about either the HPE training or the MBTT program. Approximately half used yoga tools in their own teaching often, including 5% who used them all the time. The other half reported using them “once or twice” (26%) or “hardly at all” (24%). We asked respondents if they noticed any changes in the behavior of their students and/or the behavioral climate of their school, that may be connected to the yoga programs. Only 26% said that they noticed changes in behavior (mostly in their own students -- 23%), while 18% were unsure. Most respondents who had noticed changes said that yoga calmed the students in one way or another, got them “focused” or “reading for learning” and was useful in de-escalating students. These respondents often mentioned that the students themselves would initiate the poses or breathing techniques as they needed them. They also reported that students spoke positively about yoga in their HPE classes.

Here are some small scale studies that speak to behavioral climate:

How Does a District-Wide Initiative Maximize Impact?

Our yoga program employs an integrated train-the-trainer (TTT) model that focuses 70% effort on in-service professional development for HPE teachers, 20% on one-on-one consultation with HPE teachers and 10% on supplemental training for classroom teachers. This method contrasts with freestanding models of direct yoga instruction for youth in after- or outside-of-school programs. Train-the-trainer is a preferred model of professional development in many disciplines. It is based on principles of adult learning theory (e.g. teaching others is the best way to retain information) and “diffusion of innovation,” which explains how ideas are communicated through social networks. Read more.

The YIS training model is designed as professional development for HPE teachers that has the flexibility to extend training to classroom teachers and other school staff. By offering Mind-Body Tools for Teachers (MBTT) workshops, the instructional team can reach all of the non-HPE teachers and staff – including behavioral specialists. In this way, the entire school community receives yoga education; everyone is working on the same project. Read more

Cost Effectiveness & Sustainability

We adopted a train-the-trainer model after realizing that unless our programs are financially sustainable, there is little chance of attracting ongoing funding. The train-the-trainer model has allowed for exponential growth of the program. We are able to extend our reach to all students in the district by training all of the HPE teachers. These teachers are then available as in-house yoga educators for other staff/future students. Programs that use yoga teachers to teach yoga to students as part of their school day or in after-school programs report the same kind and quality of results that we have produced, but cannot extend the scope of their program as quickly and efficiently as YIS does. We admit that efficiency is not a primary concern of yoga teaching in general, but it is a practical concern for schools with finite resources of money and time. Read more.

Training school personnel to support continuous instruction and program implementation develops internal capacity (skills, knowledge, confidence), which increases sustainability after the completion of the formal project. Our model plans around a two-year training and customized support timeline. It focuses on teacher buy-in and facilitates district-wide communication among teachers, administration, and other staff. As program director and lead instructor, Joanne Spence meets regularly with curriculum leaders and administrators to increase the likelihood that YIS programs will run smoothly. At the same time, the instructional team is small enough to be flexible and responsive to the sometimes stressful and always changing environments of public schools. Read more.

Teacher & Parent Buy-in

In partnering with schools to deliver yoga programs, whether through professional development in-service trainings, workshops, or classroom demonstrations, participant buy-in is the biggest challenge. In trainings, we often notice that teachers are preoccupied with how difficult they think it will be to get kids to practice yoga; the teachers have little confidence in trying anything new. In many public school environments, teachers often feel powerless to make any changes and are frustrated and resentful about this. Within this context, and considering as a backdrop the past 25 years of “top-down” school reform and the fickle, fad-based climate of educational initiatives in many public schools, it is not surprising that some teachers are skeptical about bringing yoga into the classroom or believing that having yoga will make a difference in the district. Yet, once teachers experience and, usually, feel the benefits of yoga themselves, they begin to build confidence in sharing yoga with their students. However, the key to sustaining the initial momentum is building and maintaining a reliable structure and a mutually agreed upon and committed time and space for practicing yoga. Often, this emerges naturally from trial and error, but it is absolutely essential to secure a commitment from key school leaders—which may vary across contexts, from superintendent to principal to lead teacher—to make yoga a part of the school culture. Being patient and persistent and building relationships over time has been a significant factor in our success. Read more.

How to Get Started?


  • Call us at 412.287.4591 for a free 45 minute initial consultation to discuss your needs and how we may be able to help.
  • Consider sending some of your staff to one of our trainings:  Summer or Winter Intensives or Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum Training.
  • Locate the interested leaders and involve them in the planning of a yoga program for their areas. Embrace the early adopters and leaders and target future efforts on those groups/areas; don't  push anyone to be involved until they are ready.
  • Hold an all staff informational meeting (in-service) on the benefits of yoga. Collect information during that sessions on concerns; respond to questions; develop and plan with the staff.
  • Plan with the teachers/curriculum director to connect the program to teach skills that meet state and national standards. Yoga is not something that needs to be added to the curriculum (for example, it is not something extraneous to the HPE curriculum).
  • Sample pilot study/pilot program for elementary: Indentify HPE teachers who are willing to teach yoga as PE (no other sport/activity) for at least 9 weeks and classroom teachers who are willing teach MBTT in every class for at least 9 weeks. Follow the progress of students and teachers who have received this level of yoga for 9 weeks. (Option to use pre and post tests for awareness, stress, attention, etc.)
  • Identify who on your staff is responsible/will take responsibility for teaching stress reduction and behavior management (SEL): behavior specialists? HPE teachers? Special Education teachers? Counselors?
  • Offer stress-reduction and self-care techniques to your staff and let them know that taking care of themselves is the first priority and is a necessary prerequisite to successfully teaching students to do the same.