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Transforming Society One Teenager at a Time

Kripalu Yoga in the Schools Teacher Training debuts this summer

by Iona M. Smith

It takes more than math and science to educate adolescents and set them up for fulfilling and successful lives. Educators know that adding a socio-emotional learning component into academic settings is necessary to create successful students, schools, and communities. Since 2008, the Kripalu Yoga in the Schools (KYIS) program has been addressing that reality by bringing a yoga-based curriculum into middle and high schools in the Boston area and throughout Berkshire County. This evidence-based curriculum was designed and tested specifically for adolescents by Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL), working in conjunction with researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

We’re excited to share this curriculum with yoga instructors in our first Kripalu Yoga in the Schools Teacher Training, June 28–July 5 at Kripalu. You’ll learn breathing and centering techniques, community-building exercises, experiential activities, yoga postures, relaxation techniques, and loving-kindness meditations to help students cultivate healthy ways to manage their emotions and stress levels. The training will equip you to confidently teach lessons plans from the curriculum, and you’ll also take home a marketing “starter kit” to help you bring KYIS into your community.

As cocreator of the KYIS curriculum and teacher training, a former high school biology and health teacher, and a yoga educator, I’m so inspired by this amazing opportunity for yoga teachers to impact individuals, schools, and entire communities. As teens deal with increased stress in our fast-paced world, the KYIS program can truly have transformative effects on them and on society at large. It’s so powerful to hear my students talk about how they incorporate yoga into their lives—from using their breath to calm down during a stressful situation to pausing and not sending that angry text message—and how they generally feel more relaxed and happy.

As certified yoga teachers, we might assume that the skill set needed to teach teens is no different than it is for teaching an adult population. But, having taught both populations, it’s clear to me that there are very specific skills needed to teach yoga to teens. The teenage brain is still very much under construction. During adolescence, the frontal lobes of the brain (the seat of language and reason) are still being formed, leaving teens to overly rely on their amygdala (the seat of emotions). The malleability of the gray matter during this time makes the stakes high as to what skills are being hard-wired into the brain, making adolescence a crucial stage in both cognitive and emotional development.

The KYIS curriculum encompasses the five social and emotional core competencies, as identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL): self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making-all factors that allow students to thrive throughout high school and into adulthood. Our qualitative research, conducted in partnership with Sat Bir S. Khalsa, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, has shown that students in the yoga program experience improved well-being, especially in the areas of sleep, emotion, and stress regulation, and reduced interest in substance use. With concrete results in hand, the IEL plans to advocate for yoga as a core component of local, state, and, eventually, national physical education and health curricula-a giant step toward our goal of reaching as many young people as possible.

Iona M. Smith, MEd, CYT 500, Program Leader for the Kripalu Yoga in the Schools project, holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and a 500-hour yoga teacher’s certification from the Nosara Yoga Institute in Costa Rica.

Find out more about the Kripalu Yoga in the Schools Teacher Training.

For information about job opportunities for KYIS-trained teachers in the Boston area, based on upcoming research studies, e-mail