Making Schools Happy, Healthy Places

In April of 2014, the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living hosted the first Yoga in the Schools Symposium, presented in partnership with the University of Virginia’s Contemplative Sciences Center and Curry School of Education. Edi Pasalis, Director of the Institute, shared highlights of the event and insight into the future of the yoga-in-the-schools movement.

Share with us some of your favorite moments of the Yoga in the Schools Symposium.

Tim Baird’s keynote was fascinating. He’s the superintendent of the Encinitas, California, school district, which was the focus of a high-level court case around yoga in the schools. He shared with us some details of the case and the verdict, which confirmed that yoga in schools is most definitely within the parameters of the law. Tim also painted a broad picture of how yoga, on and off the mat, fits into the school structure, alongside wellness programs focusing on nutrition, mindfulness, character development, and socioemotional learning. Yoga writ large is part of a big and beautiful movement to make schools happy, healthy places.

Also, the level of professionalism among the participants, and what they’re accomplishing, is extraordinary. We had 120 people in the room, plus 18 speakers, all of them deeply involved in the yoga-in-the-schools initiative—program providers, classroom teachers, principals, superintendents, and researchers at major institutions. People are bringing their full expertise to this movement, and both yoga and education experts are taking this on in a committed, professional, highly knowledgeable way. The poster session illustrated the breadth and depth of how yoga is showing up in schools, and the heartwarming success stories that are coming out of that.

What kind of collaboration takes place among these three groups—program providers, school administrators and teachers, and researchers?

We were able to learn so much from each other. During our “growing edge” sessions, interest groups got together and talked about critical issues and challenges, such as scaling from a single school to having a broader impact. It’s particularly valuable to have principals and classroom teachers in the room because they bring the experience and understanding of how yoga in the schools is actually showing up “on the ground.” Educators were particularly interested to hear how research can help make the case for yoga in the schools, and also to learn from program developers best practices for particular populations. Collaboration can also lead to improved research outcomes, because school professionals can give researchers information that helps them to fine-tune their methodology within the school context.

What has research about yoga in the schools revealed thus far?

It’s a very nascent field; we’re at the very beginning of validating and understanding how yoga influences youth, school communities, academics, socioemotional learning, etc. Right now, researchers are getting a lot of qualitative data that supports yoga in the schools, while working to zero in on appropriate measures and tools for understanding the impact through a quantitative lens. The Institute's research, done in conjunction with Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, shows that the Kripalu Yoga in the Schools curriculum improves resilience and provides students a variety of benefits at school and at home, including better control of anger and fatigue, better focus in class, more ease in managing test anxiety, more comfortable relations with peers, and more ease in falling asleep.

What is Kripalu’s role in this initiative?

Kripalu plays many roles in the yoga-in-the-schools movement. We’re seeding a culture of well-being in schools by working directly with students and educators as well as training yoga teachers in the KYIS curriculum, who will then take that out into the world. Through our research, we’re shedding light on the benefits of yoga for youth and educators. And we’re focused on supporting a vibrant yoga-in-the-schools community through our Teaching for Diversity grant program and through gatherings at Kripalu like this one.

Where is this movement headed?

Yoga in the schools is going mainstream, as the symposium illustrated. It’s part of a broader, growing movement that includes a wide variety of mindfulness, health, and wellness initiatives, including Michelle Obama’s nutrition and exercise campaigns. Working together, we can build on our collective momentum and expertise to create enormous positive change in schools—and that equals positive change for our society and our future.

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