Research on the Learning Benefits of Yoga and Meditation
In the last decade significant progress has been made in the scientific investigation of yoga and mindfulness as supporting a whole child approach to development, learning and well-being, as well as classroom climate. This research base has created a sound framework for the theoretical and practical approaches at the core of what we do
Scientific Evidence for School-Based Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness Practices
Research on school-based yoga and mindfulness suggests that these programs may have a number of positive effects on student health, behavior, and performance (Butzer et al., 2016; Ferreira-Vorkapic et al., 2015; Khalsa & Butzer, 2016; Serwacki & Cook-Cottone, 2012). The following list outlines some of the benefits of school-based yoga and meditation practices that address the whole child, thus maximizing the development of academic, social and emotional competence in addition to benefits for teachers and classroom climate:
- Provides students with healthy ways to express, balance, and regulate their emotions and behavior (Bergen-Cico et al., 2015; Dariotis et al., 2016; Daly et al., 2015; Razza et al., 2013).
- Promotes a more relaxed, comfortable state of being – the perfect state for teaching and learning (Dai et al., 2015).
- Has a positive impact on students’ academic performance (Butzer et al., 2015; Kauts & Sharma, 2009 Singh et al., 2016; Wang & Hagins, 2016).
- Brings students into the present moment – the most basic requirement for learning (Eastman-Mueller et al., 2013; Wang & Hagins, 2016).
- Encourages community and connectedness within the classroom (Conboy et al., 2013; Finnan, 2015).
- Provides opportunities for beneficial motor breaks throughout the day (Fox, 1999; Sibley & Etnier, 2003).
- Eases anxiety and tension (such as pre-test or performance jitters) (Bellinger et al., 2015; Frank et al., 2014; Noggle et al., 2012).
- Reduces anger, depression, and fatigue (Felver et al., 2015; Sibinga et al., 2016).
- Cultivates balanced psychological and physiological responses to stress, such as improved stress management (Miller et al., 2014), reduced problematic stress responses (Feagans Gould et al., 2012; Mendelson et al., 2010), and decreased cortisol concentrations (Butzer et al., 2015).
- Enhances focus, attention, concentration, comprehension and memory (Case-Smith et al., 2010; Ehud et al., 2010; Pradhan & Nagendra, 2010; Napoli et al., 2005; Manjunath & Telles, 2004; Quach et al., 2015).
- Provides opportunities for reflection, patience and insight, thereby reducing impulsivity, hostility, and reactivity (Fishbein et al., 2015; Frank et al, 2014; Parker et al., 2014).
- Supports social and emotional learning (Gueldner & Feuerborn, 2015).
- Enhances flexibility, strength, and physical well-being (Chen & Pauwels, 2014; Mohanty et al., 2015; Purohit et al., 2016; Verma et al., 2014).
- Improves mind/body awareness and self-awareness (Conboy et al., 2013; Ramadoss & Bose, 2010).
- Enhances executive function (i.e., processes required to select, organize, and properly initiate goal-directed actions) by combining the cognitive and neurological benefits of physical activity (Best, 2010; Diamond & Lee, 2011; Fumoto et al., 2010; Ratey, 2013) with breathing exercises and mental focus techniques.
- Enhances resilience and coping frequency, thereby helping students adapt and cope with negative life events (Khalsa et al., 2012; Ramadoss & Bose, 2010; White, 2012).
- Improves confidence and self-esteem (Bhardwaj & Agrawal, 2013; Sethi et al., 2013).
- Encourages respect for oneself and others (Dubey, 2011; Fishbein et al., 2015).
- Improves physiological outcomes such as respiratory muscle strength (D’Souza & Avadhany, 2014), heart rate variability (Bothe et al., 2014), and stress reactivity (Fishbein et al., 2015).
- Creates a calm, harmonious classroom (Butzer et al., 2015).
- Has beneficial effects on outcomes for classroom teachers, including increases in calmness, mindfulness, well-being, and positive mood, improvements in classroom management, physical symptoms, blood pressure, and cortisol awakening response, and decreases in mind and body stress (Harris et al., 2016; Jennings et al., 2013; Kemeny et al., 2012;Nosaka & Okamura, 2015; Schussler et al., 2016; Sharp & Jennings, 2016), thereby supporting a positive classroom climate, teacher effectiveness and student outcomes (Roeser et al., 2012).
Increasing numbers of teachers and administrators are recognizing that yoga, breath awareness and mindfulness activities are beneficial to their students’ (and their own!) mental health and well-being, and to the learning environment in general. In addition, yoga and mindfulness practices promote self-awareness and self management skills, the basis of social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies as espoused by CASEL (Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning). As yoga offers a non-competitive alternative to sports that supports PE and health standards, it’s also becoming part of many physical and health education curricula and after school enrichment offerings.
The many anecdotal benefits of yoga and mindfulness-based practices for children are well known, and carefully-controlled scientific research is growing every year. Based on increasing evidence supporting the efficacy of yoga for children, school-based yoga programs are being implemented across the United States. These programs are designed to address stress and anxiety, place emphasis on individual abilities rather than competition, and provide a non-threatening and gentle method to increase physical fitness and enhance health, well-being and emotional resilience.
Research in this field is preliminary, however scientific studies suggest that children who practice yoga-based movement, conscious breathing, and mindfulness/meditation activities are better able to regulate their emotions, manage stress and calm themselves. They may also choose better foods to eat and engage in more physical activity than children who do not (Butzer et al., 2016; Khalsa & Butzer, 2016). Studies also suggest that centered, calm and focused children learn more easily, have better social skills and, in general, are happier kids.
Studies also show that exercise facilitates children’s executive function (i.e., processes required to select, organize, and properly initiate goal-directed actions) by increasing activation in the prefrontal cortex and serotonergic system. By integrating physical movement with breathing exercises and mindful awareness, yoga serves as a promising form of physical and cognitive training to enhance learning-related outcomes (Butzer et al., in press).