Mindful yoga for urban youth

Yoga may provide urban youth at risk of school failure with skills to help them manage stress, pay attention, and stay calm under pressure. Tamar Mendelson and Mark Greenberg explain

GROWING UP IN THE INNER CITY is stressful. Children in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods must cope at an early age with many difficult circumstances, such as poverty, housing problems, and community violence. Research suggests that living with this kind of stress on a day-to-day basis has a negative effect on children’s developing minds and bodies. Chronic stress makes it harder for a child to learn how to manage their thoughts and feelings and to stay calm and focused. These skills are vital for healthy development. The result is that children who are exposed to early stress and trauma are at risk for many negative outcomes, including academic problems, school drop out, and drug and alcohol use. Helping children develop tools for coping with stress in healthy ways is a critical goal. Schools can and should be part of the solution.

What we know
● Children exposed to chronic stress are at risk of poor emotional and academic outcomes.
● Yoga may provide significant benefits for these vulnerable youth.
● Preliminary evidence suggests that school-based yoga and mindfulness programs may improve students’ ability to regulate their thoughts, emotions, and attention.
● Additional well-designed studies are needed.

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June 2012