Out There: First Ever National Kids Yoga Conference

A unique one-day event is helping the yoga-in-schools movement reach a tipping point.

In a watershed moment for the karma-yoga community and students nationwide, the first-ever National Kids Yoga Conference is being held September 27 in Washington, DC. This one-day blitz of workshops, lectures, and, of course, yoga is the next big step for the yoga-in-schools movement, says Michelle Kelsey Mitchell, executive director and co-founder of YoKid, an education-advocacy group that co-hosts the conference.

This matters now because of the debate happening in Encinitas, California’s school district where yoga instruction in schools led to a nationally publicized lawsuit by parents concerned about yoga’s religious associations. The conference is, in part, an attempt to standardize and secularize the practice of yoga, says Mitchell, so it can be taught more widely to children in public schools. And by building on the momentum of a similarly themed event hosted this spring by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, the organizers of the National Kids Yoga Conference hope to create consensus about teaching modalities and strategies for effectively partnering with public-school administrators.

“The ultimate dream is to have enough research behind us on the health benefits of yoga to collaborate with school administrators and have them understand the strong need for yoga in our kids’ lives,” says Mitchell. And that body of research is growing: A number of recent studies, including some conducted at Harvard Medical School, found yoga to be effective at reducing stress and improving concentration in children.

To date, there are at least 30 programs in the United States working with school districts to incorporate yoga, either by providing standalone volunteer yoga instruction to students, or by instructing educators to teach yoga as an integrated part of the curriculum. The National Kids Yoga Conference will be hosted annually by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health in partnership with local nonprofit YoKid and Lil Omm, a DC community-yoga studio. It’s also partially sponsored by the Sonima Foundation, which has donated about $2 million to the Encinitas, California, school district to fund the yoga program.

“We have created a clear set of best practices to make the benefits of yoga practical and accessible,” says Brynne Caleda, CEO of Yoga Ed., the country’s largest provider of in-school yoga curriculums. “Yoga in schools equips students with life skills and sets them up for success.”

—Philip Armour, additional reporting by Lauren Maslen

Bring Yoga to Your Public School

To learn more about the different types of yoga school programs available and how to invite one to your area, contact Yoga Ed. (yogaed.com) and YogaKids (yogakids.com).

These model groups may already be operating near you:

Bent on Learning is a program that teaches yoga in 14 schools throughout the New York City boroughs. bentonlearning.org

Headstand works in the San Francisco Bay Area to empower at-risk youth from kindergarten through 12th grade to combat stress through mindfulness, yoga, and character education. headstand.org

The Wellness Initiative operates in the Denver metro area to improve the physical health, social and emotional development, and academic performance of low-income youth through yoga-based wellness programs. wellnessinitiative.org

Shanti Generation sells youth-centric yoga DVDs and leads mindfulness workshops specifically for teens. shantigeneration.com