Integrating Yoga into a Comprehensive School Counseling Program: A Qualitative Approach.
A well-designed comprehensive school counseling program ensures that school counselors work with all students (ASCA, 2012). This concept suggests that most students face normal, age-appropriate challenges, while others experience added challenges that significantly interfere with learning (Dahir & Stone, 2009). To meet the needs of all students, school counselors are often responsible for integrating wellness and social/emotional learning (SEL) into educational curricula. School counselors are familiar with these concepts because wellness promotion is often a part of graduate counselor education programs (Roach & Young, 2007) and both wellness and SEL are current roles and function of a school counselor (American Counseling Association, n.d.). The yoga in schools movement promotes a unique and alternative way that school counselors can promote student wellness initiatives to holistically support the whole child. The purpose of this study was to explore how school counselors integrate yoga into their comprehensive school counseling programs.
Originating in India more than 5,000 years ago, yoga is one of the oldest practices of holistic health aimed at developing the mind, body, and spirit (Douglass, 2007; Ehud, An, & Avshalom, 2010; Flynn, 2013, Williamson, 2012). The practice of yoga links postures (asana) with breathing techniques (pranayama) to encourage physical and psychological balance (Butzer, van Over, Noggle, & Khalsa, 2015; Frank, Bose, & Schrobenhauser-Clonan, 2014; Khalsa, Hickey-Schultz, Cohen, Steiner, & Cope, 2012; Noggle, Steiner, Minami, & Khalsa, 2012; Toscano & Clemente, 2008). In yoga, the mind and body are thought of as one unified whole that work in coordination to achieve a steady state of presence and contentment (Rybak & Deuskar, 2010). Extending beyond posture and breath, yoga is thought of as curative, preventative, and a purposeful way of being.
For youth, yoga can serve as an antidote to the stress and hurriedness of modern living that continually places an exorbitant amount of pressure on children (Toscano & Clemente, 2008). Not only do youth experience the steady rise of academic pressure prevalent in our society, they also encounter complex and often traumatic situations such as school shootings, gun violence, sexual violence, mental illness, drugs, divorce, and so on (Busch, 2007). The discipline of yoga can reduce the impact of significant stressors and mitigate trauma by teaching children to relax, self-regulate, and remain present (Butzer et al., 2015; Harper, 2010; Toscano & Clemente, 2008; Williamson, 2012). Moreover, yoga helps youth develop the ability to regulate emotions and build a foundation for lifelong healthy habits (Butzer, Bury, Telles, & Khalsa, 2016; Frank et al., 2014; Noggle et al., 2012; Toscano & Clemente, 2008). Yoga services for youth are currently present in schools, juvenile detention centers, churches, group homes, fitness facilities, private yoga studios, and as a supplement to athletic teams and training (Busch, 2007).
Yoga in Schools
In schools, mind-body awareness programs such as mindfulness and yoga are gaining traction as more scholarly research cites favorable student outcomes. Research suggests that systemically infusing yoga and mindfulness into schools improves teaching and learning quality, fosters resilience in students, and transforms school climate (Mendelson et al., 2013). Similarly, specific school-based yoga programs demonstrate promise in improving students' self-regulation, self-awareness, and physical fitness, which, in turn, has the potential to improve student outcomes (Butzer et al., 2016).
Over the past decade, yoga implementation within the K-12 school setting has grown at a tremendous pace (Black, Clarke, Barnes, Stussman, & Nahin, 2015; Conboy, Noggle, Frey, Kudesia, & Khalsa, 2013; Steiner, Sidhu, Pop, Frenette, & Perrin, 2013). School settings are ideal for helping children establish healthy habits during their formative developmental stages, and yoga integration in schools offers benefits that could extend well into adulthood (Butzer et al., 2016). Furthermore, the school setting is an ideal location to deliver yoga to youth due to the ability to access all students (Butzer et al., 2016; Serwacki & Cook-Cottone, 2012). The community aspect of yoga offers students the opportunity to feel a sense of group cohesion and fosters acceptance (Harper, 2010), and when implemented in a school, yoga has the power to remove systemic barriers that lead to oppression (Hyde, 2012).
Current empirical studies suggest yoga improves numerous variables that could potentially interfere with learning such as behavior, body image, grades, focus, mental and physical health, self-esteem, stress resilience, self-control, self-awareness, and self-regulation (Busch, 2007; Butzer et al., 2016; Noggle et al., 2012; Ramadoss & Bose, 2010; Slovacek, Tucker, & Pantoja, 2003; Tate, 2003). Furthermore, yoga has been a supplemental treatment modality in a variety of clinical settings to help children heal from sexual abuse (Lilly & Hedlund, 2010), post-traumatic stress disorder, and other forms of trauma (Longaker & Tornusciolo, 2003; Spinazzola, Rhodes, Emerson, Earle, & Monroe, 2011), and eating disorders (Carei, Fyfe-Johnson, Breuner, & Marshall, 2010). In a systematic review of the literature, Khalsa and Butzer (2016) analyzed 47 peer-reviewed research articles on yoga in schools, noting that 75% were published after 2010, suggesting that research in this arena is in its infancy. Many studies lacked methodological rigor yet hold promise for improving student outcomes through school-based yoga interventions. Although new studies continue to emerge regarding the yoga in schools movement, continually absent from such literature is the role of the school counselor. More specifically, no research has explored how school counselors integrate yoga within a comprehensive school counseling program.
Barriers to Yoga Implementation in Schools
A looming barrier for yoga implementation in a school setting is the misconception that yoga is a religion (Williamson, 2012). Although the roots of yoga are tied to religious traditions, yoga itself is not a religion (Hyde & Spence, 2013). Yoga is a discipline practiced by religions and offers a secular space for students to enhance their physical and emotional well-being without infringing on individual beliefs or values (Flynn, 2013). Hyde and Spence (2013) suggest that yoga taught in a public school should be "explicitly secular" (p. 54), but individuals may choose to use yoga to enhance spiritual beliefs. School counselors have the opportunity to instill a safe space for students to explore their spirituality and play an integral role in including aspects of spirituality in a comprehensive school counseling program (Sink, 2004).
Other barriers to yoga implementation in a school setting include time, staff buy-in, and logistics (Mendelson et al., 2013). Key educational stakeholders, such as administrators, educators, and parents, must support the program for it to achieve sustainability (Mendelson et al., 2013). Administrative support is needed to ensure that time and space are adequate for yoga instruction. Regardless of the reported academic and behavioral benefits of yoga in schools, they cannot be reaped without the support of the community.
Yoga and School Counseling
School counselors have multiple roles within a complex educational system and are often held to rigorous accountability standards (ASCA, 2012). School counselors are charged with identifying the social/emotional, academic, and postsecondary needs of all students and removing potential barriers to student success through comprehensive programming. Comprehensive school counseling programs, such as those following the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2012), provide school counselors with the opportunity to implement evidence-based interventions to address identified student need. Current research highlights the roles and functions of teachers, administrators, and parents in the process of yoga implementation in schools (Mendelson et al., 2013), but school counselors have yet to be regarded as integral stakeholders in this movement. To fill this void in the literature, we conducted an exploratory phenomenological study posing the following research question: What are the lived experiences of school counselors who integrate yoga into their comprehensive school counseling programs?
Using an exploratory phenomenological design, we aimed to discover and describe the essence of individuals' lived experiences integrating yoga into their comprehensive school counseling programs (Creswell, 2013a; Hays & Singh, 2011; Moustakas, 1994). In phenomenology, researchers collect data from participants and reduce the data to capture the essence of the phenomenon as it relates to a collective, universal meaning (Creswell, 2013a; Moustakas, 1994). Using this design, participants are often referred to as coresearchers due to their in-depth knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon (Hays & Singh, 2011). Given the paucity of research in this area, a phenomenological design was appropriate to explore the lived experiences of school counselors who integrate yoga into their comprehensive school counseling programs. We sought to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon.
After approval from the university institutional review board, we used purposive sampling to identify full-time, licensed school counselors who integrated yoga into their comprehensive school counseling programs. Purposive sampling was necessary because locating specific individuals who integrate yoga into their school counseling programs was essential for this study (Creswell, 2013a). Integration of yoga was operationalized by yoga being directly tied to a comprehensive school counseling program goal, either as a direct or indirect intervention. Participants were not required to teach yoga to students providing they were involved with the integration of the practice. For example, a participant may have utilized a registered yoga teacher (RYT) to teach yoga to identified students during the school day or in a before/after school program.
We posted an invitation to participate in the study on the Childlight Yoga e-mail list, which reaches educators who have been trained to teach yoga in educational settings. We also emailed an invitation to participate in the study to identified practitioners who had presented about yoga in schools at a national and/or state school counseling conference. As a result of these recruitment methods, a total of 33 participants volunteered to participate in the study. Each individual received an email with a short online demographic questionnaire, which included questions about gender, ethnicity, school level, number of years as a school counselor, number of years at current school, yoga instructor credentials (if applicable), number of years of involvement with yoga and/or yoga at their school, and their comprehensive school counseling goal connected to yoga. After analyzing potential participants' school counseling goals, we identified 12 individuals who met eligibility criteria for participation in the study. The number of participants recommended in phenomenological research designs varies. Creswell (2013a) recommends a sample size of 3-10; however, general consensus is to interview participants until data saturation is met (Hays & Singh, 2011; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). In this study, researchers agreed that saturation was met after the 10th interview.
The participants in this study included 10 licensed school counselors from nine eastern and Mid-Atlantic states. At the time of the study, eight participants were employed in public schools and two in private schools. Seven participants worked at elementary schools, two at middle schools, and one in a K-12 school. Five participants reported that their school received Title I funding. Six participants worked in a suburban setting and four in an urban setting. All participants identified as White females. The years of school counseling experience varied among participants, ranging from 1 year to more than 20 years. Participants also varied in the number of years at their current school, with a range of 8 months to 16 years. (Appendix presents information about the participants' schools and yoga experience.)
All but one participant reported maintaining a personal yoga practice. The range of years participants have maintained a personal practice was 4 years to more than 20 years, with an average of 8-11 years. Six of the four participants reported having yoga teacher training or specialty training in children's yoga. Finally, participants reported integrating yoga in their school setting for 8 months to 4 years, which is consistent with the rise in popularity of this phenomenon.
The research team was composed of four counselor educators and one RYT. The first author is a White female counselor educator with almost a decade of school counseling experience who regularly practices yoga. The second and third authors are White female counselor educators with 18 and 5 years of experience, respectively. The coding team included two White females, one with 10 years of experience as a school counselor and 10 years as a counselor educator, and an RYT with 13 years of experience teaching yoga to children and adults. The authors designed and conducted the study, and the first author conducted all interviews and met with the coding team frequently to analyze the data.
Throughout the study, the research team employed numerous methods to control for personal biases, known as epoche in phenomenological research (Lichtman, 2014; Merriam, 2009; Moustakas, 1994). In addition to bracketing personal experiences, the first author maintained a reflexivity journal to take field notes and memos directly after each interview. We used the coding team to control for and uncover biases, emotions, and any other inquiries that emerged during the data collection process (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Prior to data collection, the first author met with the coding team to explain the expectations and process. During analysis, researchers were open to difficult questions regarding data collection, analysis, and interpretation to avoid potential bias. All five members of the research team share the belief that holistic interventions are both helpful and needed in schools and can be integrated into a comprehensive school counseling program to improve the overall wellness of students.
In alignment with a phenomenological design, we collected data during 10 semistructured interviews conducted and recorded either in person or over the phone and lasting an average of 60-75 min, until saturation was met (Creswell, 2013a). The study authors drafted the interview questions, which we piloted prior to the study with two school counselors who practice yoga but did not meet inclusion criteria for participation in the study. The pilot participants provided feedback, and the authors refined and finalized the interview questions. In alignment with exploratory phenomenological designs, questions were open-ended to provide each participant with the opportunity to elaborate and include additional information not outlined in the original question (Creswell, 2013a; Hays & Singh, 2011). For instance, we asked participants to describe their personal and professional experiences with yoga, how they integrate yoga into their school counseling program, barriers and supports of yoga integration in their school, and specific stories regarding the perceived impact that yoga has had in their schools. To protect the identity of the participants, we assigned each individual a pseudonym that was used during the interview, transcription, coding, and data analysis process. Participants were first asked to describe their definition of yoga and share their personal experiences with the practice. The interviewer explored the factors that led each participant to bring yoga into their school and the specific type of yoga curriculum (if any) they used. Participants were asked to define a comprehensive school counseling program and discuss how they aligned yoga within their school counseling program. We then asked participants to describe any barriers to implementing yoga into their comprehensive school counseling programs, including myths associated with yoga and logistical barriers such as time and space. Next, participants described their perception of the impact of yoga on their students and within their school community, and how their experience integrating yoga in their school had impacted them personally. All participants were provided with the opportunity to share any additional information they felt was important to the study. Finally, although interviews were the primary method of data collection for this study, we asked participants to e-mail any additional artifacts pertaining to their yoga program. We received numerous documents and examined them for data triangulation purposes. For instance, participants provided outcome data related to their yoga goal; evaluation surveys for students, parents, and teachers; and permission slips for student participation in yoga.
We analyzed data for this study using a linear, hierarchical analysis approach, a strategy developed by Creswell (2013b) to allow for flexibility during the coding process. The six steps in this approach are (a) organize and prepare all data for analysis (transcription, memos, etc.), (b) thoroughly read and analyze all texts, (c) code the data, (d) generate a description of the categories or themes for analysis, (e) advance the description and themes using a narrative passage to convey findings, including subthemes and interconnecting themes, and (f) interpret the meaning of the themes/descriptions.
Using the aforementioned steps (Creswell, 2013b), we transcribed verbatim each recorded interview and analyzed it using Atlas.ti (https://atlasti.com/). Next, we allowed themes to emerge based on each participants' description of their lived experience integrating yoga into their comprehensive school counseling program. We categorized data into broad, general themes, then further reduced these into final themes and sub-themes. During this phase, we used the coding team, and transcripts were independently reviewed to enhance reliability.
The research team followed numerous strategies to establish trustworthiness of the data. To establish credibility, we employed prolonged engagement with each participant to build trust and rapport and to clarify any preconceptions or misconceptions from the researcher (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). We triangulated data by cross-verifying all sources. We collected numerous artifacts from participants and anecdotal and outcome data from parents, students, and teachers. These artifacts offered further insight into the participants' roles in yoga integration and allowed for a thicker, richer narrative during data analysis.
We employed member checking throughout the interview and data analysis process, including numerous probes during the interviews to ensure clarity. We also sent back transcriptions to each interviewee to ensure accuracy (Hays & Singh, 2011). A few participants deleted vocal fillers (e.g., um, hmm, just, like), but otherwise each agreed that the interview was an accurate reflection of their thoughts, feelings, and experiences as they related to the study. To increase transferability, we ensured that the context of the research was thorough and provided exact demographic data (including school counseling program goal linked to yoga) of each participant. During this study, we enhanced dependability by maintaining an audit trail, developing memos, and continually tracking all emerging themes and subthemes. Finally, we achieved confirmability through consultation with the coding team, maintenance of an audit trail, analytic memos, and bracketing to protect against researcher biases.
The researchers determined five themes and corresponding subthemes that describe the lived experiences of implementing yoga into a comprehensive school counseling program. All participants in this study expressed clear intentions regarding how yoga is integrated into their school counseling programs. They discussed logistics regarding implementation such as time, space, barriers, and supports and shared perceived professional and personal impacts of yoga implementation. The five themes were (a) intentionality, (b) yoga integration, (c) logistics of yoga integration, (d) perception of the impact of yoga, and (c) perceived impact of yoga integration on school counselor.
The first major theme participants described was the intentional integration of yoga within the context of their comprehensive school counseling program. Three subthemes emerged within this category: (a) personal experiences with yoga impacts professional intentions, (b) offering yoga in school gives students a lifelong skill, and (c) yoga intentionally tied with comprehensive school counseling goal.
Personal experiences with yoga impacts professional intentions. When asked to describe their personal experiences with yoga, participants addressed both the physical and mental aspects of the practice. For example, they used words like "union," "calmness," "awareness," "balance," "focus," "stillness," "equilibrium," and "mind-body connection" to describe yoga. Christine described the feeling of connectedness she felt through yoga: "With yoga, I found my tribe; I found my home." Elizabeth reflected upon the connection between her personal and professional interest in yoga: "When I think about my personal practice ... I can't help but make the connection of how similar the concepts taught by my teacher are to the needs of my students at school." Participants noted the busyness of our society and conceptualized yoga as an "off-the-mat" learning experience they wanted to share with students. As Anna simply stated, "Yoga is finding stillness with all of the crazy things that are going on around us."
Offering yoga in school gives students a lifelong skill. The notion of taking "yoga off the mat" was a recurring theme described within numerous contexts throughout this study. Participants explained this concept as taking skills acquired in yoga (presence, emotional regulation, and calmness) and applying them throughout everyday life. Joy is employed in an urban, Title I school with a high percentage of families who struggle with poverty and incarceration. She stated:
After my first year, I realized that kids could calm down with me standing right there but they didn't have their own strategies for when I wasn't in the room or in the hallway or on the playground, so I wanted to give them something they could remember and internalize and use on their own.
Anna described her school as "overcrowded" and "chaotic." She noted, "It's crazy ... they get yelled at when they're out of their seat ... so, being able to find quiet is huge." Numerous participants discussed self-regulation strategies as the specific tool for students to utilize in any setting. Molly pointed out: "If you think about yoga being a tool that doesn't require any extra equipment, that kids have the tools they need to use anyway-their breath and their body--it's really a cost-effective ideal tool to teach all kids to regulate themselves."
Yoga intentionally tied with comprehensive school counseling goal. Each participant was intentional about the integration of yoga into their school counseling program. Many reported using yoga as part of a positive behavior intervention and support (PBIS) program or tied yoga to a Response to Intervention (RTI) Tier 1, 2, or 3 goal. Some participants also discussed the intentionality behind using yoga in their goals through needs assessments and linking their goals to local, state, or national school counseling standards.
Kristin began to incorporate yoga in her school due to student requests: "I would do needs assessments with my third, fourth, and fifth graders; they would always say they wanted to do yoga." Elizabeth noticed an academic and social/emotional need with a group of second-grade boys: "I looked at these boy's report card grades, and many of them had lots of twos on their report card in these different areas and also with self-control." Due to an increase in anxiety and other mental health concerns, Dottie specifically tied yoga into an RTI goal: "I'm using yoga as a Tier 2 intervention ... I've actually geared [yoga] toward girls with anxiety; that seems to be a big thing lately with our sixth-grade girls."
The second major theme participants described was the actual integration of yoga into their school counseling programs. Three subthemes emerged within this category (a) organic commonalities between school counseling and yoga, (b) yoga delivery, and (c) similarities between yoga philosophies and the ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors standards (ASCA, 2014).
Organic commonalities between school counseling and yoga. Each participant provided numerous examples and descriptions of the natural fit between yoga and the desired outcomes of school counseling services. Kristin connected her beliefs about yoga and school counseling: "We have to teach kids how to cope with difficult emotions and yoga is a really natural way to do that." Anna noted, "There is an overlap between counseling interventions and things you do in yoga.... It helps with the different topics that we focus on as school counselors." Elizabeth believes that school counselors are ideal for delivering yoga to students. She stated:
I feel like school counselors are the perfect avenue to share this practice because we get to work with the whole school. We work with every single classroom, particularly in an elementary school, where you can teach these strategies early on.... Integrating yoga into your counseling program benefits everyone ... and it aligns with our national standards so it's perfect.
Methods of yoga delivery. The participants delivered yoga to their students in a variety of creative ways. Some designed unique ways to deliver yoga to the entire school, while others used individual, group, and classroom time to teach specific skills and techniques. A few participants collaborated with community members to bring yoga to their school. For example, when Elizabeth was developing her boys' yoga group, she recognized most of the students were from homes without a father figure, so she invited a male yoga teacher to help teach her yoga classes. Missy also collaborated with yoga instructors from a local studio to provide yoga instruction to her students.
Joy teaches the Second Step curriculum weekly to all of her students. She described the high level of poverty and parental incarceration in her area and noted that her students "have so much thrown at them" before they get to school. Because of this, she integrates Yoga 4 Classrooms for 10-15 min before each core curriculum classroom lesson. She said, "Yoga really helps with the management because the kids are a little bit more focused and centered."
Overlap of yoga philosophies and ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors. The ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors (ASCA, 2014) outline the knowledge, skills, and attitudes students need to achieve success in three core areas: academic, college/career, and social/emotional. The desired outcomes of these concepts have considerable overlap with yoga. Elizabeth provided a concrete example of this concept:
The first class we talked about building character and respect, and we came up with warriors for self-control ... and so we had all these different examples of warriors, positive warriors.... Each card had a character trait on the back.... We've talked about how yoga is all about balance, we have to balance everything out.... So that's just an example of how I wove the character traits and being respectful in school, an ASCA standard, to a physical yoga practice--like standing in eagle pose and balancing and breathing and staying in control of yourself.
Anna wove the yoga and school counseling standards into leadership opportunities: "If a group is having trouble working together, I break them up into groups and assign partner yoga poses, then they come up and show the rest of the class. So, they're practicing leadership skills, social skills, teamwork, etc."
Logistics of Yoga Integration
The third major theme described by participants was the logistics of yoga integration. Three subthemes emerged within this category: (a) accessibility, (b) challenging yoga myths and stereotypes, and (c) program supports.
Accessibility of yoga. Accessibility of yoga took many forms for the participants of this study. Space and time were barriers to accessibility, yet all participants found ways to maneuver around such challenges through collaboration, advocacy, and leadership. Moreover, yoga, in its truest form, can be done with little to no cost, does not require a significant amount of space, and anyone--any "body"--can practice yoga.
Dottie found space and time to be issues at her school but rotated her groups each week so they only missed one class over an 8-week time frame. She stated, "We just got creative and we used classrooms that were empty that period." Most of the participants discussed, in detail, the fact that yoga can be done by anyone. Molly believes yoga is an accessible and affordable intervention for school counselors. She noted that school counselors can easily deliver yoga to students:
I feel like sometimes we just overcomplicate things and counselors are always looking for good programs or ways to teach kids these things that yoga teaches, and it's very simple and cost-effective. Like I said, all you need is your body and your breath and you have all the tools you need within you, all ready to regulate yourself. If we could keep it that simple and teach kids how to use their internal resources--that's what yoga is.
Missy concurred: "Yoga is free, it's easy, it's for all fitness levels, all shapes and sizes, and it works." Christine also teaches yoga at a local alternative high school and found that the students "need the kind of soothing practice yoga brings." She reiterated that anyone can benefit from the practice of yoga and that yoga is accessible to anyone who is open to the concept.
Managing yoga myths and stereotypes. When asked about myths associated with yoga, every participant mentioned religion. Christine explained, "There are myths that yoga is a religion, or it is only for bendy people, or it can only be done in a yoga studio by someone named Rainbow Sparkles." Dottie said, "I was nervous thinking people like my principal wouldn't allow it or people think meditation is religious, but everyone was OK with it." Joy mentioned similar concerns: "I did worry there was going to be a lot of 'that's religion, that's hippie stuff,' but it hasn't happened and fingers crossed it stays the same." Elizabeth elaborated: "[Yoga is] a way of living, and a really nice, peaceful, community-oriented way of helping others."
Although the myth of yoga being a religion was on participants' radar, it had not affected any of their programs or implementation.
Program supports. Participants concurred that collaboration and support from administration and other educational stakeholders were vital to the success of their yoga programs. Dottie noted that her principal had been on board from the beginning: "I'm not the sixth-grade counselor this year, and he [principal] came to me like 'we've got to do a sixth-grade group this year' ... and now he's pushing it, so it's good." Anna perceived that her principal understands how meaningful yoga is to her and her students and has been "very on-board" with her program.
Participants further noted that teacher buy-in is vital to program success. As Anna stated, "Teacher buy-in is important, because if there's no teachers willing to bring their classes, then I'm not doing it." Mallory found that her teachers opened up after seeing the impact yoga can have on students: "When they see kids ... how it [yoga] brings them back to where they need to be and helps them so much, they buy into it, because they see the results." Similarly, when school counselors delivered yoga in classroom settings, participants noted that many teachers also began to make yoga a part of their learning environment.
Perception of Yoga Impact
The fourth major theme participants described was their perception of how yoga has affected their school and school community. Three subthemes emerged within this category: (a) overall impact on school, (b) impact on students, and (c) examples of students taking yoga "off the mat."
Overall impact on school. Participants reported that integration of yoga in the school has yielded an overwhelmingly positive response from students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Dottie explained: "The parents love it; the kids want to get into the yoga group; they're constantly down here asking 'How can I get into the yoga group?'" Joy found that teachers in her building also benefited from the integration of yoga in the classrooms: "The teachers also love yoga.... It's just been a really wonderful thing and the teachers will say to the kids 'I use this stuff all the time.'" Elizabeth offered a similar sentiment: "The parents have all said good things, and that they're happy. The teachers joke and say 'I think we all need a morning yoga class.'" The teachers at Christine's school say teaching is more enjoyable after the students engage in yoga: "The children are just in a place where they can receive information in another way. They're calmer, they're more focused, and they're ready to learn. They're just more student-ish."
Impact on students. In addition to the positive sentiments from the school community, the participants provided numerous examples of the impact of yoga on their students.
Christine stated: "As a result of this yoga program, our students are definitely more aware of their thoughts and feelings." Kristin administered a perception assessment to her students and reported, "They really loved that it was something new and different, rather than being told to take deep breaths and count to 10 and all the typical things that we teach them." Similarly, Dottie asked her students, "What did you get out of this?" She shared a few of her student's responses:
My favorite of all time is "I learned to love myself." I'll never forget that.... They also said feeling a sense of belonging, feeling safe, building rapport, building relationships, and a lot of friendships came out from girls that would never be friends--you know what I mean? We had girls in popular groups and not-so-popular groups, and all of them were a family when we were together, which is really cool.
Students taking yoga "off the mat". Participants provided numerous examples of students utilizing the tools and skills they learned in yoga into a variety of settings. Kristin said, "When this one student sees me, he stops, points at me, and goes into warrior." Elizabeth stated, "I've had many students come to me and say, 'I was really upset and I practiced my belly breathing.'" Joy reflected on the difficult aspects of school counseling and how yoga helps students when she is not around, "I often have kids say, 'But I try to bunny breathe' or 'I did a balloon breath' so I know that they are internalizing it to some level."
Perceived Impact of Yoga Integration on School Counselor
The final theme described by participants was the personal and professional impact of integrating yoga into their school counseling programs. Two subthemes emerged within this category: (a) yoga as a self-care strategy and (b) yoga is a meaningful aspect of school counselor role.
Yoga as a self-care strategy. Participants of this study provided thoughtful insights regarding yoga as a strategy for self-care, in both the personal and professional realms. Kristin stated, "For me, yoga reinforces the need for self-care ... I mean, I'm doing it with my kids so I need to practice what I preach, you know." With high caseloads and unpredictability in the school counseling profession, participants further discussed the importance of self-care. Joy noted, "Yoga is a movement break for kids and it calms me down." Elizabeth added, "My personal yoga practice is so therapeutic for me when it comes to self-care, taking care of myself, and not getting burnt out by situations that happen in school."
Yoga is a meaningful aspect of school counselor role. Finally, all participants emphasized how integrating yoga into their school counseling program has added meaning and value to their position. Mallory reflected:
It's rejuvenated me because I mean, to tell you the truth, when I'm doing it with them, I'm enjoying myself as well. It helps me. So, I'm not just there to watch them, I'm really participating. Which I think is a big piece of it; I'm never just telling them about it, we do it together.
Regarding the unpredictability and sometimes chaotic aspect of the school counselor's role, Joy remarked:
I think it's helped me. You know it's a stressful job.... Last Wednesday I was 20 minutes late to a class because I was doing a safety risk assessment for suicide, so I'm super-escalated inside; I'm not showing it, but I'm out of breath and I'm 20 minutes late. Yoga gives me a chance to start my lesson with a quiet voice and be really calm and really centered myself, and then my lesson runs smoother.
The practice of yoga is regarded as a continual self-study, with the aim of developing the mind, body, and spirit (Douglass, 2007; Ehud et al., 2010; Williamson, 2012). Likewise, school counselors are charged with developing a comprehensive school counseling program that meets the social/emotional, career, and academic needs of all students (ASCA, 2012). Results of the current study indicate a considerable amount of connectedness between the ASCA National Model themes and yoga. During the interviews, participants described multiple accounts of advocacy, collaboration, and leadership while integrating yoga into their school counseling programs, resulting in overall perceived systemic change. Moreover, the descriptions of yoga integration organically aligned with the framework of the ASCA National Model. For example, teaching yoga to students could be considered a delivery service, and aligning yoga to a school counseling goal is a component of the foundation of the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2012).
Participants in this study expressed clear intentions regarding the integration of yoga into their comprehensive school counseling programs. According to Hyde (2012), "Those who take up the mission of bringing yoga into public schools will typically have a personal transformational back story" (p. 121). This sentiment encapsulates the intentions of participants--each revealed deeply transformative personal experiences with yoga that influenced their decisions to share the practice with students. Participants' experiences mirrored Hyde's (2012) conviction that educators who have a transformational experience with yoga feel a sense of gratitude toward the practice and feel "compelled" (p. 121) to share it with others.
Research supports the delivery of yoga in school settings to mitigate common stressors by teaching students fundamental self-regulation skills needed for lifelong success (Butzer et al., 2016; Butzer et al., 2015; Harper, 2010; Toscano & Clemente, 2008; Williamson, 2012). Findings from this study further support this concept: Participants highlighted self-regulation as both an attainable and desired outcome of teaching yoga to students. Participants further shared their desire to teach yoga to students who may otherwise not have access to the practice.
Consistent with the framework of the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2012), most participants used data from students' needs assessments to determine the type of activities/ interventions to deliver. Based on the results, participants felt yoga would be a creative, innovative strategy to meet student needs and connect the practice to their school counseling program goals. Many participants aligned their yoga-related goal with school, district/division, and state standards. The ASCA National Model provides school counselors with a framework to connect program goals and objectives to state accountability standards, and participants seemed eager to show others where and how yoga fit.
Coinciding with best practices, alignment of yoga with district/division and state standards further substantiated yoga as a direct or indirect intervention with students. This finding is consistent with Gysbers and Henderson's (2012) instruction that school counselors should choose desired skills and learning outcomes for students and use them as a platform to connect preventative school counseling curricula with academic curricula.
The aims of yoga and school counseling share numerous commonalities. For instance, the practice of yoga involves discipline, focus, concentration, and compassion toward self and others (Flynn, 2013). School counselors are positioned to help students with skills to achieve personal and academic success (ASCA, 2012). Participants articulated these similarities and found yoga to be a creative way to teach students to cope with and manage a variety of social, emotional, and academic pressures. Butzer and colleagues (2016) argued that educators have a fortuitous opportunity to provide a "large scale intervention" (p. 14) using yoga in schools due to the positive outcomes, the alignment of yoga practices with social/emotional learning standards, and mandatory school attendance in the United States.
Case-Smith, Shupe Sines, and Klatt (2010) pointed out that more schools are using preventative measures like yoga to increase students' social/emotional and academic success. Participants in the current study described yoga as a natural way to teach skills they are already expected to convey to students. For example, a school counselor teaching a core curriculum classroom lesson on stress management prior to students taking a standardized test would not be unusual. Yoga is merely an alternative way to teach students stress management. Participants noted that they often have better student outcomes using yoga because they felt students were more engaged with activities involving movement.
Although participants discussed several barriers to yoga implementation (e.g., time, space, staff buy-in), each participant was able to mitigate logistical challenges. Furthermore, all participants described the myth of yoga being a religious practice, yet they did not report challenges regarding this notion. These findings are inconsistent with the literature, which suggests religion myths, lack of support, and logistics often interfere with successful yoga integration in schools. Participants in this study likely were able to seamlessly implement yoga in their schools due to supportive administration and community buy-in.
All research designs present methodological limitations. In phenomenological research, the researcher's perspective guides the interpretation of knowledge (Dukes, 1984), meaning that researcher bias is unavoidable. Cognizant or not, the researcher always brings values, beliefs, and philosophical assumptions to their research (Creswell, 2013a). To account for potential biases, we bracketed our personal experiences through the use of reflective journaling and peer debriefing.
Although the sample size was appropriate for the research design, the experiences of participants in this study may not reflect those of other school counselors who integrate yoga into their school counseling programs. The sample also lacked racial, gender, geographical, and ethnic diversity; all participants were White women working in urban or suburban elementary or middle schools. However, the socioeconomic status of the participants' schools was diverse, with 50% of the school counselors employed in a Title I school.
Finally, although the interview protocol was the same for all participants, the context of the interviews posed a limitation to data analysis and interpretation. Three interviews were conducted in person and seven were conducted by phone. The in-person interviews afforded researchers the opportunity to meet the participant, interact in the school environment, and view additional sources of data.
The findings of this study have several implications for school counselors and counselor educators. Current literature suggests a dire need for evidence-based, cost-effective wellness programs, such as yoga, implemented during the school day (Serwacki & Cook-Cottone, 2012). Coincidently, a comprehensive school counseling program is designed to deliver such programs to promote overall student success (ASCA, 2012). The themes explicated from the data reveal that, when delivered with intent, yoga is a viable intervention that can be integrated within a comprehensive school counseling program.
First, as indicated in this study, the goals of yoga and school counseling share numerous commonalities. Participants conveyed that yoga can be taught to students by anyone. To facilitate student learning in this area, we recommend that school counselors who teach or wish to teach yoga to students receive specific professional development from a credentialed provider. Results of this study indicate that a thorough understanding of the basic principles of yoga helps school counselors convey this to students and deliver the lifelong skills yoga is designed to teach.
Next, this study offers suggestive evidence that program buy-in from educational stakeholders, namely parents, teachers, administrators, and students, is integral to the success of yoga integration. Due to the possible confusion and controversy regarding the myth of yoga as a religion, we suggest that school counselors first take proactive measures to build rapport with students, parents, teachers, and administrators prior to implementing yoga. School counselors in the developmental steps of yoga integration should appropriately convey the goals and purposes of the program to educational stakeholders to garner support.
Finally, aligning yoga with a comprehensive school counseling goal and having a clear evaluative plan to determine the overall impact and effectiveness of yoga integration is important for school counselors. Both the literature and results of this study provide evidence that students are more likely to benefit from school counseling interventions when they are part of a fully implemented school counseling program (Gysbers, 2012). We further recommend that school counselors who tie yoga to a specific school counseling goal do so with intent and provide a clear rationale for yoga integration as it relates to the overall goal.
The results of this study also yielded several implications for counselor educators. A major aspect of this study was examining the incorporation of yoga into a comprehensive school counseling program. When asked to define a comprehensive program, each participant's definition varied significantly. Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP, 2016) standards require school counselors in training to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to develop, implement, and evaluate a comprehensive school counseling program. We recommend that counselor educators teach according to school counseling standards set forth by ASCA (2012) and CACREP (2016) to continually move the school counseling profession toward standardization.
Counselor educators can support the yoga in schools movement by teaching school counseling students the facets of implementing such programs within a comprehensive school counseling program. Not all components of a comprehensive school counseling program should be entirely devoted to improving academic achievement (Brown & Trusty, 2005). As highlighted in this study, the practice of yoga can yield numerous social/emotional benefits that may improve academic achievement.
Finally, although this topic did not emerge as a theme or subtheme, 5 of 10 participants were employed at Title I schools. These participants noted the impact of poverty on their students and described feeling grateful to provide them with the "gift" of yoga. What emerged during data analysis was the concept of yoga accessibility and the belief that yoga could be done anywhere, by anyone. Yoga outside of a school setting is often expensive and not highly accessible, further justifying the need for implementation in schools. Both CACREP (2016) and ASCA (2012) suggest that school counselors use interventions and strategies that promote equity and equality. We recommend that counselor educators teach school counselors in training about alternative interventions to holistically support all students, both within and outside of the academic setting. Further, we recommend that counselor educators continually teach the importance of social justice advocacy by providing school counselors in training with the tools necessary to build an accessible, equitable, and comprehensive school counseling program.
Implications for Future Research
Due to the paucity of research in this area, the specific findings of this study evoked several recommendations for future research. We recommend that future research explore this content area using a variety of study designs and analytic approaches. One area worthy of further investigation is the notion of students taking yoga "off the mat." This concept emerged as a theme in this study and appears to be another area lacking research as it relates to students. Research by Berger, Silver, and Stein (2009) and Case-Smith et al. (2010) acknowledge that yoga can mitigate the negative effects of significant life stressors that students often face. Future studies exploring this concept could yield a deeper understanding of the true impact of providing yoga in a school setting.
Although research continues to emerge regarding yoga in schools and studies of school-based yoga show numerous benefits, methodological limitations and inconsistencies leave many questions to be answered. For example, many studies lack randomization, effect size reporting, and detail regarding the yoga intervention. Furthermore, small sample sizes prevent researchers from providing a generalizable conclusion or sound recommendation for the implementation of yoga in schools. Most research supports the yoga in schools movement, but the empirical evidence regarding the instruction and fidelity of the intervention is questionable. This does not negate the importance and value of qualitative research; however, buy-in from schools and school districts often require sound empirical evidence supporting program implementation. Research replication is vital to improve reliability and provide empirical support of the original study. We recommend that future studies add detail and rigor to research designs, so studies can be replicated to increase reliability and generalizability. Future research can use both the results of this study and research recommendations to serve as a foundation for building a solid base of research regarding the school counselor's role in yoga integration.
Finally, this area of study offers many opportunities for collaboration between counselor educators and school counseling practitioners. Such partnerships are beneficial to counselor educators, helping them remain connected to the current roles and functions of school counselors, and beneficial to school counselors by strengthening practitioner-based research. The intersection between yoga and school counseling offers many rich avenues of study that would benefit from the collaborative efforts of scholars and practitioners. We suggest that future research include collaborative partnerships to advance research in both realms of study.
This study provided new insight into the experiences of school counselors who integrate yoga into a comprehensive school counseling program, an area not formally addressed in past literature. Data suggest that yoga is a viable and valuable tool to include in a comprehensive school counseling program. Moreover, as the yoga in schools movement continues to grow, school counselors should be regarded as essential stakeholders in the process. Results from this study provide a solid foundation for future research involving school counselors, comprehensive programming, and yoga.
Appendix Participant School Pseudonym School Information Setting Title I Missy Public middle school Suburban No (6-8) Kristin Public elementary Suburban Yes school (K-5) Joy Public elementary Urban Yes school (K-5) Molly Private K-12 girls' Urban No school Dottie Public middle school Suburban No (6-8) Anna Public elementary Urban Yes school (K-5) Mallory Public elementary Suburban Yes school (K-5) Blair Public elementary Urban Yes school (1-6) Elizabeth Public elementary Suburban No school (K-6) Christine Private elementary Suburban No school (Pre-K-5) Years Implementing Participant Yoga at Current Years Practicing Pseudonym School Yoga Missy 1 4-7 Kristin 2 None Joy 1 4-7 Molly 2 8-11 Dottie 3 8-11 Anna 2 8-11 Mallory 3 20+ Blair 2 4-7 Elizabeth 2 4-7 Christine 4 8-11 Participant Pseudonym Yoga Certification(s) Missy None Kristin None Joy None Molly Registered yoga teacher (RYT), 200, registered children's yoga teacher (RCYT) Dottie None Anna RYT 500 Mallory Certificate in yoga therapy for autism and special needs Blair RYT 200, RCYT Elizabeth RYT 200 Christine RYT 200, Childlight Yoga Training
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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Julia V. Taylor, PhD, is an assistant professor of counselor education with the Curry School of Education at the University
of Virginia in Charlottesville, Charlottesville, VA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Donna M. Gibson, PhD, is a department chair and professor in counseling and special education at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Richmond, VA.
Abigail H. Conley, PhD, is an associate professor in counseling and special education, also at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.
Julia V. Taylor , Donna M. Gibson , and Abigail H. Conley 
 University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA
 Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA
Julia V. Taylor, PhD, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400267, Charlottesville, VA 22903, USA.
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|Author:||Taylor, Julia V.; Gibson, Donna M.; Conley, Abigail H.|
|Publication:||Professional School Counseling|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2018|
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