Kids Yoga Research Study on Use of Yoga Tools in Classrooms

Over the last decade, all school based kids yoga research has shown that students of all ages benefit from participating in yoga and mindfulness techniques in the classroom.  Below is a study that was funded by a 3 year PEP Grant awarded to Yoga Ed while I was Program Director there. It looks at the impact of the Yoga Tools for Teachers  program as implemented by teachers who received their training for free via the grant.  In exchange for their professional development, they agreed to implement the Yoga Tools Program they had just learned for 4 weeks and complete observations.  Also included were student self-evaluations as well as parent observations.  This and many other kids yoga research articles share similar results, which are that kids feel better about themselves, more in control, and more peaceful, less reactive.  Enjoy reading …

Benefits of Incorporating Yoga into Classroom Teaching: Assessment of the Effects of “Yoga Tools for Teachers”

 David Chen & Linda Pauwels

Abstract

Kids Yoga ResearchWith rising health issues among children and adolescents such as obesity and diabetes, getting physically active becomes ever more important. Yoga as an ancient system of exercise has a great potential to teach children to be mindful and improve their total well-being. The purpose of this study was to examine the perceived benefits of incorporating yoga-based activities into classroom teaching as a result of implementing the Yoga Ed. Tools for Teachers program. One hundred and three physical education and classroom teachers were trained by certified Yoga Ed instructors for two days. They implemented the yoga-based activities 5-15 minutes daily for a year. At the completion of this period, questionnaires from 550 parents and 661 students were submitted and analyzed. Triangulation of data provided solid evidence suggesting that yoga-based activities produced perceived benefits in such areas of mental well-being, social well-being, physical well-being, and daily behaviors. The data analyses also revealed barriers teachers encountered during implementation and what they did to overcome these barriers. The results were discussed with regard to their future implications for yoga programs appropriate for schools in US.

 Perceived Benefits of Incorporating Yoga into Classroom Teaching: Assessment of the Effects of

“Yoga Tools for Teachers”

The current health status of U.S. school children causes great concerns for educators and parents. Physical inactivity and unhealthy diets are blamed for well over 300,000 American deaths each year (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). The proportion of young people who are overweight or obese has more than doubled in the last 25 years, with even higher rates among sub-populations of economically disadvantaged children (Krebs, Jacobson, & American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, 2003; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). Another factor underlying the health issues among US children is the level of stress.  Childhood and adolescence pose more and more stressors in today’s society when the demands of a situation exceed an individual’s ability to cope with and resolve the problem, resulting in emotional, behavioral, and cognitive disturbances that can adversely affect a person’s physical and mental well-being (McCance, Forshee & Shelby, 2006). Under stress many young people resort to unhealthy ways of coping such as over-eating and use of drugs, resulting in health crises (Kottler & Chen, 2011). 

School-based physical activity (and dietary education) programs have the  potential to positively influence childhood health indicators if evidence-based physical activity programs are provided that focus on improving the quality of physical education (Faucette et al., 2002; McKenzie, Sallis, Faucette, Roby, & Kolody, 1993; McKenzie, Sallis, Kolody, & Faucette, 1997; Perry et al., 1997; Sallis et al., 1997). In addition, physical education programs in schools have been one recommended setting to begin the early promotion of health and emphasize the importance of physical activity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996).

Yoga as an ancient system of exercise is being used more and more by people of all ages to promote overall health and fitness. There is also a progressive trend toward use of yoga as a mind-body complementary and alternative medicine intervention to improve specific physical and mental health conditions. Yoga has been recommended as a great supplement to current physical activities at schools because it emphasizes individual abilities rather than competition therefore making it attractive to all children, including those with physical limitations and lack of involvement in organized sports. It also has the potential to reduce obesity and other health issues. Since yoga is hailed as a mindfulness exercise, it enhances one’s self-awareness including breathing, posture, diet, and behaviors, it has the potential to influence the whole person. Research with adults and limited research on children has provided some evidence that yoga practice leads to improvements in one’s life in all the areas examined in the student questionnaire. Yoga practiced by adults reduces anxiety (Brown & Gerbarg, 2005), improves relaxation (Smith, Hancock, Blake-Mortimer, & Eckert , 2007; Waelde, Thompson, & Gallagher-Thompson, 2004). A recent review of research on the effects of yoga practice on children produced moderate evidence suggesting benefits for cardiovascular health, physical functioning, and behavior (see Galantino et al., 2008 for a review). Yoga research on children also points to the improved attention and emotional control (Jensen & Kenny, 2004).

With the tightening of school budgets, it is very attractive for classroom teachers to deliver physical activity curriculum. Research shows that this is a good solution (Sherman et al., 2010). It is natural for classroom teachers to feel intimidated by incorporating yoga into their curriculum, but given proper training it is very doable. There are literally thousands of poses from which to choose and many are ones that you might already be utilizing in your classes. It may also seem that yoga is simply ‘stretching’, but the variety and sequencing of postures coupled with the practice of deep breathing creates an extremely diverse and effective method of enhancing a range of health related fitness skills.

The purpose of this study was to examine the perceived benefits of incorporating yoga-based activities into classroom teaching as a result of implementing the Yoga ED Tools for Teachers program. A Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant was awarded to The Accelerated School (TAS). The grant funded Yoga Ed ™ trainings for classroom teachers, physical education teachers and yoga instructors.  The Tools for Teachers is a very important component of Yoga Ed trainings that was offered to both physical education and classroom teachers with the expectation that they would incorporate a 5-15 minute yoga-based activities into their curriculum and serve as a model for fitness and health.

Method

Participants

Data from 102 teachers, 550 parents, and 661 students were processed and as many as 54 returned questionnaires were disqualified for their incompleteness or modifications.  All the participants agreed to participate in the study and received and returned a signed letter of informed consent/assent. Teachers were trained by certified yoga instructors from Yoga Ed funded by the PEP grant.  Students were from mid-to-low socioeconomic status public schools or a charter school in the western United States.

The Yoga Ed. Tools for Teachers Workshop

The Tools for Teachers is a very important component of Yoga Ed. It is offered to P. E. and non-P.E. teachers from other schools. Teachers Yoga Ed. offers a 2-day workshop in which teachers learn yoga-based activities designed for the classroom from K-12. Under the certified Yoga Ed. Instructors, classroom and P.E. teachers learn such important techniques of breathing, postures, yoga-based games, and visualization. They also learn how to teach their students to relax, become more responsible, and become physical active through teaching and personal modeling.  When teachers finish their 2-day training, they sign a contract to deliver simple 5-15 minutes yoga-based exercises on a daily basis. This program does not require any previous yoga experience. Implementation of the yoga-based activities in schools requires no extra space or equipment. In addition to yoga-based activities, effective behavior and class management techniques are also taught during the workshop.

Development of Written Surveys

The authors developed four written questionnaires to survey teachers, students, and their parents. This triangulation of data was to insure that the perceptions of three perspectives could verify one another. The student surveys were designed to determine the students’ perceptions of the benefits they had received from participation in the yoga-based activities organized by their teachers who had been trained by certified Yoga-Ed instructors. These benefits included: (1) mental well-being (e.g., relaxation, concentration, calmness, self-confidence, joy and happiness), (2) social well-being (e.g., ability to get along with others, listening skills), (3) physical well-being (postures, sleep, fatigue, eating and diet), and (4) positive behaviors (e.g., responsibility, behavioral changes) (see Table 1 for details). These items of assessment are consistent with the areas of study that have dealt with yoga.

 

Table 1.  Student Self Survey Questions

1 = Strongly disagree. 2 = Disagree. 3 = Neutral. 4 = Agree. 5 = Strongly agree.

Comparing myself to how I was before my classroom teacher began using the Yoga tools in the classroom:,

I have become more relaxed in daily living.

I have had fewer or no behavioral problems at school.

I have become more responsible in managing my daily tasks.

I am more focused on school work

I can sleep better.

I am more energetic.

I am more aware of what I eat.

I have gained more knowledge about nutrition.

I start to eat more healthy foods.

I am getting along better with my family and friends.

I am a better listener today.

I can calm down more quickly once I feel upset.

I know more about my body.

I have better body postures.

I feel more confident in myself.

I am happier and laugh more often.

I enjoy school work and sports more than before.

18. I like myself more.

The parent questionnaire was based on the same 18 items from the student survey questionnaire, because the researchers wanted to make sure that parents who are more observant of any possible changes in their children make similar observations of the changes in their children.

The teacher survey questionnaire consisted of eight Likert-scale questions and two open-ended questions. The eight Likert-scale questions represented the same four areas of benefits practice of yoga was supposed to bestow upon the students with the first question addressing the quality of training they had received to prepare for the implementation of the yoga-based activities. The two open-ended questions were designed to assess the barriers they had encountered during the implementation and what they had done to overcome these barriers. This information was valuable to the teachers who will carry on the same tasks in the future (see Table 2).

 

Table 2.  Post-Implementation Teacher Survey (Yoga Ed Tools Program)

1 = Strongly disagree. 2 = Disagree. 3 = Agree. 4 = Strongly agree.

Please put a number in the designated space to indicate your level of agreement the following statements.

The training I received at Yoga Ed/The Accelerated School has proven sufficient for me to implement the yoga program.

The yoga program I implemented has improved the cognitive functioning and hence school performance of the recipients.

The yoga program I implemented has enabled my students to focus better on important tasks at hand.

The yoga program I implemented has improved the social skills of my students.

The yoga program I implemented has improved the emotional maturity of my students.

The yoga program I implemented has improved the self-esteem of my students.

The yoga program I implemented has contributed to a reduction of behavioral problems among my students.

The yoga program I implemented has enabled my students to become better in caring for themselves.

Please answer the following questions carefully.

What kinds of barriers did you encounter as you implemented the yoga program?

What did you do when you encountered these barriers?

 

Procedures

Testing materials and procedures were approved by the institutional review board and the local school district boards.  The teachers were trained between April 2007 and August 2008 by certified Yoga Ed instructors. They signed a contract to implement the yoga-based activities as part of their curriculum. At the end of one-year implementation, they agreed to send their surveys back to the TAS. The students and their parents agreed to complete the questionnaires back to the TAS.

Data Analysis

Data analyses for the Likert-scale questions were analyzed using SPSS Version 19. We ran basic descriptive statistics and analyses of variance (ANOVAs) to assess the perceived benefits of yoga activities. Open-ended questions were analyzed by using the strategies described by Patton (2005) in analysis of interview data. Primarily, these strategies allowed themes to emerge from the answers given by 102 teachers.  content communicated by the eight classroom teachers. Each audio-taped interview was transcribed verbatim and then analyzed by each of the three researchers. Prior to analysis, an electronic copy of each interview transcription was sent to the appropriate participant. Each participant was provided with the opportunity to send feedback related to the accuracy of the transcription. In all eight cases, either minor or no corrections were made.

Each researcher performed this first stage of analysis by separately reading each raw data quotation and recording a phrase (or phrases) that captured its meaning and would henceforth function as a meaning unit. These assigned phrases would later serve as codes to help organize the data into like groupings or themes. The researchers then met to discuss and agree on the raw data quotations and congruent meaning units to include in further analyses. Discussion among the researchers continued until a consensus was formed regarding relevant raw data quotations and subsequent phrasing for each meaning unit. For example, identical and similarly phrased meaning units were kept for further analysis (researchers decided on the best descriptor when the terminology, not the meaning, was in question). Meaning unit discrepancies were resolved through discourse among the researchers, discussing relevant meaning units in the context of the interview question.

Related meaning units were then combined into themes. Each theme was labeled to describe its underlying meaning. In all cases, themes were made up of two or more meaning units. The themes were then further analyzed to determine their fit within the framework of the study. At every point, the researchers analyzed the data independently prior to coming together to discuss findings and make decisions related to the groupings and further stages of analysis.

After the researchers agreed on the meaning unit groupings (i.e., themes), a peer debrief (qualitative methodology expert familiar with study content and goals) provided additional trustworthiness to the analysis. Specifically, the peer debrief analyzed the data looking for discrepancies in meaning units and theme construction. When asked for, the peer debrief was provided with the raw data (i.e., actual quotations) to help support the decisions made by the researchers regarding meaning unit phrasing, and theme composition. In several instances, the peer debrief called into question the composition of a theme (e.g., logical inclusion of a meaning unit in a theme) and discussion ensued between the peer debrief and the research team until a consensus was reached.

Results

All the survey data were analyzed with SPSS Version 19. The researchers first generated descriptive statistics. A score of 3 is interpreted as a neutral response. Scores of 4 and 5 represent positive responses, while 1 and 2 negative responses. The mean score of 3.5 and above indicates a positive effect. We also ran analyses variance (ANOVAs) with the intention of identifying gender effects, age effects, an ethnicity effects.

Student Survey Results

The results of the student surveys showed that yoga practice had produced positive changes in all the areas surveyed, since their average scores were all above the 3.5. When we examined the negative and positive responses, the overwhelming responses were positive. The most notable changes students had identified in the 18-question survey included the area of mental well-being and physical well-being (see Tables 3 and 4).

Table 3. Results from Student Surveys Based on 18 Questions

QuestionsTotal ResponsesPositive ResponsesNeutral ResponsesNegative Responses
Relaxation66044015367
Behaviors66040916487
Responsibility65943715270
Concentration65244913370
Better Sleep64543611495
Less Fatigue64845713160
Eating Awareness65442015282
Knowledge in Nutrition65641914988
Eating Better65442614880
Friends and Relatives65546913749
Better Listening65044714756
Calmness66043912992
Knowledge of Human Body65046313057
Posture63245811856
Confidence58844810040
More Joy5854449249
Enthusiasm5844209569
Self-esteem57543510040

Table 4. Descriptive Statistics for Student Surveys Yoga Ed Tools Based on 18 Questions)

N

Mean

SD

Relaxation

660

3.87

1.118

Behaviors

660

3.77

1.141

Responsibility

659

3.87

1.081

Concentration

652

3.92

1.073

Better Sleep

645

3.90

1.252

Less Fatigue

648

4.00

1.092

Eating Awareness

654

3.80

1.161

Knowledge in Nutrition

656

3.80

1.162

Eating Better

654

3.86

1.125

Friends and Relatives

655

4.02

1.076

Better Listening

650

3.94

1.056

Calmness

660

3.85

1.179

Knowledge of Human Body

650

4.02

1.093

Posture

632

4.01

1.112

Confidence

588

4.17

1.052

More Joy

585

4.18

1.058

Enthusiasm

584

4.04

1.198

Self-esteem

575

4.21

1.091

 

The student survey data indicated that yoga practice yielded positive changes in the domains of mental, emotional, physical, and interpersonal growth. The most notable positive changes students had identified in themselves as a result of yoga practice include joy (mean = 4.18), self-esteem (mean = 4.21), enthusiasm (mean = 4.04), confidence (mean = 4.17), knowledge of human body (mean= 4.02), posture (mean = 4.01), energy (mean = 4.0), interpersonal relationships (mean = 4.02), sleep (mean = 3.90), and concentration (mean = 3.92).

Parent Survey Results

Table 5. Results from Parent Surveys Based on 18 Questions

Questions

Total Responses

Positive Responses

Neutral Responses

Negative Responses

Relaxation

545

340

159

46

Behaviors

538

328

163

47

Responsibility

548

343

165

40

Concentration

547

382

132

33

Better Sleep

548

358

153

37

Less Fatigue

541

323

164

54

Eating Awareness

545

336

145

64

Knowledge in Nutrition

547

326

158

63

Eating Better

546

305

175

66

Friends and Relatives

543

350

156

37

Better Listening

547

353

138

56

Calmness

547

315

173

59

Knowledge of Human Body

488

325

141

22

Posture

487

318

137

32

Confidence

491

371

94

26

More Joy

494

372

96

26

Enthusiasm

495

370

92

33

Self-esteem

496

373

93

30

 

Table 6. Descriptive Statistics for Parent Surveys

N

Mean

SD

Relaxation

546

3.72

.951

Behaviors

540

3.75

1.016

Responsibility

550

3.77

.932

Concentration

548

3.91

.924

Better Sleep

549

3.89

.976

Less Fatigue

543

3.71

1.006

Eating Awareness

547

3.70

1.011

Knowledge in Nutrition

549

3.70

1.038

Eating Better

548

3.63

1.055

Friends and Relatives

546

3.83

.961

Better Listening

548

3.74

.992

Calmness

548

3.63

.986

Knowledge of Human Body

491

3.84

.892

Posture

490

3.79

.905

Confidence

492

4.04

.919

More Joy

495

4.04

.917

Enthusiasm

495

4.04

.934

Self-esteem

496

4.01

.902

 

Parent survey data demonstrated that, in general, yoga practice led to positive perceived changes in their students in all the surveyed domains of mental, emotional, physical and interpersonal growth.  However, the most notable areas of improvement include joy (mean = 4.04), self-esteem (mean = 4.04), enthusiasm (mean = 4.04), confidence (mean = 4.04), concentration (mean = 3.91), and sleep (mean = 3.89).  It appears that parent perceptions of the benefit yoga practice created were less positive that those by students themselves.

Teacher Survey Results

There were a total of 103 teachers who participated in the study. They received yoga training, delivered the instruction, and completed surveys. The majority of the teachers believed that the implementation of the yoga program had delivered the predicted benefits for their students (see Tables 7 and 8).

Table 7.  Results from Teachers’ Post-Implementation Surveys Based on 8 Questions

Questions

Total Responses

Positive Responses

Neutral Responses

Negative Responses

Yoga-Ed Training

103

81

17

5

Cognitive Benefit

96

63

29

4

Attentional Focus

103

77

23

3

Social Skills

97

69

21

7

Emotional Maturity

101

72

19

10

Self-Esteem

88

61

24

3

Behavioral Improvements

94

64

24

6

Self-Care

96

69

24

3

 

Table 8. Descriptive Statistics for Post-Implementation Teacher Surveys

Questions

N

Mean

SD

Yoga-Ed Training

103

4.17

.909

Cognitive Benefit

96

3.98

.951

Attentional Focus

102

4.17

.880

Social Skills

97

4.03

.984

Emotional Maturity

101

3.99

1.015

Self-Esteem

88

4.03

.928

Behavioral Improvements

94

3.99

.978

Self-Care

95

4.08

.883

Teacher surveys did not assess individual students’ improvement in emotional, mental and physical well-being, but provided their overall assessment of improvement in emotional, mental and physical well-being. It can be seen from Tables 7 and 8 that teachers believed that the yoga training they received was adequate for delivering yoga instruction (mean = 4.17), and the implementation of yoga instruction in their classrooms was conducive in producing positive changes students’ concentration (4.17), social skills (mean = 4.03), emotional maturity (mean = 4.03), self-esteem (4.03),  and self-care (mean = 4.08).

Table  9.  Barriers Encountered During the Implementation of the Yoga Program

Emergent Themes

Number of Times Mentioned

Lack of Space

21

Lack of Time (Curriculum related)

20

Student Resistance/Peer Issues

15

Parental Resistance/Misunderstandings

14

Lack of Resources

11

Curriculum Issues

6

Resistance from administration

5

Lack of training/knowledge

5

 

Teacher survey data also solicited answers from teachers about the barriers they encountered during implementation. The most commonly cited barriers include space restrictions, student resistance, time constraints, parental resistance/misunderstandings, and lack of support from peer teachers (see Table 9).

Table 10. Steps Taken to Remove or Reduce the Impact of Implementation Barriers

Emergent Themes

Number of Times Mentioned

Integrate into current curriculum

10

Approach parents

7

Started with breathing

6

Starting with small groups/easy exercises

5

Used artistic innovations

5

Self- help/take extra classes

4

Better communication with students

4

Persistence/Motivation

4

Do it outside first

3

Seek yoga support group

3

Seek administrative help

2

 

Most of the participants provided steps they had taken to reduce the impact of or remove the barriers while implementing the programs. The most outstanding themes that emerged from their answers include creative adaptation, self-help/training, improving communication with parents and students, seeking help from administration, starting with something easy and manageable (see Table 10).

  Discussion

The current study assessed the perceived benefits of participating in yoga-based activities incorporated into classroom teaching as a result of implementing the Yoga ED Toolsfor Teachers program. The data of the perceived benefits were obtained from the teachers who delivered yoga instruction, the parents whose children were involved in the intervention program, and the students who participated in the Yoga program. The results of this study showed that practicing yoga has been viewed as instrumental to enhancing mental focus, reducing negative behaviors, increasing physical vigor, improving awareness and practice of eating, enhancing communication with family and friends, and enhancing emotional resilience and joy.

Data triangulation involving students, parents, and teachers provide extra guarantee that the assessed effects are verifiable and reliable. The survey data from students, parents, teachers all showed that yoga practice may have facilitated development of concentration and attention in a school setting. These data are consistent with previous studies that found benefits of yoga practice with children with attention problems (e.g, Abadi et al., 2008; Harrison et al., 2004; Peck et al., 2005). Even though we did not collect data of student academic achievement in this study, perceived benefits in concentration and attentional focus should contribute to academic success.

The results from this study have clearly indicated that yoga practice improved emotional health by improving self-confidence, the level of joy, and self-esteem. These emotional indicators suggest that students who practice yoga may feel less stress and more resilient. This finding also confirms the previous studies suggesting the benefits of yoga in reducing anxiety and enhancing positive affect (e.g., Gloeckner & Stück, 2005; Platania-Solazzo et al., 1992). Considering the stress children and adolescents are faced with at school on a daily basis (Kottler & Chen, 2011), yoga can serve as a great remedy for reducing negative affect and distress.

The current study also suggests that yoga practice has contributed to the improved physical well-being. Data from three sources have supported the claim that yoga practice has facilitated knowledge of human body, eating awareness, and body posture.

The meaning of the study is wide spread. There are three implications. First, teachers with minimum training in yoga can produce large effects on students. Second, students who get support from parents can produce positive changes in their lives. Third, it is important to have a structure in which students are exposed to healthy way of living.

This study has also been confirmed by many previous studies in such areas as stress management, well-being, and attentional control.

This study is meaningful in light of growing health issues such as diabetes, heart disease. Prevention should start as early as possible in elementary school.

Despite the significance of the current study, its results are obviously restricted by its limitations. First, it was not a controlled study. The way each teacher delivered yoga instruction was not controlled for and varied, though they are used the same manual. Second, the reliability and validity of surveys used for assessing the effects of Yoga instruction had not been established prior to testing. Finally, it was assumed that the parents and students who were involved in the study had been given equivalent instructions as to how to fill out the surveys and this assumption was too difficult to be confirmed. However, this present study is the first study that contained a large population that involved triangulation of data and involved predominantly Hispanic and African populations with limited access to yoga.  Future researchers should use a randomized and controlled design if possible. More information should be gathered about the qualifications of teachers and more hard data should be collected to correlate yoga practice with GPA, health indices and so on.

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