September 2019

Ten Steps to Integrate Yoga into Your Comprehensive School Counseling Program

By Julia V. Taylor, Ph.D.
In schools, mind-body awareness programs such as yoga have gained traction as more scholarly research shows favorable student outcomes. Recent studies suggest that yoga improves students’ focus, fosters resilience, teaches critical self-regulation skills and has the ability to transform school climate (Butzer, Bury, Telles, & Khalsa, 2016; Mendelson et al., 2013). Comprehensive school counseling programs provide school counselors with the opportunity to implement research- and evidence-based interventions addressing student need. A well-designed comprehensive school counseling program ensures that school counselors work collaboratively to meet the needs of all students, including delivery of individual and small-group counseling and school counseling classroom lessons. Yoga is a creative activity to deliver to students and can often complement student outcome goals related to attendance, behavior, and/or academic achievement. Below are 10simple steps to integrate yoga into a comprehensive school counseling program.
  1. Collect data. To determine your direction for the implementation of yoga into your program, start by analyzing your data – student needs assessments; achievement, attendance or discipline data; counseling referrals, etc. Did your needs assessment reveal that students are struggling with stress and anxiety? Do student referrals to in-school suspension point to a lack of self-regulation skills? Has your department noticed an increase of student self-referrals for mental health concerns? In which areas could yoga integration potentially improve student outcomes?
  2. Gather support. Successful schoolwide programs typically have buy-in and support from educational stakeholders. Once you know your data points, discuss your plans with administrators and any faculty or staff who may be included.
  3. Find a yoga curriculum that fits your needs. If you do not have experience teaching or practicing yoga, there are plenty of curricula designed for beginners with highly detailed, student-friendly descriptions of each pose and/or sequence. My favorites are Yoga 4 Classrooms, Yoga Ed. and Yoga Calm.
  4. Make a plan. You can deliver yoga at school in a plethora of ways, from brief mindful moments to a yearlong yoga curriculum. The curricula mentioned above are school-friendly and adaptable to all ages and ability levels, or you can get creative and design your own.
  5. Be creative. Here are a few creative ways school counselors have infused yoga into their school counseling programs:
  • Yoga pose of the week: Using the Yoga 4 Classrooms cards, an elementary school counselor created “Wellness Wednesdays” and demonstrated a weekly yoga pose throughout the year on the morning media announcements. The school counselor gathered teacher buy-in by giving a brief presentation during a faculty meeting, and teachers practiced each pose with students throughout the week.
  • Warriors for Self-control small group: Another elementary school counselor noticed an increase in referrals from males in the third grade and decided to teach self-regulation skills in a small group format using yoga. By the conclusion of the small group, referrals had decreased and academic achievement had improved.
  • After-school yoga club: A middle school counselor partnered with a local yoga studio and had a registered yoga teacher (RYT) deliver weekly yoga lessons to any student who wanted to participate. The school counselor also personally invited students who could benefit from the practice and followed up to monitor progress.
  • Peace corner: As a tool to encourage self-regulation practices, an elementary school counselor worked with teachers to help design classroom peace corners, where students could take self-directed breaks to practice yoga and/or mindfulness.
  • Stress-less week: Through a schoolwide needs assessment, a high school counselor discovered many students reported feeling a high level of stress and anxiety coinciding with exam week. The school counseling department created a “Stress-less” week, where they integrated mindfulness practices and yoga breaks to reach all students during this stressful time.
  1. Be intentional. Be intentional about linking yoga to your comprehensive school counseling program. For instance, if you have a SMART goal related to reducing the number of discipline referrals in the sixth grade, use yoga as a complementary activity with students who may benefit from additional coping skills, self-control and self-awareness practices. Furthermore, many ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors standards can be linked to a yoga curriculum or practice.
  2. Help students take yoga “off the mat.” After delivering a yoga curriculum/activity, invite students to discuss how they can incorporate the practice outside of school. Yoga can offer lifelong skills to students; take advantage of this opportunity by helping them use the practice elsewhere.
  3. Track and analyze your data. Using templates from the fourth edition of the ASCA National Model (2019), track and analyze participation, ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors and outcome data related to yoga and your comprehensive school counseling program goals.
  4. Communicate results with stakeholders. Once you have analyzed your data, remove confidential student information and use data visualization tools to present your program’s results to educational stakeholders. I use Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, Canva and Tableau to design infographics, charts, flyers, etc. If you are not familiar with any of these tools, watch a quick YouTube video and practice; you will get the hang of it in no time.
  5. Enjoy the process. Yoga should relieve stress, not cause it. School counselors who deliver yoga to students report it being a deeply meaningful aspect of their job – and  a vital self-care strategy (Taylor, Gibson, & Conley, 2019). Enjoy the myriad benefits yoga has to offer with your students; it could be a game-changer for all.
Julia V. Taylor, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of counselor education at the University of Virginia and a frequent presenter about body image, mental health, relational aggression and girls' leadership development. She spent almost a decade as middle and high school counselor and has written several books and curricula related to school counseling. Follow her on Twitter, @juliavtaylor, or contact her via http://www.juliavtaylor.com/