It was an honour to be invited to spend time in the presence of a very small and select committee consisting of the father of Yoga research in schools, Prof. Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD from Harvard Medical School as well as his esteemed colleagues; Dr Shirley Telles from the Patanjali Institute in India, Professor Usha Nayar from Tata Insitute in Bombay, Professor Ingunn Hagen and Associate Professor Gunvor from NTNU, Trondheim Psychology Dept., Antoinetta and her husband Eros from Bologna University as well as research students in the field of yoga and psychology.

It was a small gathering with the intention of finding ways to collaborate in the field of research in yoga in secondary schools.  I became aware that we were very lucky in the UK, reaching far more young people in and out of school, than in the other countries represented. Sport England, through its ten years of funding, year on year, has given us a fabulous base from which to convince professionals of the power of yoga in schools. The UK are very much in the forefront for yoga in school, without a shadow of a doubt, and TeenYoga are at the forefront of this movement.

Sat Bir presented from his 30 years of research, pointing out some specific facts that both shocked and confirmed our determination to support the well being of young people across the world.

Here are some:

  • there is a 80% chance that a young person will have a diagnosed mental health condition between the ages of 9 and 19
  • 80% of young people sleep less than 6 hours per night (recommended 8-10 hours)
  • lack of sleep leads directly to
    • down regulation of immune system
    • raised inflammation
    • cognitive impairment
    • memory impairment
    • stunted growth
    • diabetes
    • obesity
    • among others….
  • Dr Khalsa also showed that yoga has the benefits, which many of us know, of
    • encouraging positive sleep patterns
    • increased meta-cognitition
    • boosts immune system
    • reducing inflammation
    • increasing cognitition
    • improve memory

Dr Shirley Telles from India shared her perspective, noticing a great divide between issues facing the impoverished and the more affluent adolescents in India. It was also interesting to look at the problematic preconceptions of yoga in India, and especially among the less well educated who saw it as some religious practise. We spoke a little about the problematic preconceptions in other countries and found that the main issue in Norway, our host country was that of yoga being in some way “mystical” – many suggested we might like to call it something else to get people to give it a go, like a Mind-Body practise or similar. In Italy, there was only a little resistance, but in general was very happily accepted. IN general yoga was offered for free. In the US there was a conversation about a few court cases that had been raised against yoga in schools and that there is a need maybe to avoid use of sanskrit in classrooms etc. WE spoke briefly about the Get Ready to Learn programme in New York and how that used yoga techniques without using the word yoga. Antoinette and her husband felt very strongly that yoga should be presented as the majestic science it is.

There was a fruitful conversation about the importance of presenting yoga as a professional, complete and majestic technology. Yoga is a technology of wellbeing, as presented so well by Isha and Sadhguru in India and we need to be sure to present it as such.

Ingunn and Usha were very keen to bring Sat Bir’s dream in to reality, which is to run a longitudinal study on several schools in several continents, offering a similar programme and to look at outcomes of the students lives, five years down the line. We discussed the potential of raising funding from various sources to make this a reality.

The prevalence of yoga in schools in the UK seems to be second to none and with Eton College, Haberdashers Aske and Haberdashers Girls as well as Wellington now bringing yoga in as a whole school approach (teaching teachers as well as students), it was agreed that yoga in schools has surely reached a tremendous momentum.

Equally, as reported in the conference, the sheer amount of graduates taking the TeenYoga diploma has grown exponentially in the last 12 years of its existence.

There was also a question raised around standardisation of yoga in schools. Do schools need to know that the teachers all have a certain level of ability, knowledge and maybe how many hours of training, in order to be working with young people in school? How do we build our case for professionalism and accountability in schools, to be on a level with teachers (who all have PGCE or psychologists, who are all trained for 7 years) before working with young people?. Presently, the accredited and acclaimed TeenYoga certificate is what is being required by most schools and is enough, will that continue?

This is a conversation which we need to continue in discussion with schools as we move forward in order to present an organised and professional image to the general public. This is one of the topics we will cover in our conference, open to the public in July in London -Instill. For more information on this, please see www.teenyogafoundation.com