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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 53  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 46-58

Integrating yoga with education in the modern schooling system: A theoretical model based on ancient knowledge and modern research

Department of Yoga and Humanities, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission15-Mar-2021
Date of Decision06-May-2021
Date of Acceptance19-May-2021
Date of Web Publication21-Jul-2021

Correspondence Address:
Atul Sinha
03 Regent Place, 28/2 Thubrahalli, Whitefield Road, Bengaluru - 560 066, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ym.ym_14_21

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The aim of this paper is to make a case for integrating yoga with education in the modern schooling system and to propose a theoretical model based on a synthesis of ancient knowledge and modern research. The paper is based on literature review of child and adolescent mental health, case for character education, case for school-based yoga intervention, ancient texts of yoga, and modern research on benefit outcomes of yoga. A comprehensive understanding of yogic principles from ancient texts and outcome benefits from modern research has gone into the development of a theoretical model of yoga in education. There is a large body of research evidence, suggesting that yoga in education can aid the development of physiological well-being, cognitive efficacy, emotional control, and desirable personality traits. Ancient literature on yoga provides its underlying principles, sequence of practices, and their interconnectedness. The theoretical model is based on the eight limbs of yoga derived from ancient literature. Modern research provides the evidence of benefits. The benefits show that yoga may aid in the development of the whole child, character building, social-emotional learning training, and developing the power of concentration. These findings make a compelling case for the inclusion of yoga in the school curricula. Most researches into school-based yoga have varying degrees of rigor in methodology and are based on short periods of interventions. If yoga in education is widely implemented, it will provide an opportunity for more methodologically rigorous research as well as longitudinal studies. This will help to both improve the school-based yoga programs and build more solid evidence of its efficacy. This paper is unique because it juxtaposes the process-based ancient knowledge and outcome-based modern research. This allows for a more comprehensive theoretical model of yoga in education.

Keywords: Character building, education, meditation, personality development, school, social-emotional learning, yoga

How to cite this article:
Sinha A, Kumari S. Integrating yoga with education in the modern schooling system: A theoretical model based on ancient knowledge and modern research. Yoga Mimamsa 2021;53:46-58

How to cite this URL:
Sinha A, Kumari S. Integrating yoga with education in the modern schooling system: A theoretical model based on ancient knowledge and modern research. Yoga Mimamsa [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Nov 28];53:46-58. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Two themes in children's education have received a great deal of attention in the last few decades. One concerns the stresses children face that lead to a high prevalence of child and adolescent mental health (CAMH) issues. The other is a disturbing trend of dysfunctional youth behavior. The purpose of this paper is to explore why yoga can be considered a good remedial intervention and to propose a theoretical model for integrating yoga with education. The model has been designed for application in the modern schooling system that currently does not include yoga in its curriculum or does so suboptimally.

A pilot study in India that was a part of the National Mental Health Survey (2016) reported a 7.3% prevalence of mental disorders among children aged 13–17 years. Urban children had a higher prevalence at 13.5% compared to rural children at 6.9%. There was no difference across genders (Gururaj et al., 2016). Region-specific studies with more robust sample sizes reported an even higher prevalence of CAMH. Studies conducted in Bangalore, Haryana, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu recorded more alarming incidence of CAMH at 12.5%, 20.7%, 33.3%, and 33.7%, respectively (Srinath et al., 2005; Malhotra, & Patra, 2014; Deivasigamani, 1990). In the USA, 7.5% of adolescents met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders-IV criteria for one or more mental health conditions (Kessler & Wang, 2008; Roberts, Roberts, & Chan, 2009); the UNICEF estimated that globally, mental health problems afflicted 10%–20% of the world's child and adolescent population of over 2.2 billion (Kieling et al., 2011; UNICEF, 2008). Another dimension of CAMH lay in the fact that a majority of adult mental health issues traced their onset to childhood and adolescence. Thus, if CAMH issues are addressed early, we could potentially create a mentally healthier society (Kim-Cohen et al., 2003; Kessler et al., 2007). Looking at the situation, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) advocated a comprehensive social-emotional learning (SEL) training from preschool to high school (Butzer, Bury, Telles, & Khalsa, 2016).

Coming to the theme of dysfunctional youth behavior, Lickona (1996) listed ten disturbing trends in the behavior of youth. They were (i) rising violence, (ii) increased dishonesty, (iii) greater disrespect for elders and authority figures, (iv) increased peer cruelty, (v) rise in hate crimes, (vi) deterioration of language, (vii) decline in work ethic, (viii) increased selfishness, (ix) surge in self-destructive behavior, and (x) growing ethical illiteracy. This, according to him, underscored the need to emphasize character education. Pigozzi (2006) provided the UNESCO perspective when she said that education is expected to make a broader contribution to sustainable human development, peace and security, universal values, informed decision-making, and the quality of life at individual, family, societal, and global levels. She stated that the relationship between learner and teacher, individualized learning, and involvement of parents and community were critical components of the process of learning.

Thinkers steeped in Indian traditions too have eloquently emphasized character building as an essential feature of education. Vivekananda said that “education is the manifestation of perfection already in man. The duty of the teacher is to remove all obstructions from the way.” He went on to say that “education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested, all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas” (Vivekananda, 2011). He saw the essence of education as developing concentration of the mind and not as a mere collection of facts (Vivekananda, 2006). The independent thinking philosopher, Krishnamurti (1998) stated that the purpose of education was twofold. One was to equip children with technological proficiency so that they could function efficiently in the modern world. The second was to develop the inward state to establish goodness and relate rightly with people, things, and ideas. He went further and made a bold statement:

Do you know the world is mad…with fighting, quarrelling, bullying, tearing into each other?.. Is this what education is meant for, that you should willingly or unwillingly fit into this?.. But if you begin to think, to observe… to learn for yourself by watching, listening… you will grow up to be a different human being, one who cares, who has affection, who loves people. (p 8-9).

The ancient Indian school system went by the name gurukula (from guru or teacher and kula or family). The system exists even today but is not mainstream. Its aims and methods uncannily mirror the suggestions of present-day proponents of character education. The gurukula education system was based on the ideal of life being spiritualistic. Therefore, the goal of education was to lay the foundation for self-realization. The main objectives of education were development of self-control, character, and personality. Spiritual development was given equal weightage as intellectual development. The main expedients of education were an inspiring and highly moral teacher–student relationship; strong emphasis on moral education; simple life marked by discipline and self-restraint; a curriculum that gave equal weightage to acquisition of knowledge and character development (Rather, 2015; Selvamani, 2019). It is evident that the lifestyle followed adhered to the yama (restraints) and niyama (observances) of the ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga of Patanjali (Mookerji, 1989). The expedients of yoga were also practiced (Satyananda, 1990). Experimental research has been conducted on gurukula schools, and the results have been encouraging. Rangan, Nagendra, & Bhat (2008) measured planning skills of matched samples of students drawn from a gurukula and a modern school. They found a significant difference in scores in favor of gurukula students. Another study by the same authors found that gurukula students performed better than modern school students on tests for verbal and visual memory (Rangan, Nagendra, & Bhat, 2009).

It is our contention that the purpose of equipping children in the modern schooling system with the power of concentration, social-emotional skills, and good character may be well served by meaningfully integrating yoga in the school curriculum. The purpose of this paper is to argue the case for making yoga an important element in children's education and to propose a theoretical model of yoga in education that can be incorporated in the modern schooling system's curriculum. The primary uniqueness of this paper rests in the fact that the model is derived from the juxtaposition of ancient knowledge of yoga and modern research evidence. While literature on ancient knowledge is copious and on modern research is growing, the two have seldom been brought together. The current paper attempts the conjunction. This juxtaposition serves three purposes:

  1. Modern research is outcome based and focuses on the benefits of yoga. Ancient knowledge is process based and focuses on the underlying principles, logical sequence of practices, and their interconnection. The combination of process and outcome makes redundant the need to hypothesize the underlying mechanisms that make yoga effective. This is extensively covered in the ancient texts. The juxtaposition thus helps create a more comprehensive model showing the principles, sequence, interconnections between practices, and evidence-based benefits
  2. Depending solely on modern research sometimes leads to erroneous separation of yoga's component practices. For example, contemplative practices such as mindfulness and meditation are often seen as separate from yoga. Ancient knowledge helps understand that steadying the body, regulating the emotions, and calming the mind prepare the ground for contemplative practice. Thus, meditation is the culmination of yoga and not separate from it
  3. The ancient yogic concepts themselves help explain the underlying causes of psychosocial problems and offer solutions too. The problem lies in the intrinsic restless nature of the human mind. Yoga provides the solution of calming the mind.

We begin by analyzing current literature on the case for school-based yoga. This is followed by understanding the concepts, process, and practice of yoga from ancient literature. After this, the benefits claimed by ancient literature are juxtaposed with empirical evidence from modern research. With this comprehensive background, the theoretical model of yoga in education is developed. Finally, translating the model into practice is discussed.

  Current Literature on Case for School-Based Yoga Top

Butzer et al. (2016) proposed a theoretical model based on modern research that addressed concerns around stressors faced by young people. Their model therefore suggested that practicing yoga was an effective way to promote SEL. SEL involves acquisition and practice of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that enhance personal development, interpersonal skills, ethics, and productivity. The five key competencies sought to be developed include self-regulation of emotions, self-awareness of emotions and their impact on others, social awareness, which is the ability to appreciate perspectives of others, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. They state that existing research demonstrated the positive effects of school-based yoga but raised questions regarding the mechanisms underlying these effects. There was a need to understand why yoga was beneficial. They hypothesized that yoga facilitated the development of three key competencies: mind–body awareness, self-regulation, and physical fitness. Mind–body awareness enhanced mindfulness, attention, concentration, and self and social awareness. Self-regulation included emotional and stress regulation, resilience, equanimity and psychological self-efficacy. Physical fitness encompassed flexibility, strength, balance, respiratory function, and physical self-efficacy. These in turn had a positive downstream effect on behavior, mental state, health, and performance. They concluded that school-based yoga was a useful complement to existing SEL programs.

Waters, Barsky, Ridd, & Allen (2015) reviewed 15 studies on school meditation programs to create a school-based meditation model. They borrowed the definition of contemplative education (CE) from Roeser & Peck (2009), “A set of practices that may foster particular forms of awareness in students, forms conducive to the conscious motivation and regulation of learning, and also to freedom and transcendence in life more generally.” The steps in meditation are (i) directing focus to an “attentional anchor,” (ii) dispassionately observing internal and external distractions and disengaging from them, and (iii) focusing back from distractions to the attentional anchor. The analysis of the 15 studies showed that meditation impacted student well-being, social competence, and academic performance. Longer duration programs and more frequent practice were found to be more effective. Interestingly, interventions delivered by teachers were more effective compared to those delivered by external instructors. Their model hypothesized that meditation created brain changes that fostered two key abilities important for a student's schooling success: (1) cognitive functioning and (2) emotional regulation. These in turn had a positive effect on well-being, social competence, and academic performance. They stated that teaching in ways that developed these two functions had long-term benefits for students even beyond school life.

Hyde (2012) argued in favor of including yoga in the school curriculum on the basis that yoga could contribute positively to the development of the whole child. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's Commission defined the whole child as intellectually active, physically, verbally, socially, and academically competent; empathetic, kind, caring, and fair; creative and curious; disciplined, self-directed, and goal-oriented; free, critical thinker, confident and cared for, and valued. Yoga was seen as a gentle, noncompetitive self-practice that increased balance of mind and body. She argued that in the USA, the tendency to invent a practice was arguably more popular than adopting anything from India or the Far East. However, there was a strong evidence-based case for treating yoga as a therapeutic intervention without adopting any philosophical or spiritual aspect. Her main arguments in favor of including yoga in the school curriculum were:

  1. Most Western educators considered the role of education as being a way to material success and means of personal happiness. The knowledge of the self was missing which yoga could provide
  2. Learning about yoga could be a means of exploring another culture and be seen as an inclusive multicultural education
  3. Even the pockets of controversy over including yoga provided opportunities for critical and democratic conversations in a pluralistic society
  4. According to SEL standards, students should be able to evaluate how advocacy for the rights of others contributed to the common good. The outcomes of yoga were awareness and understanding of the feelings of others (emotional fitness), tolerance and respect (mental fitness), and understanding of one's impact and contributions (social fitness). These factors aided the evaluation and respect for the rights of others
  5. Yoga practice was transformative. Teacher self-care and student self-transformation were a distinct possibility with yoga. Yoga practice provided access to all domains of the work on self, recognized in transformative education, namely knowing the self, controlling the self, caring for the self, and recreating the self
  6. The advantages and benefits of yoga could be framed in the larger context of societal transformation. Self-change led to transformed interpersonal relationships. This in turn had the potential to create a critical mass of like-minded people, which ultimately could impact society at large.

Hagen & Nayer (2014) argued that there were four key factors that contributed to mental health challenges among children and adolescents. They were (i) globalization that had exposed the youth to multiple new demands, standards, and options; (ii) the pressure to succeed, driven by increased competition negatively impacted mental health; (iii) unwelcome distractions and attractions linked to new media technologies. At one level, technologies were valuable learning and communication resources. At another level, excessive time spent on media was taking away from physical and group activities and creating a host of mental problems such as dependency, obsessive–compulsive behavior, concentration, and attention disorders; And (iv) linked to overexposure to media was safety concerns such as cyberbullying, exposure to violence and sexually explicit material, and other inappropriate behaviors. In this scenario, the ability of yoga to calm the mind and increase overall well-being was driving its popularity the world over. Recent scientific research on yoga provided empirical evidence that it may contribute to physiological and mental health. Attention, self-esteem, empowerment, and self-regulation were enhanced. By enabling children to listen inward to their bodies, feelings, and ideas, yoga helped in developing self-awareness. This in turn helped children and adolescents develop their own unique personalities and achieve the balance between intrinsic strengths and societal expectations.

To summarize, the case for school-based yoga is built on empirical evidence of its effect on cognitive efficiency, emotional regulation, and physical fitness. These have a positive impact on physical health, psychosocial well-being, and behavior. There is even a suggestion that yoga may be self-transformative and a tool for inward listening. It is thus hypothesized that yoga can address modern youth problems. On a broader canvas, yoga may be a tool capable of moving education beyond a means for material success to develop the whole child. To explore the possibilities yoga's inclusion in the school curriculum presents, we argue that an in-depth understanding of the underlying principles, process, and practices is required. This is possible through the study of ancient texts of yoga. The next section discusses the basic principles of yoga and its practice as mentioned in ancient literature. In other words, the attempt is to understand yoga from the yogi's perspective.

  Understanding Yoga from Ancient Literature Top

Ancient texts reviewed

There exists a vast body of ancient literature on yoga. The focus of this paper is to understand those aspects that are relevant to build a case for the inclusion of yoga in the modern school curriculum. The specific texts have been selected for their capacity to inform us on the underlying principles of yoga, the conception of the human personality, the mechanism of mental operations, and the expedients of yoga. From this literature review, the underlying mechanisms that make yoga effective become clear. Further, the knowledge points to the causes of psychosocial problems and how the practice of yoga may help alleviate them. Importantly, the logic behind the steps of yoga practice helps in the development of the yoga model.

Patanjali Yoga Sutra is the defining text of Yoga philosophy. It provides deep insights into the science of yoga. Kothandaraman (2009) has painstakingly translated into English a commentary on this text by the 19th-century sage Sadasivendra Saraswati Avadhuta. The sage amplifies Patanjali with his own enlightened perspective and adds the quintessence of very ancient yoga. The commentary by Vivekananda (1986) is both succinct and caters to the sensibility of the modern scientific mind. In combination, the two texts span the traditional view and a modern perspective.

Patanjali Yoga Sutra expounds on the philosophy and steps of yoga but is silent on the actual practices. To understand the practices and their benefits, we have referred to Hatha Yoga Pardipika (Muktibodhananda, 2012), Gheranda Samhita (Niranjanananda, 2012), and Hatharatnavalli (Gharote et al., 2009). These texts are considered authoritative on yoga practices and their benefits at physical, mental, and psychic planes.

Taittiriya Upanishad (Chinmayananda, 2014) has delineated the five sheaths of human personality. Its linkage to yoga is strong since yoga works on the various levels of human personality. Bhagavad Gita (Chinmayananda, 1996) has been referred to understand the gunas or the three energies of sattva, rajas, and tamas and their transformation.


Most people practice yoga for its therapeutic benefits. There is no denying, however, that the goal of yoga is spiritual absorption (Kothandaraman, 2009). To achieve the goal of spiritual absorption, first, the body, mind, and emotions need to be stabilized, strengthened, calmed, and regulated (Kothandaraman, 2009; Vivekananda, 1986; Niranjanananda, 2012). This is what is of interest to us as far as including yoga in the school curriculum is concerned. To understand how yoga works, it is imperative to comprehend some underlying yogic principles. Specifically, the yogic conception of the mind complex, the human personality, the mental planes, and the balancing of left and right brain energies are important for our purpose.

Mind complex, cognition, and consciousness

Patanjali, the ancient sage of yoga, said that yoga is the restraint of mental operations (Kothandaraman, 2009, I.2, p. 40; Vivekananda, 1986, I.2, p. 200). In the yogic conception, the mind complex is composed of the sense organs, mind, intellect, and egoism. The sense organs bring external information to the mind by converting sense perceptions into signals. In the yogic conception, the mind and the intellect are separated. The mind is a pool of thoughts bereft of discriminatory power. It passes the signals sent by the senses to the intellect. The intellect has the power of discrimination and therefore of thoughtful decision-making. It reacts to the sense signal with a counter-thought wave. This is where the intelligence principle comes into play. The mind complex is made of insentient matter. The intelligence principle is the domain of the indwelling consciousness. The individual indwelling consciousness is drawn from the universal consciousness, just like the air in a room is drawn from the air in the atmosphere. Cognition occurs when this consciousness illuminates the thought wave. With cognition, a sense arises that “I am the cognizing agent.” This is called egoism. To recapitulate, the mind complex is composed of sense organs, mind, intellect, and egoism. Consciousness indwells but is independent of the mind complex. The constant interaction between the sense organs and external stimuli ensures a heavy traffic of thought waves in the mind complex. If the mind complex was to be likened to a lake, the indwelling consciousness is the bed of the lake. However, the constant waves of thought create ripples on the lake surface to obscure the view of the lake bed. By the practice of yoga, the mind is increasingly calmed till the mental operation is stilled. When that happens, there are no thought waves. The view of the indwelling consciousness becomes clear, and the yogi becomes spiritually absorbed in consciousness. Here, we find a logical explanation of why the mind is disturbed. When senses are not in control, the thought activity is rapid, leading to a distracted and disturbed mind. When the senses are controlled, the mind is calmed.

The five sheaths of human personality

The Taittiriya Upanishad (Chinmayananda, 2014, 2.ii.2, p. 160, 2.iii.1, p. 169, 2.iv.i, p. 176, 2.v.1, p. 186, 2.v.2, p. 189) explains that the human personality is composed of five sheaths. These are the physical body sheath, the prana or vital energy sheath, the mind sheath, the intellect sheath, and the bliss sheath [Figure 1]. The sheaths are located one within the other starting with the physical body. While the body is made of matter, the next sheath of prana is made of energy. Prana pervades the universe and is the power behind all motion and thought (Vivekananda, 1986, II.49, p. 262). It is ingested in the body through breath. Thus, in the practice of pranayama (breathing exercises), it is the prana that is manipulated, and the breath is merely its vehicle. In the body, prana flows through subtle channels called nadis and is concentrated in energy or psychic centers called chakras. The mind sheath is the open ground for thoughts. It is the seat of impulses, emotions, desires, and likes and dislikes. It does not have the discriminatory power to evaluate the consequences of pushing a thought into action. People in whom the mind sheath dominates tend to be impulsive and unable to regulate their emotions. The intellect sheath is governed by the power of discrimination. People in whom the intellect is strong are characterized by thoughtfulness. Their emotions and behavior are more controlled. The bliss sheath is the innermost. It is called bliss because in this sheath, there is awareness of neither the external world nor the internal world. Thus, there is no mental activity to disturb the peace. All joy experienced is sourced from this sheath. Here again, yoga provides an insight into the problem of the disturbed mind. When the mind dominates, unregulated emotions, impulsive behavior, and likes and dislikes govern actions. With the practice of yoga, the locus can shift to the discriminating intellect, resulting in thoughtful behavior.
Figure 1: Five sheaths of human personality

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Human personality is made of three energies

Human personality is composed of a combination of three energies. Purity, passion, and inertia are the gunas says the Bhagavad Gita (Chinmayananda, 1996, XIV.5, p. 952). The energies are called sattva (controlled illuminative energy), rajas (uncontrolled active energy), and tamas (uncontrolled inert energy) (Kothandaraman, 2009, I.1, p. 36-39). The mind is always in a dynamic equilibrium between these three response patterns. Sattva is characterized by purity, serenity, wisdom, bliss, moral courage, and other sublime qualities. The characteristics of rajas are egoism, activity, restlessness, greed for wealth, and power. Tamas is indicated by inertia, heedlessness, perversion in thought, and action. When rajas and tamas are dominant, mental distress, poor health, and dissipation of energy result. When sattva dominates, one is calm, controlled, gentle, sensitive to the good of others, vigorous, and blissful. The practice of yoga has been shown to increase sattva and reduce rajas and tamas (Patil & Nagendra, 2014). Once more, yoga points to the cause of the problem and shows the solution. Predominance of rajas and tamas may negatively impact psychological well-being, while increased sattva promotes psychological well-being (Patil, & Nagendra, 2014).

The five mental planes

The three energies of sattva, rajas, and tamas condition the mind. Depending on which energy is dominant, the mind operates in one of the five mental planes. Influenced by rajas the mind is in an active disturbed mode. It is characterized by infatuation, rage, attractions, and repulsions. At the other end, the mind influenced by tamas is in a state of inactive dullness. The third plane occurs when the mind influenced by rajas-tamas oscillates between the first two planes. The active disturbed plane, the inactive dull plane, and the oscillating plane are the ordinary states of mind. When sattva prevails, the mind is calmed, leading to one-pointed attention and control over emotions. The fifth plane is the meditative state (Kothandaraman, 2009, I.1. p. 36-39). In its articulation of the five states of mind, ancient knowledge provides the progression from disturbed state of mind to calm state of mind. The progression is achieved by transforming the three energies.

Balancing the left and right brain energies

The mode of perceiving, thinking, and behaving is in part governed by two aspects. Patanjali refers to them as the sun and the moon aspects (Kothandaraman, 2009, III.28-29, p. 163-165; Vivekananda, 1986, III.27-28, p. 279). Hatha Yoga refers to it as the ida and pingala. In Taoism, it is referred to as yin and yang (Muktibodhananda, 2012, IV.17, p. 491-492). In common parlance, the sun energy corresponds to the left brain and the moon energy to the right brain. It is also referred to as male energy and female energy. The sun energy is aggressive, active, logical, analytical, and argumentative. The moon energy is passive, receptive, synthetic, poetic, imaginative, and creative. In the ordinary state of mind, one or the other energy dominates. The practice of yoga enhances the relatively less active side to balance the sun and moon energies. This results in using more faculties of the brain in perception, thinking, and behavior.

Delving into the underlying yogic concepts helps understand that psychological, cognitive, and behavioral issues are caused by the intrinsic nature of the mind. Equally, the mind itself has the capacity to control its disturbed nature. When the senses and the undiscriminating mind are in charge, the results are scattered attention, unregulated emotions, and impulsive behavior. When the locus of control shifts to the discriminating intellect, the mind is calmed and made one-pointed, emotions are controlled, and behavior is made thoughtful. This can be achieved by calming the mind and senses, transforming the three energies, and balancing the left and right brain. We can see that the underlying mechanisms explaining why yoga works are exhaustively discussed in the ancient texts. This background knowledge will be helpful in understanding how the practices of yoga are systematically sequenced.

The practice of yoga

The ancient sage Patanjali conceived of the eight-limbed yoga (ashtanga yoga) comprising yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi (Kothandaraman, 2009, II.29, 30, 32, 46, 49, 54, III.1-4, p. 113-144; Vivekananda, 1986, II.29, 30, 32, 46, 49, 54, III.1-4, p. 260-271). The idea is to gain a modicum of proficiency in each stage before moving to the next. However, more mastery is gained by the interaction between the limbs. For instance, the practice of pranayama (breathing exercises) may improve proficiency in asana (physical postures) or the other way around. The first two limbs are yama and niyama or restraints and observances. The restraints are nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, continence, and nonpossessiveness. The observances are cleanliness of mind, body and surroundings, contentment, penance, self-study, and desireless work. These are the preparatory steps of yoga aimed at purification of the mind to prepare it for contemplative practice. It is emphasized that the restraints and observances are not to be achieved through forced denial. In fact, forced denial is seen as counterproductive since it brings the mind into conflict with desires, leading to a disturbed state of mind and even neurosis in extreme cases. The principle idea behind yama and niyama is to practice moderation in lifestyle and slowly develop an attitude of contentment, detachment, and self-discipline. This ensures that the practice of yoga is begun with a modicum of mental strength.

The third limb is asana or physical postures. The ordinary state of the body is to oscillate between restlessness and lethargy. Asanas are designed to make the body stable, steady, flexible, and healthy. The postures unblock nadis or energy channels and facilitate unhindered flow of prana. Certain postures form circuits to retain prana in the body. The exercises tone the musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and endocrine systems. By contraction and expansion, the functioning of the internal organs is enhanced (Kothandaraman, 2009, II.46, 47, p. 129-131; Vivekananda, 1986, II.46, 47, p. 268; Niranjanananda, 2012, II.3-45, p. 168-255; Muktibodhananda, 2012, I.17,19-54, p. 67-131; Gharota, Devnath, & Jha, 2009, III.5, p. 97).

Having unblocked energy channels and made the body stable, the fourth limb of pranayama or breathing exercises is undertaken. It is the practice of breath control involving inspiration and expiration of air and holding the breath in standstill mode. By its practice, the mind is calmed, and attentiveness enhanced. Pranayama activates the energy channels, increases pranic energy, and directs the flow of prana to the entire body. The breath between the left and right nostrils is harmonized, in turn balancing the left and right brain energies. The flow of prana is directed toward upper psychic centers. The lower psychic centers are said to represent the ego, instincts, greed, and ambition. The upper centers are said to represent love, compassion, acceptance, sensitivity, subtle perception, and spirituality. Here, we have a clue on how yoga works on character and personality. The practice exercises internal organs and purifies the blood through oxygenation (Kothandaraman, 2009, II.49-53, p. 131-136; Vivekananda, 1986, II.49-53, p. 267-268; Niranjanananda, 2012, V.47-98, p.412-452; Muktibodhananda, 2012, II.7-77, p.166-272; Gharota et al., 2009, p. XXIX; Vasu, 2012, III.26-31, p. 51-53).

With a steady body, increased pranic energy, and calmed mind, bringing the senses under control is the fifth limb called pratyahara. It is the process of controlling the mind through the medium of the senses. The purpose is to develop a level of control over the senses such that the movement of attention from the outside to the inside and back becomes seamless. The practices of asana and pranayama themselves lead to pratyahara naturally. Pratyahara can also be cultivated by the practice of relaxation techniques. The logic behind pratyahara is that the senses imitate the nature of the mind. If the mind is restless, the senses too are active. If the mind is calm, the senses are also calm. The seamless movement of consciousness from without to within prepares the practitioner for contemplative practices (Kothandaraman, 2009, II.54-55, p. 137-138; Vivekananda, 1986, II.54-55, p. 268-269; Niranjanananda, 2012, IV.1-7, p. 371-380).

The last three limbs are the three stages of meditation called dharana (one-pointed attention with effort), dhyana (effortless one-pointed attention), and samadhi (spiritual absorption). Dharana trains the mind to concentrate on one attentional anchor. All other objects and thoughts are disregarded, and the mind is consciously refocused on the single attentional anchor. Technically, in cognition, there is a play of three elements, one is the cognizing agent or subject represented by the indwelling consciousness, the second is the instrument of cognition that is the mind, and the third is the object of attention. In dharana, the focus is on the object of attention. Dharana can ripen into the next stage that is dhyana or effortless one-pointed attention. Here, the focus is on the uninterrupted flow of consciousness toward the object. The focus is on the flow of consciousness. The final state of meditation is samadhi. In this, the object and the mind are dropped, and all that remains is absorption in pure consciousness, the bed of the lake referred to earlier (Kothandaraman, 2009, III.1-11, p. 140-147; Vivekananda, 1986, III.1-11, p. 270-273). In contemplative practice, attention is trained to become one-pointed. The earlier limbs that steady the body, energize it with prana, calm the mind, and control the senses make the practice of one-pointed attention possible.

Having understood the underlying principles of yoga and the logic of its practice, in the next section, the benefit claims made by ancient texts and evidence from modern research are juxtaposed to get a clear understanding of the effects of yoga.

  Juxtaposing Benefits Claimed in Ancient Texts with Evidence from Modern Research Top

Physiological domain

According to ancient texts, the practice of yoga unblocks energy channels allowing for the free flow of prana and increase in pranic energy in the body. Asana and pranayama practices tone, the body, exercise internal organs, and oxygenate the lungs and blood. As a result, ancient texts claim that the normally restless or lethargic body is steadied, made flexible, fit, and strong. Musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, pulmonary, endocrinal, and digestive health are improved. Better metabolism removes dullness and invigorates the body.

Modern research has, over the years, provided evidence on the effects of yoga on physiological health of the pediatric population. Galantino, Galbavy, & Quinn (2008) analyzed 24 studies on physiological health benefits of yoga on children and adolescents. They found that yoga had a positive impact on reaction time, motor speed, musculoskeletal strength, and cardiopulmonary measures. Later studies have reinforced their findings. A randomized controlled Indian study conducted on schoolchildren found that integrated yoga practice improved limb movement speed, balance, trunk strength, and body mass index (Telles et al., 2013). A study by Purohit, Pradhan, & Nagendra (2016) showed improvement in balance, reaction time, flexibility, strength, and agility. Another randomized controlled Indian study with adolescents found that cardiovascular endurance and lung capacity improved with integrated yoga practice (Shivakumar, Suthakar, & Urs, 2016). Kumar (2011) found that the practice of Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) improved blood pressure, peak expiratory flow rate, forced vital capacity, and heart and respiratory rates in schoolchildren. Two American studies, one by Khalsa et al. (2012) and another by Felver et al. (2015), showed that yoga resulted in a significant reduction of fatigue and inertia.

The conclusion is that modern research has provided evidence to support many of the claims made in traditional texts. Flexibility and balance are improved. Fitness and strength are increased. Musculoskeletal health and neuromotor performance measured by strength, agility, motor speed, and reaction time are positively impacted. Cardiovascular and pulmonary health measured by heart endurance, lung capacity, heart, and respiratory rate showed an improvement with yoga. The reduction in fatigue and inertia, as well as heart and respiratory rates, points to improved metabolism and body invigoration. While there is little research on the effect of yoga on digestive health, diabetes, and endocrinal health in the pediatric population, there is evidence of improvements in all three areas in the adult population (Kavuri, Raghuram, Malamud, & Selvan, 2015; Nagarathna et al., 2019; Singh, Tekur, Nagaratna, & Nagendra, 2018; Anu, & Nathan, 2012; Mahowald, 2019; Singh, Singh, Dave, & Udainiya, 2011).

Cognitive domain

According to ancient texts, the practice of yoga increases pranic energy, channels the energy to the brain, balances the left and right brain, and calms the mind. Contemplative practices lead to one-pointed attention. The benefits claimed in the cognitive domain include removal of mental dullness, improved attention, and balancing of the left and right brain, all resulting in improved cognitive performance.

Modern research demonstrating the benefits of yoga on cognitive performance of children and adolescents has grown substantially in the last three decades. Zenner, Herrnleben-Kurz, & Walach (2014) analyzed 24 studies and concluded that mindfulness-based interventions enhanced cognitive performance. Serwacki & Cook-Cottone (2012) reviewed 12 studies of yoga in schools. The review concluded that yoga interventions had positive effects on cognitive efficiency and attentional control. Many Indian studies with children and adolescents found a correlation between yoga practice and cognitive performance. A study by Chaya, Nagendra, Selvam, Kurpad, & Srinivasan (2012) found that yoga impacted attention and concentration, spatial and verbal memory, and abstract thinking. A study by Manjunath & Telles (2004) too found that spatial memory improved with yoga. Sethi, Nagendra, & Ganpat (2013) reported that yoga improved attention. A study by Verma, Shete, & Singh Thakur (2014) concluded that yoga enhanced mental ability and memory. Studies in India and the USA have found that yoga had a positive impact on executive function (Telles, Singh, Bhardwaj, Kumar, & Balkrishna, 2013; Purohit, & Pradhan, 2017; Flook et al., 2010). A longitudinal study in a school setting by So & Orme-Johnson (2001) found that transcendental meditation positively impacted fluid and practical intelligence, speed of information processing, and creative thinking.

The claims of removal of mental dullness, stimulation of the brain, balancing of left and right brain, and attention enhancement are supported by evidence from modern research. There is evidence of improved mental ability, speed of information processing, and improved executive function. These result in better cognitive performance. The balancing of left and right brain can be inferred from evidence of improved spatial and verbal memories, abstract and creative thinking, fluid and practical intelligence. Attention and concentration are shown to improve.

Emotional domain

The calming of the mind also brings the emotions under control. According to ancient texts, the results of a calm mind are reduced anger, stress, anxiety, and a greater self-control over impulses and emotions.

This area too has been extensively researched. Two randomized controlled American studies amongst adolescents linked the practice of yoga with anger control (Khalsa et al., 2012; Felver et al., 2015). Noggle, Steiner, Minami, & Khalsa (2012) found that integrated yoga practice reduced mood disturbance. The components of this variable are anxiety, depression, dejection, hostility, confusion, and bewilderment. The study also found a reduction in negative feelings. An Indian study linked anxiety reduction with the practice of pranayama (Gusain, & Dauneria, 2016). An American study among schoolchildren by White (2012) linked mindfulness training with stress reduction, self-esteem, and self-regulation. Mindfulness improved as a result of yoga practice. Other studies have linked yoga with improved self-regulation and self-efficacy (Razza, Bergen-Cico, & Raymond, 2015; Bergen-Cico, Razza, & Timmins, 2015; Das, Deepeshwar, Subramanya, & Manjunath, 2016).

Ancient texts claim that yoga calms the mind resulting in reduction of anger, stress and anxiety. Modern research supports these claims by demonstrating that anger, anxiety, stress, tension and negative feelings indeed reduce with the practice of yoga. From the evidence of improvement in self-esteem, self-regulation, and self-efficacy, it can be inferred that control over emotions as claimed by ancient texts is achieved.

Personality domain

Personality transformation being a consequence of yoga practice is indicated in traditional texts. It is claimed that rajas (uncontrolled active energy) and tamas (uncontrolled inert energy) are reduced, while sattva (controlled illuminative energy) is enhanced. This results in imbuing the personality with sattvic qualities such as tranquility, enthusiasm, cheerfulness, bliss, willpower, courage and enthusiasm. When sattva dominates, one is calm, controlled, gentle, sensitive to the good of others, vigorous, and blissful (Deshpande, Nagendra, & Raghuram, 2008). A scale measuring the proportion of the three energies has been developed (Suchitra, & Nagendra, 2013). A randomized controlled study involving school children in India used this scale and found that integrated yoga practice increased sattva while reducing rajas and tamas (Patil, & Nagendra, 2014). Hence, evidence of an increase in sattva would indicate that directionally, the claims of traditional texts of yoga are supported. The study by Felver et al., (2015) shows reduction in negative affects such as miserable, mad, afraid, scared, and sad and improvement in positive affects such as cheerful, lively, happy, joyful, and proud. Prosocial psychosocial attributes measured by classroom engagement, social skills, positive affects, and optimism improved. The study by Noggle et al. (2012) showed reduction in negative feelings. A study by Sarkissian, Trent, Huchting, & Khalsa (2018) demonstrated an increase in positive affects such as excitement, cheerfulness, pride, and calm and a significant increase in resilience. The study by Zenner, Herrnleben-Kurz, & Walach (2014) also showed improvement in resilience. The component attributes of resilience are sense of purpose, perseverance, self-reliance, and equanimity. From these studies, it can be inferred that the claims made in ancient texts about personality transformation such as tranquility, enthusiasm, cheerfulness, bliss, willpower, courage, and enthusiasm are directionally corroborated by evidence from modern research.

The practice of yoga is shown to have significant benefits for children and adolescents. There is evidence of improvements in physical fitness, cognitive performance; emotional control, and personality transformation. Having understood the underlying principles, practice, and benefit outcomes of yoga in the pediatric population, in the next section, the theoretical model of yoga in education is developed.

  Theoretical Model of Yoga in Education Top

The theoretical model is based on the eight limbs of yoga as mentioned in ancient texts (Kothandaraman, 2009, II.46, 47, p. 129-131; Vivekananda, 1986, II.46,47). The benefits of school-based yoga as supported by existing research have been incorporated in the model. The underlying principles that make yoga work, sequence of practices, and their interconnectedness are based on ancient knowledge. There are three reasons for combining ancient and modern knowledge. Modern knowledge is outcome based. Depending solely on this, the underlying principles will have to be hypothesized. On the other hand, ancient knowledge provides the principles, process, and explanation of why yoga works. Second, the rational sequencing of practices is a useful input in constructing the model. Third, the inclusion of ancient knowledge helps avoid the tendency to erroneously separate contemplative practices from yoga. The theoretical model is presented in [Figure 2].
Figure 2: Theoretical model of yoga in education

Click here to view

Overall framework

Yoga with its physical, breathing, and contemplative practices works on the body and mind. The body includes the physical and vital energy bodies. There is a connection between the physical body, vital energy body, and mind. If the body is restless, breathing becomes irregular and the mind is disturbed. On the other hand, if the body is steadied, the breath becomes regular and mind is calm. Similarly, the state of breathing or of the mind has a complimentary effect on the other two (Muktibodhananda, 2012). The principle behind the eight-limbed yoga is to stabilize the body, then the vital energy, senses, and mind in that order. However, the relationship is not so watertight. There is interaction between body, breath, and mind and each benefit by improvement in the other. Hence, the model takes into account this interaction. Second, calming of the mind impacts both cognitive performance and emotional control. In the model, personality is considered a separate bucket since yoga may help to transform it by infusing qualities such as gentleness, cheerfulness, and tranquility (Deshpande, Nagendra, & Raghuram, 2008).

Creating an enabling environment

Yogic vision of education revolves around self-transformation (Satyananda, 1990). This may require an enabling environment. To frame the components of such an environment, the model draws inspiration from the first two limbs of yoga, namely yama and niyama, or restraints and observances. We are conscious that following yama and niyama in their entirety, while possible in a gurukula like system, may not be possible in the nonresidential modern schooling system. Values such as cleanliness, truthfulness, nonstealing, and some degree of nonviolence are taught universally in almost all schooling systems. However, vegetarianism, ascetic lifestyle, surrender to God, continence, and not receiving gifts may encounter cultural resistance in some quarters of the modern schooling systems. It may also be difficult to implement in nonresidential schooling environments. However, we are inspired by the first two limbs of yoga in framing the components of an enabling environment in our model. This has three hypothesized pillars. (i) The first pillar is voluntary moderation in lifestyle. The objective of moderation is to strengthen the mental make-up through self-restraint. It is important to underscore that self-restraint is not self-denial. The latter would be counterproductive to the goal of strengthening the mental make-up. Moderation in diet, sleep, work, play, entertainment, and exposure to media is suggested. The moderation in lifestyle may be strengthened through periodic expert talks on principles, values, and advantages of moderation. To be acceptable, the content of such talks must be sensitive to local cultures. (ii) The second pillar is a transformed student–teacher relationship. This is a key strategy to inculcate good character traits. Teachers playing the role of caregivers, role models, and mentors inspire the student to acquire good character traits (Pala, 2011). In return, the students learn to relate to their teachers with deep respect (Rather, 2015). (iii) The third pillar is support from parents. Parents have to buy into the equal weightage given to academic knowledge and character building and be inspired by the values that the school espouses.

The practice of yoga

The practice includes the next four limbs of yoga, namely asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (control of senses), and dharana (one-pointed attention). Every traditional school of yoga includes meditation. In fact, it is the core of yoga. The separation of mindfulness/meditation and yoga, in some quarters, goes against this very core. Asana steadies the body, while pranayama increases pranic energy. These two practices calm the mind, and in turn, the senses imitating the state of mind are calmed. This is the state of pratyahara. Relaxation techniques further promote pratyahara. Dharana trains the mind to develop one-pointed attention.

Benefits of yoga

Yoga has effects on the physical body, vital energy body, and the mind in interconnected ways. In the physiological domain fitness, strength, flexibility, balance, vigor, and good health develop. The calming of the mind has an effect on both cognitive performance and emotional control. In the cognitive domain, attention and concentration improve, speed of information processing increases, spatial and verbal memory are enhanced, and aspects of intelligence improve. In the emotional domain, negative aspects of mood and feelings are attenuated, and positive aspects enhanced. Anger, tension, and stress are controlled. The impact on personality is rooted in the increase in sattva. This makes the personality gentle, cheerful, joyous, and resilient. Prosocial behavior improves.

Impact of yoga in education

Hyde (2012) had emphasized the need to develop the whole child. Lickona (1996) had linked character development to the task of building a moral society. The CASEL had advocated comprehensive SEL training in schools (Butzer et al., 2016). Integrating yoga with education may have effects on many of these areas. Yoga has a positive effect on cognitive performance and thus helps children become intellectually active. Yoga helps in improving physical health of children. Emotional control results in improved psychosocial behavior. Personality is impacted to instill qualities such as caring, sensitivity toward others, and confidence as evidenced from improved self-esteem. This indicates that yoga can aid in the development of the whole child and character building. It may be a useful addition to SEL programs too. It can be hypothesized that a critical mass of such individuals can over time bring about societal change as suggested by character educationists (Lickona, 1996; Pigozzi, 2006; White, 2012) and Indian thinkers such as Krishnamurti (1998) and Vivekananda (2006; 2011). Hence, yoga may be a good addition to the school curriculum. Its benefits underscore the point that academic learning and character building are not two separate spheres but mutually supportive.

  Translating the Theory into Practice Top

The incorporation of yoga in education will require a systematic and collaborative approach. Educationists, yoga experts, yoga researchers, and parents will need to support yoga and work out the modalities of its inclusion. The five main pieces that need to coalesce for successful implementation are feasibility, yoga module development, role of yoga instructors and school teachers, yoga research, and support of parents.


The incorporation of yoga will be successful only if it is feasible both in terms of scheduling and visible benefits. Yoga experts may be required to design interventions that fit into the time resource educationists deem possible for yoga. Educationists may need to evaluate the activity-heavy school schedule and make tradeoffs to accommodate yoga. Researchers will need to provide evidence that the yoga program is delivering the desired benefits.

Yoga module development

Validated yoga modules are critical for the success of yoga in education program. Yoga experts will need to decide how many age groups to break up the school cohort into. Age group-specific modules will need to be developed. Increasing the difficulty level overtime needs to be factored in. Going by ancient knowledge, the initial practice could be asana heavy followed by addition of pranayama and dharana. Yoga experts will need to consider the right age for children to begin practicing yoga. The renowned yoga guru Swami Satyananda (1990) has suggested children aged 2–7 should be introduced to yoga through play. At age eight, light practice of yoga may begin.

Role of yoga instructors and school teachers

It is hypothesized that if yoga practice is part of the daily schedule, then school teachers may be required to lead most yoga sessions. Defining the role of yoga instructors and school teachers is thus critical for successful implementation. There is a case made out by Swami Yogabhakti (Satyananda, 1990) for teachers to practice yoga along with children. According to her, the task of teaching is tiring and entails a loss of vitality. The practice of yoga can restore lost vitality. Children have differing natures and attention types. By practicing yoga with children, the teacher may understand their nature and attention type better.

Researching the Yoga-in-Education program

Full-scale incorporation of yoga in education provides a good opportunity for researchers to design methodologically sound research protocols that can better ascertain whether the yoga programs are indeed delivering the desired effects. This information will help to both improve the programs and provide evidence of benefits to encourage its continuation.

Support of parents

Keeping parents informed and educated on yoga intervention is another critical piece in the implementation of the program. Parents need to be educated on the program and their concerns addressed. They could be encouraged to witness and even participate in the practice.

  Conclusion Top

Schools can potentially play a big role is reversing the growing trend of CAMH problems. Given that most mental health issues can be traced to childhood and adolescent onset, intervention in school years can have positive health implications going into adulthood. Yoga with its effect in the psychosocial domain can equip the child in dealing with stressors to remain mentally healthy. The effect of yoga on emotional control and personality characteristics makes it a suitable aid in imparting character education. The enhancement of cognitive efficacy could satisfy thinkers who suggest that education should lay more weightage on developing the power of concentration than dissemination of knowledge. An intellectually active, physically and mentally healthy, prosocial child equipped with good character traits can potentially help in changing society positively.

The present paper is unique because of its seamless synthesis of ancient knowledge and modern research on yoga. Literature on ancient knowledge is mercifully abundant and modern research on school-based yoga has grown in the last three decades. The gurukula system too has been extensively studied. The unique features of the present paper are: (i) The juxtaposition of ancient knowledge and modern research to build a theoretical model of yoga in education for the modern schooling system has not been attempted in such detail earlier. The underlying principles, sequence of practices, and their interconnectedness are derived from ancient texts. The benefit outcomes are derived from modern research. This lends a depth and conviction to the model. (ii) This approach makes the need to hypothesize the underlying mechanisms from the benefit outcomes redundant, since ancient knowledge provides the explanation in great depth. (iii) The emphasis in the model on creating an enabling environment for yoga along with concrete steps for its creation is unique.

The limitation of this paper is that the current research on yoga is based mostly on short periods of intervention. Further, the methodological rigor is of varying quality. If school-based yoga is implemented on a large scale, researchers will have the opportunity for longitudinal studies and studies with firmer methodologies. This will greatly add to evidence-based knowledge on school-based yoga.

Implementation will require a coordinated and systematic effort by all stakeholders, namely educators, yoga experts, yoga researchers, and parents. There is research evidence of benefits of yoga across physical, cognitive, emotional, and personality domains. It may aid in the development of the whole child, character building, SEL training, and developing the power of concentration. There is thus a compelling case for its inclusion in the school curricula on a large scale.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.[67]

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