Better Integrating Behavioral Health, Juvenile Justice Systems Will Rescue More Kids

Better Integrating Behavioral Health, Juvenile Justice Systems Will Rescue More Kids

It is now well-known that youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system have high rates of mental health and substance abuse conditions — rates that far exceed those of the general youth population.

The Epigenetic Aging Clock Runs Slower in Meditators, Study Suggests

The Epigenetic Aging Clock Runs Slower in Meditators, Study Suggests

Even identical twins who are born with the same genome show variations in their health span during the aging process. In addition to our genetic information, many environmental and lifestyle-related factors can influence the aging rate of cells and tissues. 

One of the most accurate predictors of the rate of biological aging is the"epigenetic clock" formed by chemical tags (methyl groups) that are added to the DNA molecules. When the ticking of this clock is too fast, the risks of chronic diseases increase. 

Why Being a Mindful Leader Matters

Why Being a Mindful Leader Matters

As the world has become more "connected," people have become more disconnected with the present moment. There is always another goal, project, email, or initiative to start and it is easy to not be fully present to what is happening now. Ruminating in the past causes suffering, and thinking in the future causes anxiety. Being present brings peace, inner strength and joy -- all divine rights for human beings and critical conditions for leadership to flourish. Harvard Professor, William George said, “Mindfulness is a state of being fully present, aware of oneself and other people, and sensitive to one’s reactions to stressful situations. Leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them toward shared goals”.

What is Service Yoga?: An Introduction 


You are an eight-year old boy who was picked up off the streets by a social worker and enrolled in a classroom with dozens of new faces - and no parental support when you get to your new “home.” How do you manage your stress, fear and anxiety? 

You are a thirty-year old woman exiting the gates of prison with the hope of a fresh start, free of drugs and violence. You struggle to make friends and find a job with your record and begin to fall down a spiral of self-doubt and blame. How can you find a place of compassion and care and patience for yourself? 

You are a fifty-one year old man, residing in a sober-living facility and being reintroduced to job readiness skills. As excited as you are for a new chapter in life, you are fearful that job skills alone will not prepare you to face temptation and addiction outside the facility’s walls. How can you step back and take a deep breath when the fear and temptation are overwhelming? 

What do you do? What resources do you have? 



Yoga is part of an ancient system designed to address human suffering - and address it in the body, where it manifests.  Yet, those who are suffering are often denied access to yoga classes - financially, emotionally and physically. 

Throughout the years, service-minded and socially-conscious individuals have approached this issue from all sides. As a result, service-yoga was created. Service yoga is intended to deliver the healing benefits of yoga to manage suffering - in an accessible environment. This type of yoga is trauma-informed and mindfulness-based so that suffering students can access the benefits of the practice - without the daunting barriers of cost and location, physical ability or social judgment from peers and teachers alike. 

Let’s dive a bit deeper. 


Service yoga is suited for marginalized individuals across the globe - those suffering from PTSD, abuse, foster care and incarceration. Yoga can impart a sense of ease, confidence and awareness for these individuals that can aid in recovery and healing. In addition, yoga provides practical, lifelong skills that these individuals can use as a resource, like breathwork and meditation. 


Service yoga is a type of trauma-informed and mindfulness-based yoga that is tailored to meet the particular needs of the communities served. Techniques specific to the effectiveness of service yoga include different terminology, asana modification and adjustment policies. 


Service yoga is available in a variety of communities. OG Yoga currently brings service yoga to a diverse mix of populations, including incarcerated teens at the Girls Rehabilitation Facility and incarcerated men and women at local jails and prisons and rehabilitation facilities like WestCare Foundation’s Custody to Community Transitional Rehabilitation Program. 


Service yoga is applicable at any time during an individual’s journey with trauma or suffering. 


Service yoga is conducted by a variety of trained and experienced certified yoga instructors who are passionate about helping others heal and build resilience and self-development. 


We love yoga. You love yoga. We want to make yoga accessible to all individuals - particularly those suffering from trauma. We want to share this healing with the world. We proceed with the best of intentions and, yet, we may leave those we hope to help feeling disempowered and marginalized. How can we truly help?

Do you want to learn more? Register for our upcoming workshop for a deeper look into what service yoga is and how it is performed on September 16-17 at the Jacobs Center in San Diego.   

12 Minutes of Yoga for Bone Health

12 Minutes of Yoga for Bone Health

Yoga enthusiasts link the practice to a long list of health benefits, including greater flexibility and range of motion, stronger muscles, better posture and balance, reduced emotional and physical stress, and increased self-awareness and self-esteem.

“Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does,” he said in an interview. “By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.”

How Yoga Can Help Manage Type 2 Diabetes

How Yoga Can Help Manage Type 2 Diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s likely not news that exercise should be part of your life. But that doesn’t mean you have to limit your physical activity to biking, jogging, or calisthenics. Give yoga a try, for instance. This ancient practice has been found to help lower blood pressure, improve blood glucose (sugar) levels, and more.

The Role Of Yoga In Healing Trauma

Missy Hart grew up in Redwood City, Calif. — in gangs, on the street, in the foster care system and in institutions.

"Where I'm from," the 26-year-old says, "you're constantly in alert mode, like fight or flight."

But at age 13, when she was incarcerated in juvenile hall for using marijuana, she found herself closing her eyes and letting her guard down in a room full of rival gang members.

Back then, she says, yoga was just another mandatory activity, run by a Bay Area program called The Art of Yoga Project. It offers what it calls "trauma-sensitive yoga" to incarcerated girls.

At first, 13-year-old Hart felt uncomfortable. But, gradually, she learned to use the poses and breathing to relax, and she loved it.

"Most of us [in juvenile hall] come from traumatic childhoods," she says. "It was the only time you experienced a quiet time, when everything was so chaotic." She believes the practice helped her cope with symptoms of bipolar disorder.

A new report from the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown University's law school, says that for young women like Hart, who have been through trauma, there is mounting evidence that yoga can have specific benefits.

The study focuses on girls in the juvenile justice system. It also reviews more than 40 published studies on the mental health benefits of yoga.

"What we're learning," says Rebecca Epstein, one of the report's authors, "is that fights go down on wards after adolescents participate," in yoga.

Girls, she adds, "are requesting medicine less often. They have fewer physical complaints."

The findings, Esptein explains, come from speaking to experts in the field, as well as the authors of peer-reviewed articles and some randomized, controlled trials.

Study of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE, in boys and girls in the juvenile justice system.  Courtesy of Georgetown Law

Study of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE, in boys and girls in the juvenile justice system.

Courtesy of Georgetown Law

Two Georgetown pilot studies showed girls and young women who did yoga reported better self-esteem and developed skills that they could use in stressful situations — taking care of their own children, for example.

Educators and others who work with youth are, increasingly, paying attention to the science of trauma.

Large studies show that people who have been through one or more "adverse childhood experiences" have not only poor mental health outcomes, but also higher incidence of heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers. Those experiences might include such things as physical abuse, the incarceration of a close family member or mental illness in their household.

Further, statistics show that compared with boys, girls experience different forms of childhood trauma, with an impact that adds up over time. They disproportionately experience sexual violations, for example. And, for girls, this abuse is more likely to occur in the context of a relationship, Epstein says, which interferes with forming intimate and trusting relationships with others.

The new Georgetown Law report argues that, since the effects of trauma can be physical, "body-mind" interventions, like yoga, may be able to uniquely address them. Regulated breathing, for example, calms the parasympathetic nervous system. Practicing staying in the moment counteracts some of the dissociative effects of trauma. And the physical activity of yoga, of course, can directly improve health.

Yoga that is specifically designed for victims of trauma has modifications when compared with traditional yoga teaching.

For example, says Missy Hart, "they always ask you if you want to be touched," for an adjustment in a pose. "I see now that really helped me. Other girls who have experienced sexual abuse, sexual trauma or are in there for prostitution at the age of 13, 14, they had their body image all mixed up."

And the institution doesn't always help, she says.

"Being asked to be touched, it gave us a little power back in a place where all our power is taken," she explained. "We're kids and we're being strip-searched. We can't even go to the bathroom, take a shower, or brush our teeth without asking."

Yoga, she said, offered choices. "You can sit and reflect and think about what you want to think about. It helped us feel normal."

When Hart turned 18, she was out of the foster care system, and became homeless for a time. "I was really searching for myself."

Today, she is painting and studying to become an art therapist at Foothill College, near San Jose, Calif. She's going back this summer to one of the institutions where she spent time as a girl, this time as an art teacher.

And, she is beginning her vinyasa yoga teacher training certification. Her ultimate goal, she says, is to open a group home that will offer creative arts and yoga. "When I was doing yoga, that seed was planted. I built my toolbox."

38 Health Benefits of Yoga

If you're a passionate yoga practitioner, you've probably noticed some yoga benefits—maybe you're sleeping better or getting fewer colds or just feeling more relaxed and at ease. But if you've ever tried telling a newbie about the benefits of yoga, you might find that explanations like "It increases the flow of prana" or "It brings energy up your spine" fall on deaf or skeptical ears.

Researchers Are Catching On to Yoga's Benefits

As it happens, Western science is starting to provide some concrete clues as to how yoga works to improve health, heal aches and pains, and keep sickness at bay. Once you understand them, you'll have even more motivation to step onto your mat, and you probably won't feel so tongue-tied the next time someone wants Western proof.

First-Hand Experience With the Benefits of Yoga

I myself have experienced yoga's healing power in a very real way. Weeks before a trip to India in 2002 to investigate yoga therapy, I developed numbness and tingling in my right hand. After first considering scary things like a brain tumor and multiple sclerosis, I figured out that the cause of the symptoms was thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve blockage in my neck and chest.

Despite the uncomfortable symptoms, I realized how useful my condition could be during my trip. While visiting various yoga therapy centers, I would submit myself for evaluation and treatment by the various experts I'd arranged to observe. I could try their suggestions and see what worked for me. While this wasn't exactly a controlled scientific experiment, I knew that such hands-on learning could teach me things I might not otherwise understand.

My experiment proved illuminating. At the Vivekananda ashram just outside of Bangalore, S. Nagarathna, M.D., recommended breathing exercises in which I imagined bringing prana (vital energy) into my right upper chest. Other therapy included asana, Pranayama, meditation, chanting, lectures on philosophy, and various kriya (internal cleansing practices). At the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai and from A.G. Mohan and his wife, Indra, who practice just outside of Chennai, I was told to stop practicing Headstand and Shoulderstand in favor of gentle asana coordinated with the breath. In Pune, S.V. Karandikar, a medical doctor, recommended practices with ropes and belts to put traction on my spine and exercises that taught me to use my shoulder blades to open my upper back.

Thanks to the techniques I learned in India, advice from teachers in the United States, and my own exploration, my chest is more flexible than it was, my posture has improved, and for more than a year, I've been free of symptoms.

Girls suffer childhood trauma more. New research shows how yoga can help heal them.

Young mothers at Youth Service in Philadelphia learned yoga while they were incarcerated as part of a pilot study by the Georgetown Law Center on poverty and inequality. (Rebecca Epstein)

Young mothers at Youth Service in Philadelphia learned yoga while they were incarcerated as part of a pilot study by the Georgetown Law Center on poverty and inequality. (Rebecca Epstein)

As a teenager, Rocsana Enriquez ran away from home frequently to escape fights with her mother and sexual abuse from her stepfather. She got involved with street gangs and cycled in and out of juvenile detention.

While she was incarcerated in the San Mateo County juvenile justice system, she started to learn yoga. It became an outlet for her anger and an antidote to the deep insecurity she felt. Before she got into a fight, she reminded herself to take a deep breath. And she loved the way she felt when she stretched into “Warrior II” pose. “It made me feel very strong,” she said.

A new report by the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown Law School shows that yoga programs can be particularly effective at helping girls who are incarcerated cope with the effects of trauma that many have experienced. Research shows yoga and mindfulness can promote healthier relationships, increase concentration, and improve self esteem and physical health.

Such programs, if offered more broadly, would be a cost-effective way to help one of the country’s most vulnerable groups heal and improve their lives, the report says.

“There are promising practices out there, on a relatively small scale, but we know they can help more girls,” said Rebecca Epstein, director of the center and a co-author of the report.

[To manage the stress of trauma, schools are teaching students how to relax]

Childhood trauma is prevalent among teens in the juvenile justice system, but girls experience trauma at particularly high rates.

Nearly twice as many incarcerated girls as boys report past physical abuse — 42 percent to 22 percent — according to research cited in the report. And 35 percent of girls report past sexual abuse, compared to 8 percent of boys.

Girls are more likely to be abused by people they have intimate relationships with. Research shows that traumatic experiences have a more profound effect on girls’ mental health. More than three quarters of girls, or 80 percent, show signs of at least one mental health diagnosis, compared to two-thirds of boys.

Emerging brain research, described in the report, illustrates a neurological basis for some of the differences in how girls and boys experience trauma. Estrogen activates a larger field of neurons in female brains, causing girls to experience stress factors in more precise detail. And unlike boys, girls who experience trauma show diminished surface area in the part of the brain that links bodily sensations to emotions.

Yoga can promote healing in a way that talk therapy or another cognitively based therapy cannot, experts say.

“Literally focusing on feeling where your body is and what it’s doing can lead to healing the mind as well,” Epstein said. “You are trying to repair the mind-body connection.”

A growing body of research supports positive physical and psychological effects of yoga. The federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recently recognized a trauma-sensitive yoga curriculum as an evidence-based intervention.

The report references more than 40 published studies that have shown positive benefits of yoga and mindfulness and includes the results of two pilot programs that offered yoga to girls in residential detention programs in Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Outcomes of those pilot programs included fewer fights in the ward, fewer requests for medications, and fewer medical complaints. Some girls who took part in the program came forward and reported past sexual violence that they had not shared previously, according to the report.

Yoga and mindfulness training are being introduced increasingly in schools as well as detention centers to treat the kinds of traumatic experiences and chronic stress that youth and adults living in poverty experience disproportionately.

The report says that girls in the juvenile justice system nationwide would benefit from a systemic approach with stable funding and from yoga programs that are tailored specifically to their needs as girls and trauma survivors.

With a “trauma-sensitive” approach, instructors would use “invitational language,” asking girls to try different poses or breathing techniques, rather than telling them what to do, so participants can have control over their practice. And teachers would not touch any student without asking first.

Enriquez, who lives in Daly City, Calif., said she realized more fully the benefits of her yoga practice when she was out of juvenile detention and trying to find her way out of an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend, with whom she had two children, was addicted to drugs and physically abused her and sometimes held her captive in their apartment. She ran away — and came back — multiple times.

At her lowest points, she started looking back on some of the things she learned in her yoga classes. She remembered techniques, like breathing and stretching. And she recalled the mantras she learned to tell herself — phrases like “I am enough” and “I am strong.” She found letters she had written to herself and art work she had made in conjunction with the yoga program and they reminded her of the hopes she had for her life.

“They made me think in a different way — that I am somebody,” she said.

Little by little, she said, she distanced herself from her boyfriend and from her feelings of hopelessness. One day she left her boyfriend and did not go back.

“I decided, ‘you deserve better,'” she said. “I put the father of my kids in jail.”

Now, at age 26, Enriquez is a student at San Jose State University majoring in justice, with a goal of becoming a lawyer. She also teaches part-time with the Art of Yoga Project, the organization that she first learned yoga from as a teenager. Now she works with students at two high schools and incarcerated girls in California’s San Mateo County. She also teaches at her children’s school.

“I am very excited for my future and everything I am doing,” she said. “If it wasn’t for yoga, I don’t know if I would be here.”

Harvard Study Finds That Healthcare Costs Can Be Reduced By 43% With Yoga And Meditation

Practices like yoga, meditation, and kirtan can help curb the need for general health care services by almost 50 percent!

Imagine if before and after a hectic day of work, everyone took twenty minutes to stretch and objectively contemplate their life’s journey.

According to a Harvard study, such simple practices could change our world – and the healthcare system – dramatically

The study, conducted by Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)’s Institute for Technology Assessment and the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI), concluded that evoking a relaxation response or a physiologic state of deep rest helps alleviate stress and anxiety while positively benefiting one’s heart and rate and blood pressure.

It is noted by the study’s author that stress-related illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, are the third-highest causes of health expenditures in the United States (after heart disease and cancer, which are also affected by stress).

Said James E. Stahl of MGH:

“Our study’s primary finding is that programs that train patients to elicit the relaxation response — specifically those taught at the BHI — can also dramatically reduce health care utilization.

These programs promote wellness and, in our environment of constrained health care resources, could potentially ease the burden on our health delivery systems at minimal cost and at no real risk.”

TheNewsMinute summarizes that the findings were discerned by doing a comparative analysis of information available on Research Patient Data Registry (RPDR) of Partners HealthCare and data on individuals participating in the BHI Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP). The data extended from 2006 to 2014 and allowed researchers to conclude that practitioners of yoga/meditation/prayer spent significantly lower than non-practitioners on medical services.

In addition, it was also found that practitioners primarily benefitted from neurologic, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal ailments.

The report was published Tuesday in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

For those already invested in wellness, this news is not likely to be shocking. It is a great reminder to all, however, that some of the best ‘medicine’ stems from within and begins with the breath.


Reposted From:

How Yoga Could Help Keep Kids In School

Scientific evidence is mounting daily for what many have long sensed: that practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help us address certain intractable individual and societal problems. Prominent companies – Google, General Mills, Target, Apple, Nike, AOL, and Procter & Gamble among them – and prominent individuals have already embraced this possibility. Tim Ryan, the Ohio congressman who wrote the book A Mindful Nation, has been a big proponent of bringing mindfulness to the masses. He, along with others, believes that mindfulness should be a part of everyone’s day, to help wire our brains to deal with our many modern stressors.

And, perhaps more importantly for our global health, for kids dealing with extreme stressors, traumas and abuse, putting these practices into schools could be the difference between failure and success.


Courtesy Give Back Yoga Foundation

Last month, a group of American and Canadian scholars, researchers, businesspeople, and yoga teachers came together for a weekend at Omega Institute to discuss how this group of practices that helps us self-regulate as individuals could, quite possibly, help us regulate on a society level. The issues the country is facing – the massive dropout rate of school kids, substance abuse among all age groups, PTSD among veterans, the staggeringly high incarceration and recidivism rates – cost the country volumes in human potential, not to mention trillions in dollars. There are no single solutions, but the evidence suggests that some or all of these problems may be amenable to the practices that have been shown to redirect attention, improve concentration, increase self-control, and endow people with reliable and healthy coping mechanisms in the face of stress and trauma.

Some of the faculty at Omega’s conference have been key players in making this happen. BK Bose, PhD, of the Niroga Institute, a former Silicon Valley engineer who grew up practicing yoga, now works to make mindfulness/meditation/yoga the game-changer that many believe it can be. Rob Schware, PhD, who heads the Give Back Yoga Foundation and the Yoga Service Council, and writes for the Huffington Post, brought his two decades of management experience with World Bank to help grow the movement as a second career. Many, including Bose and Schware, say that the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a famously insidious and costly problem in lives lost and money wasted, is one of several that could be altered by a little mindfulness training early on in life.

In terms of economic cost alone, Cecelia Rouse at Princeton estimates that one high school dropout “costs” about $260,000 in lost earnings over his or her lifetime. Given the fact that at least a million kids drop out of school every year, the annual cost of school failure alone is estimated at $260 billion. As Bose points out, “Over ten years, the cost is upwards of 3 trillion dollars. And this is just for dropping out alone.”

If you continue the trajectory a little further, he says, based on the relatively common course that can include juvenile hall and prison, the numbers grow. “The school-to-prison pipeline is incredibly costly,” says Bose. It can cost upwards of $250,000 per year to keep an inmate in prison, if you factor in all the direct and indirect costs that tend to come with it, like loss in productivity, damage to the family, the escalated health and mental health costs. “Folks have been looking at career criminals – and estimates over their lifetimes are between $4-7 million. If you apply this to all those who land in jail over and over again, the numbers become stratospheric.”

One approach is to increase school retention; the national dropout rate is between 25% and 35%, and up to 50% in inner city schools. But if you go back a necessary step, Bose argues, the real culprits are enormous stresses and traumas that are so often present in the kids’ lives. “The single common denominator is stress: Chronic stress, toxic stress, traumatic stress, primary and secondary post-traumatic stress. Trauma is endemic. The tentacles of stress and trauma run right through – domestic abuse, substances abuse, poverty, racism. And once a kid drops out, homelessness, substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, crime, violence are just waiting to pounce. Not to mention the boatload of chronic disease, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, diabetes… You start to see this powerful trajectory between school failure and adult outcomes.”

And this is where the capacity to cope becomes highly relevant. Methods that train the brain attend differently, self-regulate, and respond to stressors are one part. “If you look to neuroscience,” says Bose, “it tells us that stress, among other things, disrupts brain functioning, especially in the prefrontal cortex. And the same neuroscience is also saying there’s also class of practices that mitigate all of this: Mindfulness.”

There’s some good evidence for the idea. In 2011, a Harvard study showed that mindfulness is linked to increased gray matter density in certain cortical areas, including the prefrontal cortex and regions involved in self-referential thoughts and emotion regulation. There seems to be a strong connection between mindfulness and the brain machinery involved in self-regulation. Other work has shown mindfulness to be linked to relative de-activation of the default mode network (DMN), the brain system that’s active during mind-wandering and self-referential “worry” thoughts, which are generally stressful in nature. Indeed Jon Kabat-Zinn, MD at UMass has developed his career to developing the mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) to helping people learn to change the stress response. (For nice reviews of the application of the practices in early childhood education, see this 2012 piece and this 2011 piece.)

This is all well and good, Bose adds, but there’s an obvious caveat. When they’re in the midst of stress and trauma, few kids have the ability to sit still enough to take part in a sitting practice. “If you’re not ready to sit in classroom,” says Bose, “you’re not ready to do sitting meditation. If you have drugs and gangs and violence all around you, you simply can’t sit still. Teachers tell us that they often yell at kids 100 times a day to sit and pay attention. It doesn’t work. And to ask them to do this in the context of meditation can have a worse-than-neutral effect – it could be disastrous.”

So, you have to go beyond the neuroscience-of-meditation field and look to the trauma research, which tells us that physical activity can help the brain deal with stress and trauma. “Trauma research tell us that we hold trauma in our bodies… The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex doesn’t even talk to the amygdala. Neuroscience says mindfulness; trauma research says movement. All of the sudden you’ve got moving meditation or mindfulness in motion. Mindfulness alone isn’t going to cut it for these kids.” One theory is that because the executive areas of the brain can be affected by stress and trauma, “getting in” through another avenue is key. Indeed, some studies have shown that physical activity can enhance cognitive control via the prefrontal cortex in children, and exercise is well known to enhance neurogenesis in brain regions like the hippocampus, in you and old alike, which can be affected by stress (for a brief review, see here).

Therefore, Bose and his colleagues have done what are also beginning to, combining movement and mindfulness into one program, called Transformative Life Skills (TLS), which incorporates elements of movement, attention training and relaxation skills. The 18-week program can be introduced to schools relatively cheaply. The research so far has shown that it can be extremely helpful in helping kids reduce levels of negative thinking, negative affect, revenge motivation, depression, emotional arousal, physical arousal, rumination, perceived-stress, attitudes toward violence; and it’s been associated with greater levels of self-control, tolerance for distress, and school engagement.

The return-on-investment seems to speak for itself. The cost of training and coaching 50 teachers in TLS is $5,000. And if they work with 1,000 students, works out to be about $5 per kid. If even one kid took a different path in life, the program would be worth the investment many times over.

And similar programs, like the one run by the Holistic Life Foundation, Inc. (HLF) serving inner city schools in Baltimore, have found just this. Ali Smith, Executive Director, who founded the program along with his brother and college friend as a way to bring meditation to “at-risk” kids, has seen the results firsthand. So has the early research. Smith and his brother grew up in this hectic environment, but his parents had them mediate every day before school. He says he didn’t understand its purpose so much back then, but it made a difference on some level, and sparked his and his brother’s desire to give back in the same way as they got older. He hopes that mindfulness will be a part of every school day in the future: “Even just to give kids a moment of stillness in their day, so that they stop, and can have inner and outer silence… That would be amazing.”

One problem with this type of service at this juncture is the relatively small size of the operations. Though service programs are growing, many are still local in reach, and affect people only on the order of tens or hundreds per year. “What I see happening,” says Schware, “is a lot of very fired up yoga teachers who want to serve; so they go work in drug rehabs or jails.” After a year or two, though, many realize they can’t pay their bills while doing this work, so find themselves in a difficult position. “And if you’ve set up a nonprofit,” adds Schware, “it’s even harder financially.” The Yoga Service Council helps many of these small non-profits become sustainable, but it’s unclear where the future of the industry really lies here, or in a larger domain.

“The math is pretty simple and clear,” says Schware. “We’re going to get our money back many, many times over. There’s a huge potential return on investments, if we’re going to implement these things systematically.” Policy-level initiatives would, of course, be ideal, and they may come in time. Hopefully the right people will see the connection sooner than later.

“This is about more than just mindfulness,” says Bose. “It’s about the integration of these modalities. This is not some feel good, foo-foo practice from the Himalayas. This is based in cutting edge neuroscience, trauma research, and in somatic psychology. This is vital to ensure our well-being, and to our economy.  Let’s come together under the banner of transformative practices, and put forward the essence of yoga, not the hype. This is simple. Anyone can do this, anytime, anywhere. If you can move, if you can breathe, then you can do the practice.”

*  *  *

For more information about these programs, please contact the Give Back Yoga Foundation, the Yoga Service Council, the Holistic Life Foundation, Inc., or Niroga Institute. Special thanks to Omega Institute for hosting the Yoga Service Council Conference.

Follow me @alicewalton or find me on Facebook.


Original Article on:

Taking A Different Approach To Behavioral Problems In School: ‘Trauma-Informed’ Care

First-graders in Lori Williams' class at Alexander Procter Elementary School take part in their morning community circle.  TAMMY WORTH /  HEARTLAND HEALTH MONITOR

First-graders in Lori Williams' class at Alexander Procter Elementary School take part in their morning community circle.


One of the first graders in Lori Williams’ classroom is clearly restless during the students’ morning community circle.

As the children discuss their weekly goals, how to be a good citizen and what integrity means, the young girl is distracted. She wriggles and shifts, pulls both arms through a shirt sleeve and eventually checks out, turning her back to the group and walking her hands up the chalkboard.

Williams gently but purposefully touches the young girl’s foot, asking, “Are you OK?” Startled, the diminutive brunette mumbles, “Yes” and turns around, her attention refocused on her classmates.

In some schools, the inattention and fidgeting would be considered grounds for reproach or punishment. Not so with Williams, who’s trained in the practices of trauma-informed, or trauma-sensitive, schools.

A growing movement here in the Kansas City area and across the United States, trauma-informed care has taken root at local mental health and social service providers, hospitals and schools. Gradually but steadily, it’s spreading through school districts and early childhood centers looking to catch and stem childhood behavioral problems in the hope of avoiding hospitalizations and incarceration in adulthood. Although there isn’t much hard data yet showing whether the programs are effective in changing behavior, early results from preschool to high schools are encouraging.  

The movement is based on the idea that much of student misbehavior may be the result of a brain that has been overwhelmed by repeated traumatic experiences.

Instead of providing reactive services for students in crisis, teachers in trauma-sensitive schools attempt to diagnose underlying problems and keep children emotionally present, opening their brain up for learning.

“We need to give some extra TLC to these students,” says Amy Hawley, principal of Alexander Procter Elementary School in Independence, Missouri, where Williams teaches. “Maybe provide extra triage and figure out what we can do to help support them inside these walls where we have some control.”

Toxic stress

When someone experiences stress, the body responds by releasing hormones that provide energy for “fight or flight.” When that occurs regularly, it takes longer for the hormones to diminish, affecting children’s brain development.

Trauma can occur at any income level, but tends to be more prevalent among lower-income, urban populations, according to Molly Ticknor, a trauma-sensitive trainer with Truman Medical Centers’ Resilience Incubator. The incubator provides training to area social service agencies, schools and other groups. Ticknor was one of the first to introduce the idea to elementary and secondary education locally when she began working with the Kansas City Public Schools three years ago.


Lori Williams interacts with one of her first-grade students at Alexander Procter Elementary School. 


More than 95 percent of students at pilot schools in Truman’s program qualify for free and reduced lunch, meaning they live below the poverty line. Ticknor has worked with districts including Independence, Kansas City, Center, Leavenworth, North Kansas City and Blue Valley. She says connecting the dots between poverty, toxic stress, violence and neglect often leads to a diagnosis of trauma.

The Independence School District took on the issue because administrators knew a large number of students had experienced significant trauma, says John Tramel, director of Family Services & Caring Communities with the district. That’s in part because of the socioeconomic status of its population: A majority of students are low-income and more than 5 percent are homeless.

“We know we have children in every socioeconomic range that suffer from trauma and they walk in not ready to work on reading or math or whatever else we are trying to teach,” says Beth Savidge, an assistant superintendent in the district. “We have to take care of the emotional side as well as the academic side of teaching to create an environment where children are able to learn.”

Paper tigers

When hardwired to remain in a heightened state of awareness, children who experience toxic stress are in constant overdrive. In elementary schools, this can take the form of outbursts, name-calling or putting one’s head down on the desk and refusing to work.

Ticknor says she has seen some early changes in this kind of behavior at schools undergoing her training. Two pilot elementary schools in Kansas City, for instance, had fewer behavioral problems after implementing trauma-sensitive principles. Through October of the 2013-2014 school year, Garfield and Rogers Elementary had 186 disciplinary referrals. At the same point in the 2014-2015, the schools had 139.

Catching children early is important because these behaviors only intensify as they age. In middle and high school, they begin to look to drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviors to cope.

At Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington, much of the student population had experienced some sort of childhood trauma, including parental abandonment, sexual abuse and mental illness among family members. The school was a roiling cauldron until 2010, when its principal, Jim Sporleder, went to an educational conference where he learned about trauma-sensitive schools.

Sporleder had grown tired of the traditional way these schools were run, with students acting out, getting suspended and returning to school ready for another fight. This cycle, he says, is “the easy way out.”

“If you can seek the cause … you can the change behavior,” he says in the documentary “Paper Tigers,” which examines the school’s trauma-sensitive journey.

Sporleder began implementing the trauma-sensitive principles and within three years, the number of fights at Lincoln went down by 75 percent and the graduation rate increased five-fold.

After seeing such success with the program, the community decided it would be beneficial to begin this work at a younger age and enlisted the help of Kansas City’s Crittenton Children’s Center to train the community at the early childhood level. Crittenton created Head Start Trauma Smart, a nationally-renowned model used since 2010 in early childhood centers.

Crittenton’s program touches 26 counties across Missouri covering 3,300 children statewide.

Crittenton was also called upon to work in secondary schools locally in 2014, training staff at Summit Ridge Academy, an alternative high school in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. The staff has seen positive results. In the 2014-2015 school year, the attendance rate increased by more than 83 percent among 75 percent of its students; the passing rate onto the next grade level increased by 10 percent; and confrontations fell by 50 percent compared with the previous year.

Janine Hron, CEO of Crittenton, said prior to implementing Trauma Smart in the Head Start program, up to 12 percent of Head Start children were being referred to Crittenton for therapy for behavioral disorders. After the program, that number went down by 50 percent. That equates into educational savings. As children move into elementary school, those with behavioral challenges are placed on what’s known as an individualized education program and receive special education services. Hron says the average cost to teach a child on an IEP is about $32,000 annually – as opposed to about $12,000 for other students.

“If there are two to three kids per class on an IEP and at least one is there because of behavioral reasons … then if 50 percent of those can be accommodated by improving their environment, that’s a lot of money,” Hron says.

In spite of these potential savings, Ticknor says there’s always some pushback against the initiative among districts, schools and staff. About 20 percent of people in the groups she works with don’t buy into the concept because of other issues like curriculum priorities, state standards, teachers’ contracts and testing prep.

Funding is also a challenge for cash-strapped districts. Truman’s program begins at $125 per hour for consulting and coaching and $40 per staff member for initial training. Ticknor said much of her work with schools has been funded through federal grants and other external funding. The Head Start program initially cost about $400 per student a year. Hron said it averages less than that now since they streamlined the training.

Safe zones

Ticknor trains schools on a framework rooted in concepts developed by Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a Boston-based nonprofit, which observed more than a decade ago that students who were frequently expelled or spent a lot of time in detention had often experienced some kind of trauma.

The group generated a series of papers highlighting the impact of domestic violence on children’s brains and adopted general principles of trauma-sensitive educational environments.

Ticknor built on this to create a general framework that instills creative problem solving, mindfulness, self-regulation and trust building. The concepts are supposed to be part of every aspect of the students’ experiences at school.

Hawley has incorporated them wholeheartedly at Procter, with much of the work focusing on goal setting, communication and rituals to make students feel safe.

Instead of saying “good morning,” greeters inquire, “How are you feeling today?” when students arrive.


Amy Hawley, Procter's principal, with Milli, the school's certified professional therapy dog. 


Children are taught to fill each other’s emotional buckets instead of being “dippers.” The staff is encouraged to take “thankful walks” during breaks. To keep students in the room when they are acting out, teachers divert their attention with tactile objects like Play-Doh and exercise bands to refocus their energy.

If children do need to leave, they are sent to a recovery room where they work on managing their emotions.

When researching ways to help students manage emotions, Hawley came across the idea of professional therapy dogs and adopted a gentle Labrador retriever, Millie. The dog, who spends her days resting in the school’s office, is trained to sense when children are anxious and offer a soft paw of support. If they need extra care, she can spend 15 to 20 minutes acting as a comforting “blanket.”

Since the implementation of trauma-informed teaching, behavior at Procter has changed dramatically. In the 2013-2014 school year, there were 542 referrals to the principal’s office. Last year there were 323 and this year there were only 98 through November.

Back in Williams’ room, the students in the circle discuss how to be respectful, responsible and safe, a mantra repeated in the classroom, on posters throughout the building and in morning announcements.

They show how they feel by giving a thumb’s up, sideways or down. They brainstorm ways to make unhappy students feel better, like smiling or playing with them. One young student reaches over and ties a friend’s shoes. Another – a self-proclaimed animal expert – offers to share his knowledge with anyone interested. The students are sleepy but relaxed and forthcoming with their ideas, goals and emotional state.

“We are teaching kids how to be aware and mindful of their bodies and understand what to do when they are scared or anxious,” Ticknor says. “Because if they don’t know what is happening, how can they be expected to regulate themselves?”

Tammy Worth is a freelance journalist based in Blue Springs, Missouri.


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