Feasibility and Preliminary Outcomes of a School-Based
Mindfulness Intervention for Urban Youth
Tamar Mendelson & Mark T. Greenberg &
Jacinda K. Dariotis & Laura Feagans Gould &
Brittany L. Rhoades & Philip J. Leaf
Published online: 4 May 2010
# Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
Abstract Youth in underserved, urban communities are at
risk for a range of negative outcomes related to stress,
including social-emotional difficulties, behavior problems,
and poor academic performance. Mindfulness-based
approaches may improve adjustment among chronically
stressed and disadvantaged youth by enhancing self-
regulatory capacities. This paper reports findings from a
pilot randomized controlled trial assessing the feasibility,
acceptability, and preliminary outcomes of a school-based
mindfulness and yoga intervention. Four urban public
schools were randomized to an intervention or wait-list
control condition (n=97 fourth and fifth graders, 60.8%
female). It was hypothesized that the 12-week intervention
would reduce involuntary stress responses and improve
mental health outcomes and social adjustment. Stress
responses, depressive symptoms, and peer relations were
assessed at baseline and post-intervention. Findings suggest
the intervention was attractive to students, teachers, and
school administrators and that it had a positive impact on
problematic responses to stress including rumination,
intrusive thoughts, and emotional arousal.
Youth who experience persistent poverty or other chronic
environmental stressors face serious challenges to healthy
development. Exposure to environmental stress is a key
contributor to the etiology and maintenance of internalizing
and externalizing disorders in youth (Compas et al. 2001;
Grant et al. 2006). Indeed, as many as one quarter of
impoverished youth have social and emotional difficulties
relative to their more economically advantaged peers (Keenan
et al. 1997). Those disparities persist and are part of a
pathway leading to high rates of poor academic performance,
school dropout, and negative social outcomes among socio-
economically disadvantaged youth (Reynolds et al. 2001).
Childhood Adversity and Impaired Regulatory Systems
Emerging evidence supports at least one mechanism along
this pathway in that childhood adversity has been found to
trigger neurobiological events that alter brain development
(Andersen 2003; Shonkoff et al. 2009; Teicher et al. 2002),
potentially impairing the stress response systems that
underlie cognitive and emotion regulatory capacities
(Andersen and Teicher 2009). As a result, chronically-
stressed children are at risk for difficulties with cognitive
T. Mendelson (*)
Department of Mental Health,
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,
624 N. Broadway, Room 853,
Baltimore, MD 21205, USA
M. T. Greenberg:B. L. Rhoades
Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, PA, USA
J. K. Dariotis
Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health,
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,
615 N. Wolfe Street, Room E4535,
Baltimore, MD 21205, USA
L. F. Gould
Academy for Educational Development,
Washington, D.C., USA
P. J. Leaf
Department of Mental Health,
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,
624 N. Broadway, Room 819,
Baltimore, MD 21205, USA
J Abnorm Child Psychol (2010) 38:985–994
and emotion regulation. Consistent with this biological
research, exposure to multiple poverty-related risks was
found to increase children’s risk for poorer emotional self-
regulation in a nationally representative sample of over
20,000 youth (West et al. 2001).
Cognitive and emotion regulation–which include the
ability to modulate responses to stress–are increasingly
found to contribute to overall adjustment, including social-
emotional development (e.g., peer relations) (Greenberg
2006). How youth regulate their emotional responses and
cope with stressors influences their level of risk for
maladaptive developmental trajectories (Compas et al.
2001). Indeed, emotional regulatory capabilities mediated
the relationship between exposure to stress and youth
outcomes in multiple studies (Sandler et al. 2000; Wolchik
et al. 2006). Consequently, training youth to better
modulate their responses to stress and emotional states has
been the focus of many interventions for the treatment and
prevention of psychopathology (e.g., Clarke et al. 1995;
Kendall et al. 1997; National Research Council and
Institute of Medicine 2009) and may be particularly well-
suited to youth who face chronic adversity and stress.
Intervening in regulation may help modify the underlying
stress-response system and deflect problematic trajectories
more often faced by at-risk youth.
Involuntary reactions to stressors, which include
automatic and physiologically-mediated responses such
as rumination and intrusive thoughts, are a component of
self-regulation and may be particularly relevant for
understanding the symptoms and behaviors observed
with chronically-stressed youth. Those reactions are
likely the individual’s first response to stressful situations
and may be overlearned (Compas et al. 1999) and
contribute to the cumulative effects of chronic stress on
the body, i.e., allostatic load (Evans et al. 2007; McEwen
and Seeman 1999; Shonkoff et al. 2009). Rumination and
intrusive thoughts are common correlates of both exter-
nalizing and internalizing problems, but particularly
depression (Wadsworth et al. 2005). Rumination has been
linked prospectively to depressive and anxious symptoms
in children and adolescents (Roelofs et al. 2009), and it
was found to mediate the relation between female gender
and risk for depressive symptoms in low-income, urban,
African American youth (Grant et al. 2004). Consequent-
ly, identification and modification of these involuntary
responses may be particularly important components of
interventions for at-risk youth (Wadsworth et al. 2005).
Based on research conducted primarily with adults,
mindfulness-based approaches such as yoga and meditation
may have the potential to enhance regulatory capacities
among chronically-stressed youth. Derived from Eastern
contemplative traditions, mindfulness involves attending to
the present in a sustained and receptive fashion (Brown and
Ryan 2003). Yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness
practices cultivate capacities for attention and awareness
(Brown and Ryan 2003) that have beneficial effects on the
ability to respond to stress without adverse psychological or
physical outcomes (i.e., resilience). Indeed, research with
adults suggests mindfulness-based practices train capacities
for attention (Brefczynski-Lewis et al. 2007; Carter et al.
2005; Jha et al. 2007; Lazar et al. 2005; Srinivasan and
Baijal 2007) and enhance the ability to inhibit cognitive and
emotional processes, like rumination, that increase or
maintain stress (Brefczynski-Lewis et al. 2007). Mindful-
ness practices are also reported to have positive effects on
adult physical and mental health, such as reducing mood
and anxiety disorders, distress, and blood pressure (Arias et
al. 2006; Kirkwood et al. 2005; Ospina et al. 2007;
Pilkington et al. 2005; Shapiro et al. 2007).
Although much less studied, interventions involving
meditation with youth have been reported to reduce
distress, anxiety, and emotional and behavioral reactivity
and improve self-awareness and sleep among youth (Bootzin
and Stevens 2005; Napoli et al. 2005; Semple et al. 2005;
Wall 2005). The first controlled trial in this area found that
an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course
reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and somatic
distress and improved self-esteem, sleep, and clinician-rated
functioning among adolescents in outpatient mental health
(Biegel et al. 2009). In addition, a recent review reports
there is preliminary evidence that yoga also has physical
and mental health benefits for youth, including improved
stress management (Galantino et al. 2008).
Yoga, which involves focused attention on the breath
and on a series of poses that strengthen and stretch the
body, may offer additional benefits for youth given that it
combines mindfulness with physical activity. Physical
activity is associated in its own right with improved health
and mental health outcomes among youth, including lower
rates of substance use (Pate et al. 2000; Ströhle et al. 2007)
and depressive and anxiety symptoms (Floriani and
Kennedy 2008). Hypothesized mechanisms for prevention
effects via physical activity include enhanced emotion
regulation and executive function (Pentz 2008).
Despite emerging evidence regarding the impact of
mindfulness-based practices with youth, most studies in
this area have significant limitations, including non-
randomized designs (Biegel et al. 2009; Galantino et al.
2008). In addition, the impact of yoga and other
mindfulness-based strategies on underserved, urban youth
populations has received almost no attention, despite
encouraging preliminary evidence that those practices
986 J Abnorm Child Psychol (2010) 38:985–994
enhance regulatory and coping processes and thus may be
particularly well-suited for chronically-stressed youth.
Existing data suggest mindfulness-based interventions
may have the potential to improve aspects of functioning
associated with self-regulation, including responses to
stress, mood, and social-emotional development, thereby
promoting more positive developmental trajectories among
The Present Study
Given the need for innovative interventions to reduce
social-emotional and behavioral problems in disadvantaged
youth, prevention researchers from two universities part-
nered with the Baltimore-based Holistic Life Foundation
(HLF) to develop and evaluate a mindfulness-based
intervention for youth. HLF is a non-profit organization
that offers yoga classes and other activities aimed at
improving emotional and academic outcomes among
inner-city youth. Most of the youth served by HLF are
African American and live in low-income neighborhoods
with high levels of violence. The founders of HLF were
born and raised in Baltimore City, are of African American
and Latino descent, and have strong ties to the community.
Our collaboration goals were to further develop and
manualize HLF’s mindfulness and yoga program, evaluate
for program refinement. Designed for an urban youth
population, the program aims to counter the psychological
and neurocognitive effects of chronic stress exposure by
cultivating a state of calm attention and awareness. Figure 1
displays our model of hypothesized intervention effects,
based on the literature reviewed above. We conceptualized
overall adjustment as including affective, cognitive, social-
emotional, and behavioral components.
We conducted a pilot randomized controlled trial of the
mindfulness and yoga program with two specific aims: (1)
to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of the interven-
tion and (2) to assess its promise for improving key
domains of youth functioning that may impact maladaptive
trajectories. This trial included fourth and fifth graders
across four Baltimore City public elementary schools (n=
98 students). Fourth and fifth graders were selected as our
target population because middle childhood and early
adolescence are developmental periods when the ability to
exhibit self-regulation and inhibitory control increases. The
dynamic growth and development of those regulatory
capacities from ages 10 to 15 suggests this is a favorable
time to intervene (Windle et al. 2008). We believed that
intervening at the start of this period would be particularly
beneficial, in part because of the potential to enhance
students’ capacities for responding to stress before the
often-stressful transition from elementary to middle school.
Two schools were randomized to receive the 12-week
intervention; the other two schools served as wait-list
controls and did not receive the intervention until after
completion of the pilot trial. Youth social, emotional, and
behavioral outcomes were assessed at baseline and immedi-
ately following the intervention. For Aim 1, we evaluated
intervention feasibility and acceptability based on our
recruitment and retention rates and qualitative feedback
from studentsand teachers. We anticipated that interest inthe
intervention would be sufficiently strong to support enroll-
ment of approximately 25 students per school and that 75%
of participants would complete at least three quarters of the
interventions sessions. For Aim 2, we hypothesized the
intervention would produce improvements in the following
components of youth adjustment: involuntary stress
responses, mood, and relationships with peers and teachers.
Participants were 97 fourth and fifth grade students recruited
from four Baltimore City public elementary schools. After
approval by the relevant Institutional Review Boards, the
intervention and research study were described to parents in a
letter mailed to the home. The same information was
described to students by the intervention instructors in
presentations during visits to classrooms and student assem-
blies. All students in the 4th and 5th grades were invited to
provide assent and parental consent if they wished to
participate. Students were informed that, due to resource
school and that 25 students would be randomly selected from
among those who provided assent and parental consent. The
final sample consisted of 55 fourth graders (56.7%) with a
mean age of 9.7 years (SD=0.7) and 42 fifth graders (43.3%)
with a mean age of 10.6 (SD=0.7). Fifty-nine participants
Fig. 1 Model of the intervention’s hypothesized effects. Note: We
anticipate that the intervention may influence some adjustment out-
comes in part directly or through other mediational pathways, suggested
by the arrow linking the intervention directly to overall adjustment
J Abnorm Child Psychol (2010) 38:985–994987
were female (60.8%). Eighty-one students (83.5%) self-
identified as African American, four (4.1%) self-identified as
Latino, four (4.1%) as White, and seven (7.2%) as “mixed
race” or “other;” one student (1.0%) did not report race/
ethnicity. Our sample included 51 students in the interven-
tion condition and 46 students in the control condition.
Involuntary Stress Responses The Responses to Stress
Questionnaire (RSQ; Connor-Smith et al. 2000) was used
to assess children’s involuntary responses to stress. This
57-item self-report checklist assesses voluntary and involun-
tary responses to sources of social stress in adolescence.
Voluntary Stress Responses reflect coping activities that are
within an individuals’ conscious control, and Involuntary
Stress Responses reflect more unconscious physiologic or
temperamental reactions to stressors. Confirmatory factor
analyses across three independent samples indicate a consis-
tent factor structure across sample, gender, and type of
stressor. The RSQ has been found to have strong internal
consistency and test-retest reliability and good criterion
validity. All the RSQ scales displayed moderate to strong
associations with behavioral and emotional problems as
indexed by the CBCL, YSR, and YASR, and involuntary
coping scales correlated with heart-rate reactivity on a
laboratory task (Connor-Smith et al. 2000).
In this study, we administered the Involuntary Engagement
Coping Scale, which is composed of theoretically-relevant
subscales assessing Rumination, Intrusive Thoughts, Emo-
tional Arousal, Physiological Arousal, and Impulsive Action.
Items assessed the degree to which participants “do” or “feel”
each coping strategy when they have problems with their
peers ona scale from(1) “not atall” to(3) “a lot” (e.g.,“When
I have problems with other kids, I feel it in my body, like my
heart races or my muscles tighten up”). We adjusted the
response format from a four- to a three-point scale to make it
more age-appropriate based on a recommendation from the
developer of the measure (Connor-Smith, personal commu-
nication, 07/25/2007). Pretest internal reliability was α=0.79
for the Involuntary Engagement Scale in our sample, with
reliabilities for the five component subscales ranging from
0.52 to 0.61.
Depressive Symptoms The Short Mood and Feelings
Questionnaire—Child Version (SMFQ-C; Angold et al.
is a 13–item self-report scale assessing depressive symptoms
experienced over the past two weeks. Respondents rate each
item as “true,” “sometimes true,” or “not true.” The scale has
been shown to have adequate internal reliability and high
criterion validity (Angold et al. 1995). The scale’s Cronbach
alpha at pretest in the current study was 0.82.
Positive and Negative Emotions The Emotion Profile
Inventory (EP; Benn 2003), a 24-item self-report scale,
was used to assess children’s positive and negative
emotions. Respondents are asked how often in the past
couple of days, including the present day, they experienced
different feelings on a 4-point scale ranging from “not
much” to “most of the time.” We added two items, “mad”
and “annoyed,” to the EP to better capture feelings of anger.
In this study, pretest internal reliability was α=0.76 for
positive emotions and α=0.86 for negative emotions.
Relations with Peers and School People in My Life (PIML;
Cook et al. 1995; Murray and Greenberg 2000) was used to
evaluate participants’ relations with peers and school. PIML
is a self-report measure that assesses the relationships
children have with their parents, friends, school, and
neighborhood. It was developed for easy comprehension
by 10- to 12-year olds, and its component scales have good
internal reliability. Responses range from “almost never or
never true” (1) to “almost always or always true” (4). To
minimize participant burden, only the friends and school
factors scales (brief versions) were administered in this
study; we anticipated that the intervention may have the
most impact on peer relations and school factors because it
was administered in the school setting to groups of peers.
Pretest Cronbach alphas for the PIML Trust in Friends,
Communication with Friends, Teacher Affiliation, and
Dissatisfaction with Teachers scales were 0.79, 0.62, 0.67,
and 0.66 respectively in our sample. In contrast, alphas for
the Alienation/Dissatisfaction with Friends and School
Bonding were low (α≤0.45); we chose not to report
findings from those two scales due to concerns about their
reliability in our sample.
Participants at the intervention schools attended the mindful-
ness program during school hours four days per week for
12 weeks. Each intervention session lasted 45 min. In
consultation with school administrators, intervention sessions
were scheduled during “resource time,” a period in which
students engage in non-academic activities. Intervention class
sizes were approximately 25 students each with two HLF
instructors per class; fourth and fifth graders were taught
together. The HLF instructors were males ofsimilar racialand
ethnic background as the students (three instructors were
African-American, one was Latino). The intervention was
delivered at each school in a space conducive to physical
activity (e.g., gym). Pre and post-intervention assessments
were administered by trained research assistants to groups of
participants in the schoolsetting. All questionnaireswereread
aloud to participants to facilitate comprehension. Following
988 J Abnorm Child Psychol (2010) 38:985–994
completion of the intervention, focus groups were conducted
at each intervention school with consenting youth who
participated in the intervention and with teachers whose
Key intervention components included yoga-based physical
activity, breathing techniques, and guided mindfulness
practices. The intervention is secular, and the instructors
did not utilize terminology that would be considered
religious or unusual for this cultural context. In each class,
youth were taught yoga-inspired postures and movement
series, including bending, stretching, and fluid movement.
Poses were selected to enhance muscle tone and flexibility,
and students were taught the health benefits of the poses.
Students also practiced breathing, starting with beginner
exercises and gradually moving to more advanced ones.
These exercises trained the youths to use their breath to
center and calm themselves. At the end of each class,
youth lay on their backs with their eyes closed while the
instructors guided them through a mindfulness practice,
which involved attending to a specific focus for several
minutes, such as paying attention to each breath or
sending out positive energy to others. The movement,
breathing, and mindfulness components of the class were
each designed to enhance the youths’ capacities for
sustained attention, promoting greater awareness of
cognitive, physiologic, and bodily states and how to
regulate those states. In addition, each class session
included a brief period of discussion prior to the guided
mindfulness practice in which instructors offered didactic
information about topics such as identifying stressors,
using mindfulness techniques to respond to stress,
cultivating positive relationships with others, and keeping
one’s mind and body healthy. This information was often
woven into the subsequent guided mindfulness practice
(e.g., using the breath to create calm if something stressful
has happened). Students were encouraged to practice
these skills outside class.
Aim 1: Intervention Feasibility and Acceptability
Recruitment and Attendance Students reported consider-
able enthusiasm about the program, and we did not have
difficulty recruiting participants from the target population.
Early in the program, three students who started the
intervention had to withdraw, one due to an injury unrelated
to the intervention group and two others due to school
transfers. Two students in the control condition also left the
study due to school transfers. With respect to intervention
attendance for the remaining students, 73.5% of students at
one intervention school completed at least 75% of the
intervention classes, with most absences the result of
students missing school on that day. By contrast, slightly
under 40% of students attended three quarters of the class
sessions at the other intervention school. While school
absence contributed to those missed classes, teacher focus
group data indicated that some teachers at that school had
prevented students from attending the intervention classes
as a punishment for poor behavior in class.
Acceptability to Students and Teachers We conducted three
focus groups with three to seven intervention participants in
each group in order to evaluate their experience of the
program and the extent to which they found the skills
useful. Responses indicated that students generally had a
positive experience in the program and felt they learned
skills that helped them in their day-to-day lives:
“The program has helped me because now I know
different routines and exercises that I can do at home
that helps me lower and reduce my stress. So whenever
I get stressed out I can just do a pose and sometimes I
can show my mother and my family.” –4th grade girl
“Most important thing I learned in the program is that
it’s all different ways to deal with your stress like
instead of like fighting and stuff.” –5th grade boy
“It helps you relieve stress when you really feel stressed
out or you’re really mad and focus on what’s inside of you
and just make sure that you stay calm.” –5th grade girl
We conducted one teacher focus group at each interven-
tion school with four to five classroom teachers in each
group to explore whether they felt students had benefitted
from the program and whether program implementation had
been organized effectively. Teachers were uniformly sup-
portive of the idea of training urban youth using yoga and
mindfulness-based techniques. Several teachers noted that
training in awareness and attention could offer significant
advantages for the youth in their classes who struggled with
behavioral problems, high activity level, and poor atten-
tional focus. Some teachers noted that they had observed
improvements in their students; other teachers were not sure
whether their students had shown changes, and one teacher
did not believe she had seen changes. Teachers expressed
interest in knowing more about the intervention curriculum
so that they could reinforce the skills students learned.
Aim 2: Preliminary Youth Outcomes
respect to age, grade, gender, and baseline scores on all
J Abnorm Child Psychol (2010) 38:985–994 989
measures using analysis of variance (ANOVA) for continuous
variables and Chi-square tests for categorical variables.
Children in the intervention group were more likely than
control group children to be in Grade 4 (35 fourth graders
versus 21 fourth graders; p<0.05) and to be of younger age
(M=9.8 years old (SD=0.77) versus M=10.3 years old (SD=
0.89); p<0.01). There were no significant differences at
pretest between students in the two study conditions on any
psychosocial outcome variables.
To assess intervention effects, we estimated general
linear models separately for each outcome, controlling for
gender, age, grade, and baseline score on that outcome. We
controlled age and grade because those variables differed
by study condition, as noted above. Gender was also
entered as a covariate given its association with several of
the psychosocial outcome measures at baseline. School was
not significantly related to any outcome variables at pretest
according to ANOVA and Tukey adjusted pairwise com-
parisons. Thus, we used the most parsimonious model and
did not include school as a covariate in analyses. The
students who did not complete the study (n=5) were not
included in analyses. As complete data are needed for the
models and the percent of missing data was small (most
outcome scales were completed by over 93% of partici-
pants), listwise deletion was judged a suitable means of
handling missing data.
Table 1 displays adjusted post-intervention means and
effect sizes for the outcome variables by study condition.
The intervention group reported significant improvements
on the overall scale of Involuntary Engagement compared to
the controls (p<0.001). In addition, significant differences
were found on three of the five subscales of this factor,
including Rumination (p<0.01), Intrusive Thoughts (p<0.05),
and Emotional Arousal (p<0.01), and a trend in the predicted
direction for Impulsive Action (p=0.07) and Physiologic
Arousal (p=0.07). Figure 2 displays pre- and post intervention
group means on the Involuntary Engagement Scale assessed
as a total score.
Although other differences were not statistically signifi-
cant, adjusted post-intervention means displayed a pattern
consistent with predictions for depressive symptoms (7.02 in
the intervention group versus 7.62 in the control group) and
negative affect (28.80 in the intervention group versus 29.93
in the control group). The groups did not differ significantly
with respect to changes in positive affect or in relationships
with peers and teachers, but there was a trend for control
group members to report more trust in friends than
intervention group members (p=0.06).
ofa school-basedmindfulnessandyoga interventionforurban
based intervention (1) is feasible to implement in urban public
Table 1 Post-Intervention Means by Study Condition Adjusted for Gender, Age, Grade, and Baseline Score
Adjusted Mean (Standard Error)
Time 2 MeasureInterventionControlES
EP Positive Affect
EP Negative Affect
SMFQ Depression Score
PIML Trust in Friends
PIML Communication with Friends
PIML Teacher Affiliation
PIML Dissatisfaction with Teacher
RSQ Involuntary Engagement (IE)
Rumination (IE subscale)
Intrusive Thoughts (IE subscale)
Emotional Arousal (IE subscale)
Impulsive Action (IE subscale)
Physiologic Arousal (IE subscale)
Five students did not complete the study; of the remaining sample, some students did not complete all post-intervention measures. As a result,
sample sizes across the measures range from 42 to 47 in the intervention group and from 40 to 43 in the control group
ES effect size, EP Emotion Profile Inventory, SMFQ Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire, PIML People in my Life, RSQ Responses to Stress
*p<0.05 **p<0.01 ***p<0.001
990 J Abnorm Child Psychol (2010) 38:985–994
schools and is likely to be attractive to students, teachers, and
physiological and cognitive patterns of response to stress
among youth. This initial pilot study provided some support
for a model in which yoga with mindfulness was related to
changes in self-regulatory capacities, as indexed by involun-
tary stress response.
Intervention Feasibility and Acceptability
Response to our recruitment efforts was encouraging and
suggests that a school-based mindfulness program is
attractive to students, teachers, and school administrators.
Student attendance data highlight the need for strategies to
address student absences. In the future, intervention
instructors should identify frequently-absent students and
work closely with classroom teachers and administrators to
monitor and improve their attendance in school. In addition,
consistent communication between program instructors and
teachers is critical to ensure that student attendance at the
intervention is facilitated by teachers (e.g., attending the
intervention must not be contingent upon good behavior in
class). As advocated by teachers in focus group discussions,
greater involvement by teachers also offers potential for
them to help students generalize intervention skills to
classroom settings. In future work we have planned a series
of meetings with teachers to discuss effective involvement
strategies and the creation of a brief manual for teachers
that summarizes the intervention content and rationale and
presents simple suggestions they can use for promoting use
of skills in the classroom.
Preliminary Youth Outcomes
Analysis of the effects of this mindfulness and yoga
program on youth functioning suggests that it was effective
in reducing problematic involuntary engagement responses
to social stress among intervention youth. The RSQ
Involuntary Engagement Scale and its component subscales
for rumination, intrusive thoughts, emotional arousal,
impulsive action, and physiologic arousal are particularly
relevant to our model and intervention. The scales assess
aspects related to automatic and physiologically-mediated
stress of self-regulation reactivity and have been shown to
correlate with heart-rate reactivity on a laboratory task
(Angold et al. 1995). Those sorts of stress reactivity factors
have been linked to over-sensitization of the stress response
system via early and continued exposure to stress and
adversity (Andersen and Teicher 2009). The intervention
group’s reduction in involuntary stress reactions suggests
that mindfulness-based practices were effective in enhanc-
ing self-regulatory capacities and in reducing activation and
persistent or worrying thoughts for the youth. Theory and
empirical findings indicate that these improvements should
enhance youths’ subsequent development in social, emo-
tional, and behavioral domains (e.g., Greenberg 2006). Of
note, rumination has been linked not only to increased risk
for onset and persistence of depression (Nolen-Hoeksema
1991; Nolen-Hoeksema et al. 2008) but also to risk for
somatic diseases, including hypertension (Brosschot et al.
2006; Brosschot et al. 2005; Gerin et al. 2006; Key et al.
2008). Thus, reduced rumination has positive implications
for long-term mental and physical health.
We did not observe significant group differences on
measures of mood or relationships with peers and teachers,
although the pattern of scores was generally in the predicted
direction for the mood variables. The pattern of scores was
not in the predicted direction for the two peer relationship
scales, which merits further exploration in future work.
Given our logic model predicts that self-regulatory capac-
ities mediate the impact of intervention effects on certain
domains of adjustment, it is possible that those adjustment
domains (e.g., mood, peer relations) may take longer to
show improvement than involuntary stress responses.
Future research should explore this possibility by including
one or more follow-up assessments to observe group
differences in adjustment over time as reported by both
students and teachers.
This study has several limitations. The small size of our
sample did not permit rigorous tests of moderation or
mediation, and it limited power to detect group differences
that are small to medium in size. Further, we are well aware
that we do not know the Type I error rate. Findings are
consistent with an intervention effect, but we cannot infer
causal effects given we did not account for the clustered
nature of the data (Murray et al. 2004). We did not utilize
hierarchical linear models (HLM) given the small number
of schools in this pilot study. The recommended number of
units at higher levels (e.g., level 2) in HLM ranges from 20
as a minimum, 50 as a preference, and 100 as very adequate
(Cheung and Au 2005; Hox 1995). As involving such a
steps in this research will involve exploring other options for
Fig. 2 Pre and post-intervention scores on Overall Involuntary
Engagement by study condition
J Abnorm Child Psychol (2010) 38:985–994991
addressing the issue of clustering, including randomizing by
child or randomizing classrooms within schools.
Our recruitment methods likely biased our sample
toward more highly motivated students and/or those with
more engaged parents, who provided signed consent forms
in a timely manner. Although this bias presumably affected
intervention and control groups similarly, we cannot
conclude that study findings generalize to those students
who did not volunteer for the research. Many theoretically-
related outcome measures were not assessed, including
youth executive functions (e.g., attention), as well as teacher
ratings of behavior, attention in the classroom, and academic
performance. The youth self-report measures of functioning
administered in this study may be influenced by social
desirability and other sources of bias. Future research should
incorporate non-self-report assessment methods, including
teacher reports of youth functioning, student grades and
test scores, and physiological measures likely to capture
changes associated with mindfulness and yoga (e.g., cortisol).
Given the initial pilot nature of this study, intervention
This study supports previous research suggesting that
mindfulness-based approaches may be beneficial for en-
hancing responses to stress among youth. In addition, our
findings suggest that a school-based intervention involving
mindfulness and yoga may be feasible and acceptable to
youth, teachers, and school administrators in urban public
schools serving chronically stressed and disadvantaged
youth. Our focus on enhancing youth capacities for
cognitive and emotion regulation is consistent with recent
reviews calling for interventions to focus less on specific
symptoms or disorders and more on positive youth
development (e.g., Greenberg 2006; Guerra and Bradshaw
2008). Enhancing regulatory capacities and responses to
stress among at-risk youth has the potential to facilitate
development of core competencies that will promote a range
of positive emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes.
Mind and Life Institute, the Attias Family Foundation, the Center for
Prevention of Youth Violence at Johns Hopkins University
(5U49CE000728), and the Penn State Prevention Research Center.
We are grateful for the close collaboration and partnership with the
Holistic Life Foundation who provided the intervention and fully
complied with all research requirements. We thank our project
manager, Sarah Godby, for her assistance with data collection and
management, as well as the other members of our research team. We
also thank the Baltimore City Public Schools and the teachers, parents,
and students who participated in this project.
This work was supported by grants from the
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