The Contested Discourses of Yoga, Youth, and Urban Schooling: Paradox and Possibility

Document Type


Department (Manual Entry)

Department of Educational Studies


Background/Context: Yoga, as a recent cultural phenomenon in the United States, is often marketed as a way to relieve stress and anxiety. This has led to yoga becoming widespread in schools, particularly schools that serve low income youth of color. While some advocates argue that yoga can help students navigate highly controlled, standards-based school environments, others assert that yoga is being used as a tool for student compliance rather than liberation.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study addresses the tensions between schooling discourses and yoga discourses, and how youth use their own discourses and agency to navigate those complications.

Setting/Population: This study took place in an alternative high school program for students who were in danger of not graduating because they had too few credits. Reflecting the community, the participants were low income youth of color.

Research Design: In this yearlong critical qualitative study, I served as an observer for weekly yoga classes at the school, interviewed the student participants during the fall and the spring, and interviewed the yoga teacher and classroom teacher during the fall and spring. I kept a field journal and wrote memos after every class and analyzed the data from the observations and interviews using critical discourse analysis.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Even as yoga may serve as a counternarrative to schooling discourses, it is only with intention and practice that it does not reify narratives of power and patriarchy. This is particularly true when the participants themselves may replicate these narratives, such as the participants’ complex use of heteronormative masculine discourses. For yoga to be liberatory in schools, the following aspects should be included: a sense of community where all students feel valued, classroom teacher participation, explicit instruction in the discourses of yoga around acceptance and compassion for oneself and others, and acknowledging school and youth discourses around sports and heteronormativity.

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