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Yoga as Behavioral Health: A Patient Success Story

Written by Kristin Kilburg, Medical Mindfulness Director + Yoga in the Schools Instructor

Photo: My students at Bellevue Elementary School practicing meditation

"Inside of me, there's a heart and a brain and a whole lot of feelings that can be named." - Name What I Feel by Melissa Hyde

Note: This true story is a huge part of my “why” behind the desire for yoga and mindfulness to be more prominent in the medical field. It is proof of how yoga and mindfulness can be a powerful “prescription” or supplementation for treating what ails us - even as a young child.

During my time as a pediatric occupational therapist, several patients were referred to me with “behaviors” such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, or ADD/ADHD.

I worked with parents or caregivers to create an occupational therapy treatment plan to address undesired behaviors- typically uncooperative or even hostile behaviors towards self and others.

The more experience I gained with these patients, the more I began to notice the behaviors they displayed were often a result of not understanding how to manage or communicate big emotions. This realization led me to become a registered children’s yoga teacher.

My personal practice of yoga taught me to use movement, breath, and mindfulness to navigate big emotions. Naturally, I wanted to share this with my patients.

I started to create personalized yoga classes for my patients. The classes addressed a plethora of skills stipulated in their treatment plans, but one patient sticks out in my mind; a young boy with both behavioral and sensory conditions.

His mother expressed concerns about behavioral issues at home (he was homeschooled), so I worked with the patient and his family to implement sensory activities, regulation tools, and language behind his feelings so he could better communicate and understand his emotions.

I approached the patient’s mother about utilizing yoga tools within our treatment sessions, and although she was hesitant, she did not want to rule out anything that could potentially help her son.

With her permission, I began integrating yoga into my patient’s sessions. During the first lesson, I taught him movements to express his feelings and a breathing exercise to help him tune out everything around him in order to focus on what was going on inside. He seemed to think everything we were doing was a little silly, but did engage and participate.

I deemed it a successful first yoga class in terms of participation, but believed I had a LOT of work cut out for me in order for this patient to utilize the mindfulness tools in his toolbelt independently.

A Patient Success Story

A few days later, I received an email from his mother recounting an event in their home that morning, and questioned if it was something I taught him through yoga.

She explained it occurred during a homeschooling session with his siblings that normally caused a big reaction (verbal and physical outbursts), but instead, he walked into their living room, sat down in a chair, crossed his legs, closed his eyes, put his hands over his ears and started taking big, deep breaths. He was utilizing mindfulness techniques independently!

I was shocked and immediately started crying because I realized how powerful my session with him had been. I responded to his mother affirming it was the exact yoga tool I taught him, and that I was so proud of him for the ability to use it independently after just ONE time practicing it.

She was thrilled, but most importantly, my patient experienced major success towards a treatment goal by utilizing a yoga tool.

If you would like to learn more about how YOU can integrate yoga into a medical practice, please feel free to contact me at or go to our Medical Mindfulness page.

Includes: 1 Feelings Discovery worksheet + 5 Emotion exploration pages + Emotions Chart w/instructions (in a PDF file)

Exploration pages include the following emotions:

  • Happiness

  • Fear

  • Engagement

  • Anger

  • Sadness

Emotional awareness has the potential to:

  • help one make more positive life choices

  • decrease stress and anxiety levels

  • improve and balance mood

  • create long-lasting healthy habits

This bundle corresponds with our newest book, Name What I Feel.

~Kristin Kilburg

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