Seeing the Diversity: The Potential Impact of Providing Yoga and Mindfulness to Diverse and Underserved Populations By Guest Writer: Adriana Resendiz BA, MHP, CYT

Much can be said about the endless potential of the mind especially when taking into consideration what one mind with endless potential can do with other minds of that nature as well. That is the beautiful thing that both mental health and diversity share; the infinite possibilities for perspective. Both can create an opportunity for growth, awareness, and exploration, but what happens when mental health interventions are inadept or inaccessible to those that do not make the majority of the population? As the mental health field continues to grow and gain a reputation for its successful interventions, such as yoga and mindfulness, the question comes into play as to how these interventions translate from mainstream mind and body practices, to practices for everymind and body.  

With great appreciation, much can be said about how the origins of yoga have traveled a very long way since their ancient past, to the comfort of our neighborhoods. However, it is questionable how much of the yoga being seen in the mainstream today still resonates with that deep and beautiful cultural origin. In a cross-sectional study using data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, Divisions for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies and Division of General Medicine, Family Medicine, and Primary Care of Harvard Medical School and Boston University of Medicine founded that yoga users were predominately younger (53% 29 and younger), Caucasian (84%), female (76%), and more likely to be college educated (more than 50%) (Birdee, Legedza, Saper, Bertisch, Eisenberg, & Russell, 2008). Birdee and colleagues also discovered that of the 31,004 yoga was most commonly used in hopes of maintaining health and to help treat musculoskeletal conditions and mental health (2008). While the publication of this article was in 2008 from data from 2002, it is important to note the rise in population overall using yoga from 3.7% of the population in the National Health Interview Survey of 1998 to 5.1% in the survey done in 2002 (Birdee et al., 2008). This speaks highly to the growth of yoga as a whole, but what about those older in age, non-caucasian, male, and not college educated individuals who could never the less benefit from the practice of yoga as well? 

The inquisitive minds of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and Harvard Medical School had the same question and did further research into the matter in their article Percieved Benefits of Kripalu Yoga Classes in Diverse and Underserved Populationsby Wilson, Marchesiello, and Khalsa (2008). In this retrospective study, 200 participants exit questionnaire and the qualitative data of 25 yoga teachers in free Kripalu classes purposefully set underserved/underprivileged communities, were assessed (Wilson et al., 2008). The preliminary research Wilson and colleagues (2008) had found echoed the previous article mentioned as far as the demographics of the participants: Caucasian females, however their research also added that these women had annual incomes of at least $35,000. However, some very valid points this article highlights from the beginning are the lack of geographical access to yoga class, fee-based classes and yoga material costs, cultural conflicts or misunderstanding of the yoga practice, and if yoga is of interest to these populations to begin with (Wilson et al., 2008) These points enlist the concern that these barriers are not only limiting their ability to partake in yoga, but also any other source of alternative medicine route or perhaps even primary care. It is hard to be scavenging your local community for yoga classes when there are higher more fundamental levels of need that need to be met. Wilson and colleagues further added to this point by highlighting how at risk or underserved communities already suffer from higher rates of stress level and cardiovascular disease (2008).  

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health decided to do something about this and through their Teaching for Diversity (TFD) programs, they financially supported more than 25 yoga teachers to set up free 8-12 week yoga classes in underserved populations all over the country including community centers for elderly, women, LGBTQ, and youth populations. Sites included centers for youth, gay youth, correctional facilities, domestic violence shelters, substance treatment centers, senior centers, psychiatric treatment center, cancer treatment center, AID treatment center, vocational center, immigration center, and a special disability center (Wilson et al., 2008). The results of the study demonstrated the amount of effort that was placed into this initiative. Off the 200 participants Wilson, Marchesiello, and Khalsa (2008) found that 89% overall had a feeling of wellness, 83% found the practice to be helpful, 57% would likely use the yoga postures and meditation techniques in daily life, and 98% of the particiapants would recommend the practice of yoga to others. While teachers did generally comment on the challenges and patience required to serve these populations, no teacher reported major dissatisfaction with the experience, and some commenting on the rewarding feeling of the experience (Wilson et al., 2008). Wilson, Marchesiello, and Khalsa also brought special attention to being aware to the different physical abilities these participants may have, some difficulty in maintaining order and interest in the classroom, but also again the importance of having access to yoga practices as a whole (2008). 

In addition to yoga, mindfulness has also begun to show its significance in the field as an invaluable intervention. Roth and Stanley, 2002, have not only show evidence into the impacts of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, but also recognized the value in using this intervention to reduce symptoms and healthcare intervention for inner city populations. In recognition of the few MSBR programs serving the inner-city populations, a study was conducted in which 73 patients participated in a bilingual MBSR program to determine if MBSR could help reduce symptoms that may otherwise require any sort of healthcare intervention (Roth & Stanley, 2002). Through the adaption and implemented of this MBSR program to meet the racial, linguistic, and cultural needs of this population, the results ended up showing that reduction in medical and psychological symptoms only demonstrated a fraction of the overall participant experience (Roth & Stanley, 2002). Roth and Stanley discussed how after an 8-week MBSR program taught in English and Spanish by a bilingual nurse practitioner, the patients reported changes including greater peace of mind; more patience; less anger; better interpersonal communication; decreased use of medication for pain, sleep, and anxiety; and a marked improvement of well-being to name a few outcomes (2002). This furthermore helped provide further evidence that MBSR interventions can also prove to be cost effective in that they can reduce the number of healthcare visits and need for other types of interventions (Roth & Stanley, 2002). 

Being a person of a diverse Hispanic background from underserved populations, who is building a practice in yoga and mindfulness as well as a profession in mental health, it is difficult to not look around after savasanain a yoga class and take note of one’s surroundings. The demographics, the similarities, the differences, and the potential in each room is something that cannot be minimized. Diversity, just like mental health, is at their strongest when molds are broken and perspectives are broadened. It has been proven that these diverse and underserved populations can benefit from yoga and mindfulness and that there is a need for more support and intervention in these communities. However, the most significant part of the findings in these articles is the simple fact that people saw value and worth in bringing these interventions into settings with their own additional challenges. The beautiful thing about integrating yoga, mindfulness, diversity, and mental health together, is that despite the obstacles, there is an unparalleled ability to lift others by simply saying, “I see you.” Namaste.


Birdee, G., Legedza, A., Saper, R., Bertisch, S., Eisenberg, D., & Phillips, R. (2008). Characteristics of yoga users: Results of a national survey. Journal of General Internal Medicine, (Preprints), 1–6. Retrieved from

Roth, B., & Stanley, T. (2002). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and healthcare utilization in the inner city: Preliminary findings. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine8(1), 60–66. Retrieved from /login.aspx?direct=true&db=ccm&AN=106913528&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Wilson, A. M., Marchesiello, K., & Khalsa, S. B. S. (2008). Perceived benefits of kripalu yoga classes in diverse and underserved populations.International Journal of Yoga Therapy, (18), 65–71. Retrieved from com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=c9h&AN=35437389&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Kristen Brendel