Participating in sports can have long-lasting benefits for youth; however, typically we envision team sports or other popular athletic activities. Yoga may be unconventional for some people, but case studies and research show time and time again that practicing yoga can improve the quality of one’s life. Many adults have learned this through personal experience (I’m sure we all know someone who practices yoga), so it begs the question — what about youth and yoga?
WHAT IS YOGA?
With its origins reaching back to ancient India, yoga, which literally translates to “unite” in Sanskrit, has taken form in many traditions and styles and is associated with several different religious and philosophical practices. In the 1980s the Hatha yoga tradition made its way to the United States and other western countries, and that is the practice which is so popular today.
Yoga consists of postures/positions (“asanas”), breathing exercises, and meditation. Since yoga has become more popular, over the years even more variations have been introduced to the practice. Some forms of yoga involve moving at a very deliberate pace, holding the postures for a longer amount of time. Others move rapidly through the asanas. Hot yoga has also grown in popularity, and it is typically practiced in a room temperature of 100-104 degrees Fahrenheit.
BENEFITS OF YOGA
Yoga is often used as a complementary therapy to standard interventions for physical, mental, and behavioral issues. With its ability to relax the mind, manage stress, and increase flexibility, it is no wonder Yoga is becoming increasingly popular. In his article, “Count on Yoga: 38 Ways Yoga Keeps You Fit,” Dr. Timothy McCall shares his own experiences with the healing powers of yoga. We’ve listed some of these health benefits below.
- Improved flexibility
- Strength conditioning
- Improved posture
- Joint mobility
- Spine flexibility
- Bone density health
- Increased circulation
- Healthier lymphatic system
- Blood pressure control
- Stress relief
- Natural mood enhancer
- Decrease risk of Diabetic complications
- Improved mental focus/capability
- Improved balance
- Lifted self-esteem and well being
- Reduction in gastrointestinal issues
- Enhanced breathing
- Pain relief
YOUTH AND YOGA
While research on youth and yoga is somewhat limited, there have been some studies about yoga’s effects on common issues during childhood, such as ADHD, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), asthma, weight issues, and problematic behaviors. The article “Yoga as a Complementary Therapy for Children and Adolescents” outlines case studies and their results. Overall, it was found that yoga had great benefits for young people. Below, we examine the results of the studies discussed in the article.
ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVE DISORDER (ADHD)
Four of the studies focused on alleviating the symptoms associated with ADHD. All four were in a school setting, with two of them involving parents. From the article:
“The available evidence suggests a school-aged child diagnosed with ADHD would most likely benefit from a yoga class 1) with same-aged peers, 2) multiple components that include use of poses and focus on the breath, 3) intentional cues to concentrate attention, and 4) an ending period of quiet or guided relaxation in a still position. The class time may span 45 to 90 minutes. At least 6 to 8 weeks of weekly sessions, or approximately 20 hours of class time may be required to see beneficial effects, but they may also manifest sooner. There is likely to be greater benefit if use of the skills is practiced at home and supported by the classroom environment.”
ANXIETY AND STRESS
Anxiety and stress are two struggles which many children face. Anxiety can disrupt sleep, focus, relationships, and a youth’s overall sense of well being. Due to some variations in the study, such as the pace of the yoga practice, different results were seen. Overall, a reduction in anxiety and problematic behaviors was seen as well as an increase in a positive sense of well being. Two other studies showed a decrease in cortisol immediately after practicing yoga. Also seen were increases in positive affect and a sense of self-efficacy.
WEIGHT AND BODY DISSATISFACTION, ASTHMA, AND IBS
Two studies targeted the delicate matter of weight and disordered eating habits. They found reductions in “body dissatisfaction, food pre-occupation, anxiety, and depression.” For the youth who were at-risk for Type 2 Diabetes, weight loss was also a result; however, for those young people who were already experiencing a low-weight eating disorder, there was no weight loss.
For young people with asthma, yoga provided much relief. Following up over two years, researchers found that the asthmatic population showed “showed improvements in pulmonary functions, exercise capacity, and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction,” which ultimately reduced their medication intake.
“The youth with IBS evidenced psychological benefits in terms of lower levels of functional disability, less use of emotion-focused avoidance, and reduced anxiety levels.”
One great thing about yoga is this is an activity which a family can do together. While practicing yoga clearly has some benefits for youth, there may be some obstacles in accessing yoga programs for youth. Luckily, many DVDs and online tutorials exist for low-cost access to yoga. My Yoga Online and Love to Know Yoga are two examples. Also, simply searching on YouTube will yield a variety of video yoga lessons.
Do you know any children or teens who practice yoga? We hope you will encourage the young people in your life to try yoga both as a form of exercise and stress relief.