Today’s children face numerous stressors, growing up in a globalized world, surrounded by electronic media and confronted with pressures from school and increased competition in multiple aspects of life. The authors of a review article published in Frontiers in Psychiatry (2014; doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00035) believe that yoga practice may help youth cope with these stresses and contribute to life balance, well-being and positive mental health.
“Children and young people need [tools like yoga] to listen inward to their bodies, feelings and ideas,” according to the reviewers. They suggested that yoga may contribute to healthy development and good mental health, helping to improve attention, self-esteem, empowerment and self-regulation.
While extensive research on young people and yoga practice is not available, evidence of yoga’s benefits is growing. One reviewed study found that yoga in schools helped teenagers to improve resilience, mood, and self-regulation skills related to emotions and stress. Other research showed that yoga enhanced attention in children, supported executive function development and reduced anxiety. In assessing the research, the review authors determined that a yoga practice for children can contribute to more self-confidence, more feelings of well-being, better emotional balance, improved physical fitness and greater respect for peers and others.
“Children’s yoga is not a simplified version of yoga for adults; it is a unique practice,” said Shakta Khalsa, a leading expert on yoga for children. “It is important to meet children where they are and [also important] that they experience yoga as fun.”
The review authors also concluded that more research is needed on the nature and type of psychological and developmental impact of yoga practice on children. They recommended incorporating yoga into school programs and developing policies for initiating yoga in schools and for training teachers. The article is available at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3980104/.
For more on youth and stress management, see “Mindfulness Practice: Empowering Fragmented Teens to Become Whole,” published in the February 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.