Yoga and Mindfulness: Benefits For Youth
By Emily Elliott
Yoga philosophy often asks us to look within, without passing judgment, in order to help ourselves let go and heal.
Yoga’s unique benefits, including its immense healing power, are especially important for developing youth. Studies have increasingly suggested that children and teens who incorporate yoga and mindfulness into their lives develop healthy habits – which are then carried forward into adulthood. Here are a few of the most significant ways that youth can benefit from the practice of yoga:
Reduced Stress and Anxiety
It’s crucial for youth to develop stress and anxiety management strategies in order to develop a healthy mental and physical state of being.
According to a recent article in Frontiers in Psychiatry, yoga can be used as an effective tool for children and youth to alleviate stress, especially in a school setting. Beyond stress, the article also states that there is some evidence to support yoga having positive effects as an adjunct to medical treatment for mental illness.
When children are exposed to a stressful situation or sensory overload, the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) is often engaged. On the flip side, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) allows us to relax and reach a calm state. Yoga, which includes deep, conscious breathing, can help us activate the PNS, ultimately increasing our ability to focus and learn.
For these reasons, schools have increasingly started to incorporate yoga as a compliment to other social and physical activities such as PE classes, as a means to promote mindfulness and reduce stress.
Improved Self-Esteem and Body Image
In today’s world of digital entertainment, it’s common for young people to compare themselves to the people they see on TV, in games, or social media. Unfortunately, many of these images inaccurately represent the diverse types of people in our world.
Many recent surveys reveal the negative views that young people have towards their body image. Thankfully, studies are now suggesting that yoga can help individuals develop a healthier body image.
In one such study, young adults reported a greater sense of positive body image because of yoga. Some of these improvements included a gratitude for their body, having witnessed a variety of different body types taking part in yoga, and perceived physical changes.
In practicing yoga, teens can also switch their focus from what their body looks like to how their body moves and feels.
Enhanced Mood, Mental Clarity and Pro-Social Behavior
Everyone experiences a range of moods and fluctuating levels of mental clarity, all of which can impact our behavior. While there are boundless external factors that can influence mood and cognition, yoga asks us to shift our awareness inward in order to reach a state of healthy mental clarity and emotional balance.
According to a recent research study published in the Contemporary Psychology School Journal, high school students reported significant decreases in feelings of anger, depression, and fatigue after participating in yoga (compared to a traditional PE class) – along with a significant decrease in feelings of confusion and tension.
The study concludes that yoga should be included as an alternative or compliment to traditional PE classes, as yoga may provide feelings of well-being, controlled attention, and mind-body awareness. In turn, this can lead to overall improved psychosocial functioning, enhanced sociability and greater academic achievement.
Lifelong Benefits For Youth
Reduced stress and anxiety, improved self esteem and body image, and enhanced mood leading to mental clarity and pro social behaviors are just a few of the many proven benefits that yoga can provide young people. Ultimately as we grow, we learn which yoga benefits are most important for us to lead a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle.
Emily Elliott, Street Yoga Blogger
Emily Elliott is a Chicago native with degrees in Journalism & Mass Communication and Art from the University of Iowa. Since moving to Seattle, she has dedicated more time to her yoga practice, and finds yoga to be healing both physically and mentally. As a Street Yoga blogger, Emily hopes to bring greater awareness to the true benefits that yoga can provide for all, especially our youth.