Yoga Fosters Healthy Coping Mechanisms in Youth

Photo by Tony Felgueiras at Hanuman Festival

Each day, teenagers are bombarded with a host of powerful life stressors, including grades, exams, puberty, family issues, relationships, dating, lack of sleep, and extra-curricular activities. With all of those factors and more, it’s no wonder that teens are considered one of the most stressed-out age groups in the US. These high levels of daily stress can lead to negative, risky, and dangerous coping mechanisms like drugs, suicide, depression, and unprotected sex. Luckily, many resources can help teens and young adults form more positive coping strategies. Yoga and meditation are at the top of the list.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Cincinnati presents strong evidence that mindfulness meditation and yoga can be effective tools in helping youth develop and maintain healthy coping mechanisms to deal with life stressors. The study, conducted over a period of 12 months and part of a long-term comprehensive research project, highlights the importance of providing opportunities for youth to learn meditation and yoga techniques to use in everyday situations.

Study Results

Led by Dr. Jacinda Dariotis, researchers documented ways that mindfulness meditation and yoga served as tools to counteract the negative effects of stressful life events on people aged 18-24. Results were promising, showing that those who participated in weekly meditation and yoga classes were better equipped with, and more likely to engage in, breathing techniques and coping strategies that were useful in dealing with stressful or potentially dangerous situations.

Additionally, results showed that youth who engaged in other positive behaviors, such as reading, playing sports, or listening to music, were less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, drug use, and crime as a means of coping or avoidance.

Practical Application in Schools and Communities

Many schools and youth services organizations have begun to incorporate aspects of yoga and mindfulness into their programs, with very positive outcomes.

Zakk Malecha, a former Field Instructor at Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness based in Clayton, GA, pinpointed significant changes that he noticed in youth behaviors when they brought more mindfulness to their interactions with others.

“I saw an increase in positive peer culture, a sense of contentment with their situation and life in general, and a more calm and rational approach to things that their peers might react to in less healthy ways,” Malecha said.

Research supports this, showing that youth who engage in meditation and yoga are more likely to exhibit compassion for others, have higher self-esteem and more overall contentment, and are more able to engage in healthy coping mechanisms.

Youth Access to Meditation and Yoga Services

Youth face a variety of complex challenges that are deeply rooted in social, economic, and educational systems that often do not provide the support and framework needed for the development of healthy behaviors and coping mechanisms. Programs such as Street Yoga, Light a Path, and Yoga in Schools are important community resources that provide specialized, youth-focused yoga and meditation trainings and services.

Many of these organizations, such as Light a Path, which is based out of Asheville, NC, have a team of volunteer instructors that provide free services to at-risk adult and youth populations. While offering yoga and meditation within public schools has been met with some controversy, it is overall becoming more accepted, especially as teachers and parents continue to see the positive results of youth engagement.

Dariotis’ study is an important contribution to the discussion of the positive benefits of yoga and meditation for youth. As schools and community organizations continue to implement yoga and mindfulness programs into their curriculum, they will help empower youth and young adults to engage in healthier behavior, foster more balanced social interactions, and enhance their ability to self-regulate emotions.

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