Can Yoga Help Prevent Teen Suicide?

young woman practicing yoga on beach

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Suicide “most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition,” according to the foundation. Suicide is considered the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Jason Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of youth suicide. Teaching young people healthy stress and coping mechanisms can be a key to preventing teen suicide. Yoga can also play a preventive role.

Because of high teen suicide rates in her city, Kimberly Wilson, founder of PEAK Kids Yoga, decided to share yoga with children to instill healthy means for coping with stress.

“I believe strongly in bringing mindfulness programs into our schools,” Wilson wrote in an email. “Our schools teach important subject matter and work hard to teach lifelong skills, but without emotional and mental health and resilience, none of these things will matter. Yoga seeks to fill that gap.”

Recent studies support Wilson’s beliefs about mindfulness. Cognitive Behavioral Practice published a study in 2012 showing that mindfulness practices were successful in reducing suicidal thoughts and risks. A paper published in 2010 in Psychiatry suggests that yoga can act as a successful therapeutic intervention for troubled children and adolescents. The study says yoga can benefit adolescents struggling with anxiety, ADHD, depression, obesity, eating disorders, and more.

With his organization Wild Awakening, Michael Jaidev DeNicola takes males between the ages of 13-16 on multi-week wilderness trips as a form of therapy for behavioral issues. DeNicola’s own yoga practice motivated him to create an organization that combines yoga and wilderness for struggling boys. AFSP states that males are 3.5 times more likely than women to commit suicide.

Wild Awakening expeditions emphasize three main components: Kundalini Yoga, hiking in the backcountry, and healthy food to promote empowerment, growth, and mindfulness. With boys, strong pranayama—an emphasis on breath consciousness—is an effective meditation technique, DeNicola said.

Yoga is often depicted as feminine and flowery at first glance. But by the end of wilderness trips, DeNicola said, “Boys agree that yoga fuels great physical and mental strength.” He contends that pairing yoga with outdoor challenges offers a “holistic approach to life” that boys can carry into adulthood.

DeNicola said the boys on his expeditions took quickly to meditation practices. At first, DeNicola made meditations optional, but before bed, “What did every boy choose? To come meditate,” he said.

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