Yoga Psychologically Benefits High-School Students

According to a pilot study by Jessica
Noggle and colleagues at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard
Medical School, yoga
classes have positive psychological effects for high school students
Given that mental illnesses often begin to develop in the teenage years, “yoga
may serve a preventive role in adolescent mental health,” shares
lead author Jessica Noggle, PhD.

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Researchers randomly assigned 51
students registering for physical education (PE) at a Massachusetts
high school to yoga or regular PE classes, with two-thirds assigned
to yoga. The classes were based on Kripalu yoga, which links physical
postures (asana) with yogic breathing (pranayama), meditation
(dhyana), and relaxation (shavasana). Regular PE classes consisted of
standard PE activities.

The researchers administered a battery
of assessments measuring mood, tension/anxiety, and self-regulatory
skills, the latter believed protective against development of mental
health problems. Yoga-participating teens fared better on several of
the tests. While students in the PE group tended to demonstrate
increases in mood problems and anxiety, yoga participants stayed the
same or improved. While positive emotions showed no change, yoga
participants demonstrated lessening of negative emotions, whereas PE
students experienced a worsening. Self-regulatory skills did not show
change. Participants in the yoga program rated the program highly,
with nearly three-fourths of students expressing an interest in
continued yoga classes.

This study is promising given the
increasing recognition and inclusion of wellness initiatives and
mindfulness into high school curricula. High school is a critical
stage of development, which some emphasize to be a crucial period to
establish “mind-body hygiene” that can function as preventive
medicine in future decades. Mind-body curricula may support the
development of health coping patterns in response to stress as well
as resilience. Yoga is a promising approach given its incorporation
of physical exercise with relaxation, deep breathing, and meditation
(each of which has been suggested highly effective in stress
management and health). A growing number of studies suggest yoga to
exert positive effects in children and teens, echoing research in
adults which has demonstrated its effectiveness in benefiting a broad
spectrum of mental and physical health problems.

Despite this study’s novel
contribution, limitations remain. The sample size was small, and with
two-thirds of students in the yoga group, the control group may have
provided a non-representative basis of comparison. The study authors
note their results are “generally consistent” with the few
previous studies in this area. They call for larger, more rigorous
studies which track a more diverse and representative sample of
students, following students into adulthood to observe yoga’s
longitudinal impact on mental and preventive health.

Do you know of any yoga in your local
school district? What do you think about the ability of yoga to benefit high
school students?

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