Thursday, June 27, 2024

The Role of Yoga in Adolescent Mental Health


Ms. Nava, a former lecturer with over 22 years of experience, including 13 years at Curtin University of Technology Perth, Australia, Degree Twinning Program, is now the founder of Nava's Zen. A certified yoga instructor, coach, and counselor, she brings a wealth of expertise to her current endeavors.

In my informal conversations with parents of adolescents, a recurring theme emerges: the impressive achievements and activities their children are involved in - from academic successes to a plethora of extracurricular engagements. Whether it's excelling in exams, mastering musical instruments, Indian classical dancing or traditional forms like ballet and participating in sports like karate and swimming, these achievements are often proudly showcased as markers of parental success in nurturing well-rounded children.

However, when the topic of yoga is introduced (Fear No Yoga) into these discussions, I notice a distinct shift in reactions. It's as if I've mentioned something inconsequential or lacking in prestige. This reaction begs several questions: Could this be due to a lack of awareness about yoga's benefits? Is it because yoga lacks the competitive edge of other activities? Or perhaps, participating in yoga doesn't offer the same opportunities for parental bragging rights as winning a sports competition or a music recital?

This reluctance to embrace yoga for adolescents reflects a broader societal trend - one where parental validation often hinges on their children's tangible achievements and accolades. In a society driven by appearances and the need to showcase parental success, activities that promote inner well-being and mental resilience, like yoga, are overlooked.


Sadly, adolescence is a time when young individuals can feel crushed under the weight of expectations. Rebellion, unruliness, and rudeness can manifest as outward signs of inner turmoil. Many adolescents fall ill without apparent physical causes, often due to the psychological pressure to excel and meet unrealistic standards set by parents who see their children as trophies. I've personally witnessed cases where the mental well-being (Nurturing Kindness) of adolescents deteriorates under such pressure. They lose their sense of joy and spontaneity, becoming withdrawn or exhibiting behavior that is perceived as peculiar.

Even when parents notice these changes, they may choose to ignore them, continuing to push their children to excel. In some cases, parents become aggressive in their pursuit of their children's success, inadvertently exacerbating the stress and anxiety felt by adolescents. In cases when adolescence becomes particularly challenging and parents find themselves at a loss, they reluctantly turn to counseling, psychological support, and sometimes even psychiatric treatment. 

Some parents I know choose to ignore these issues, fearing social stigma associated with seeking help. They might try to handle it themselves or pass the responsibility to relatives, hoping they can resolve the situation. I've seen adolescents who start medication early to manage their mental health, illustrating the severity of these challenges.


Yet, despite these challenges and the clear evidence of harm caused by excessive pressure, the trend of "dragon parenting" - breathing fire onto their children - persists. The societal expectation to produce successful, high-achieving children often outweighs considerations for their emotional and mental health.

Studies have conclusively demonstrated why yoga should be considered a vital practice for adolescents:

Systematic Review of Yoga-Based Interventions in Schools: According to the Wiley Online Library, a comprehensive review evaluated the psychological benefits of yoga programs within school curricula for adolescents, highlighting its advantages over regular activities.


The Benefits of Yoga for Children in Schools ProQuest notes the need for further research into the unique benefits of yoga programs for children, especially its impact on perceived stress and self-esteem among adolescents.


Evaluation of Mental Health Benefits of Yoga in Secondary Schools Springer's research on the mental health benefits of yoga among adolescents involved in secondary education showed statistically significant improvements after an 11-week program based on the Yoga Ed curriculum.


Benefits of Yoga for Psychosocial Well-being in US High Schools Literature from documents widespread psychological benefits from yoga programs integrated into high school curricula, emphasizing its positive impact on adolescents' overall well-being.


Reported Benefits of Yoga in High Schools IngentaConnect reviews the reported benefits of yoga implemented specifically in high school settings, underscoring its role in enhancing adolescents' mental and emotional health.


Additionally, a pivotal study titled "Effects of Yoga on Stress, Stress Adaptation, and Heart Rate Variability Among Adolescent Girls," published in The Journal of Pediatrics (2014), offers compelling insights. Researchers Hagins, Rundle, Consedine, and Khalsa investigated a 10-week yoga program focusing on yoga postures, breathing techniques, and relaxation exercises.


The study found significant reductions in perceived stress levels and enhanced stress adaptation among participants. Moreover, improvements in heart rate variability (HRV), a key indicator of stress resilience, were observed, affirming yoga's effectiveness in helping adolescents manage stress responses (Hagins et al., 2014).


These studies collectively highlight the potential of yoga in supporting adolescents' mental health and well-being. Integrating yoga into educational settings emerges not only as a viable option but a necessary one for nurturing resilient and emotionally balanced young individuals.

At Nava’s Zen, our yoga sessions for adolescents attract a limited number of participants. These individuals join us on the yoga mat with their parents, who themselves practice yoga and recognize its numerous benefits. This parental involvement sets a positive example, demonstrating the value of yoga to their children.

Conversely, a notable portion of the community, including those who prioritize religious values, paradoxically overlooks yoga - a practice revered for its holistic benefits - deeming it insufficient in today’s competitive environment. This contrast highlights a broader societal reluctance or disinterest in yoga, even among parents themselves. Casual conversations with school teachers, including Tamil school teachers and lecturers, often reveal a general reluctance to integrate yoga into educational curricula. Many of them express a lack of awareness or hesitation on the topic, not knowing how to approach it.


Here are some questions for parents to consider regarding yoga for their adolescents:

Have you considered yoga as an activity for your children?

Do you make decisions about your children’s activities without consulting their preferences?

Have you engaged your children in discussions about yoga, only to dismiss it despite their interest?

What other reasons might contribute to this prevailing mindset?


Your insights on these matters are welcomed and valued.

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