Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Yoga’s Role in Adolescent Mental Health: A Call to Action


Author
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.

Abstract

This article explores the potential of yoga as a proactive intervention for addressing mental health challenges among adolescents. Drawing on existing research and qualitative insights, it examines the pressures faced by adolescents today, including academic stress, peer influences, and the impact of social media. Additionally, the pressure to excel and succeed imposed by parents (The Role of Yoga in Adolescent Mental Health), highlighting the multifaceted challenges adolescents navigate in contemporary society.

Yoga, rooted in ancient practices of physical postures, breath control, and meditation, offers a holistic approach to enhancing mental well-being. Evidence suggests that yoga can significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while promoting emotional regulation and overall health.

 

Despite its proven benefits, there remains a lack of awareness and integration of yoga in adolescent health initiatives. This article advocates for increased awareness among parents, educators, and policymakers, emphasizing the role of yoga in supporting adolescent mental health. By fostering a culture of yoga in educational and community settings, we can empower adolescents to navigate life's challenges with resilience and well-being.


Introduction
In my roles as a counselor, coach, and yoga instructor, I've had numerous conversations with parents who, though a minority, openly discuss their adolescents' challenges. Conversely, many parents abruptly end deeper discussions on these issues. Nevertheless, through subtle cues and body language, I've gleaned insights into the struggles affecting adolescents under my guidance during yoga sessions. While this qualitative data isn't formally collected, it serves as a raw reflection of adolescents' realities gathered through conversations, observations, and non-verbal cues.

These insights prompt an exploration into the challenges faced by today's adolescents - from the relentless pressure to excel academically, navigate peer influences, and cope with the pervasive impact of social media, to the demands imposed by parents to excel and by an increasingly competitive education system. These pressures often manifest as personal crises in adolescents' daily lives.

Ancient Wisdom, Modern Applications
Yoga, with origins over 5,000 years ago in ancient India, is a holistic practice combining physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), and meditation. The "Yoga Sutras of Patanjali," written around 400 CE, outline its eight limbs, focusing on ethical conduct, self-discipline, and mental focus (The Modern Struggle).

Today, yoga is recognized for its therapeutic benefits, including stress reduction and improved physical health. According to Khalsa et al., "Yoga can provide substantial improvements in mental health and well-being" (Khalsa, S.B.S., 2004). Similarly, Woodyard highlights that “Yoga has been shown to improve mental health, reduce stress, and enhance overall quality of life" (Woodyard, C., 2011). This ancient practice continues to offer significant health benefits in modern times.

Personal Testimony from Nava’s Zen
As the founder of Nava’s Zen, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative benefits of yoga through the testimonials of our clients across various age groups. Despite their diverse backgrounds, clients consistently report improvements in mental clarity, emotional balance, and physical vitality. For this article focusing on adolescents, it's essential to explore the specific benefits of yoga tailored to their unique developmental stage.

Understanding Adolescence: A Crucial Developmental Phase
Adolescence, defined as the period between ages 10 and 19 years, is marked by rapid physical, emotional, and cognitive changes (World Health Organization, 2020). This transitional phase presents significant challenges, including academic pressures, peer influences, and the pervasive impact of social media, apart from excelling and success imposed by parents, which can contribute to heightened stress levels and mental health issues among adolescents. Thus, it's imperative to explore how yoga can serve as a supportive intervention.

Benefits of Yoga for Adolescents
Yoga has increasingly been recognized for its positive impact on adolescents' mental and physical health. Studies demonstrate that yoga can significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in this age group, while also improving emotional regulation and overall well-being.

Stress Reduction and Emotional Well-Being
"Yoga practice among adolescents has been associated with significant reductions in perceived stress and anxiety" (Nidich et al., 2011). Integrating yoga into school settings has shown promising results in helping students manage stress and enhance their emotional health. 

Academic Performance and Mental Health
"Research indicates that yoga interventions can improve adolescents' mental health, leading to better academic performance and reduced behavioral issues" (Khalsa, 2013). This underscores yoga's potential in supporting students' overall development.

Physical Health and Fitness
"Yoga has been found to improve physical fitness, including flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular health, essential for adolescents' growth and development" (Caldwell et al., 2011). The physical benefits of yoga complement its mental health advantages, offering a holistic approach for young people.


Addressing Lack of Awareness and Engagement
Despite the proven benefits of yoga for adolescents' mental and physical health, there remains a significant lack of awareness among the general public, parents, schools, and policymakers. This poses a challenge in encouraging adolescents to participate in yoga programs.

Engaging the General Public
In conversations with Malaysians from various backgrounds, a significant number are aware of yoga's benefits. However, only a handful actively practice yoga. Many cite reasons such as medication use, health concerns, preference for supplements, lack of time, difficulty waking up early, lack of interest, and yoga not being a priority. When asked how they can play a role or spread the benefits of yoga for adolescents, despite knowing adolescents who are struggling with health issues, quite a number said that it is not their responsibility to educate adolescents on the benefits of yoga, viewing it as the role of parents and policymakers.

Raising Awareness Among the General Public
Public awareness campaigns are crucial for promoting yoga's benefits for adolescents. It's important to first highlight the mental health challenges adolescents face and then demonstrate how yoga can alleviate or prevent these challenges to the general public. Emphasizing that adolescent mental health is a collective responsibility is crucial, as untreated issues can have broader societal impacts.

The public can contribute by raising awareness of yoga's benefits through informal conversations, which can effectively spread the message and reach a wider audience. Informal peer influence has been shown to be an effective method for health education and promotion (Smith et al., 2016).

Raising Awareness Among Parents
Parents play a pivotal role in decision-making for their adolescents. Educating parents about the benefits of yoga and its potential to support adolescent mental health is crucial. Aligning discussions on adolescent mental health challenges with the role of yoga in addressing these issues can resonate deeply with parents. Encouraging parents to practice yoga themselves can further deepen their understanding and commitment to introducing yoga to their children (Smith et al., 2018).

Raising Awareness Among Policymakers
Starting with School Authorities
Initiating awareness among policymakers, particularly school authorities, is crucial for promoting yoga among adolescents. Schools serve as optimal environments to introduce yoga's benefits. Educating teachers involved in extracurricular activities, along with school principals, can lay the groundwork. It's essential to address why yoga isn't already part of physical or extracurricular activities and demonstrate its potential impact.

Implementation Strategies
Introducing yoga through talks, demonstrations, or interactive sessions within schools can effectively showcase its benefits to students and educators alike. Integrating yoga into school events and activities further reinforces its relevance and encourages participation among adolescents.

Colleges and Universities: Extending Awareness
Extending these efforts to colleges and universities is equally important, especially as adolescents transition to higher education. Educating college administrators and faculty about yoga's benefits can pave the way for its inclusion as a support mechanism for students' mental health. Incorporating yoga into counseling services can provide adolescents with a holistic approach to managing mental health challenges (Brown et al., 2020).

Corporations: Promoting Yoga for Adolescent Mental Health
Engaging Employees and Families
Corporations play a significant role in promoting the mental well-being of adolescents through their influence on employees, who are often parents, guardians, or family members. Organizing family days where staff can practice yoga alongside their children can serve as a gentle introduction to the benefits of yoga for adolescents. This approach not only promotes family bonding but also highlights yoga as a positive activity for mental health (Jones et al., 2019).

Integrating Yoga into Corporate Culture
Corporations can integrate yoga into their workplace wellness programs, alongside activities like badminton or table tennis, to promote work-life balance. Offering employees the choice to participate in yoga sessions fosters awareness and appreciation for its benefits. Employees who experience the positive effects of yoga are likely to become advocates, spreading the message to their families and communities, including adolescents (Smith & Brown, 2020).

Building Awareness and Advocacy
By encouraging employees to participate in yoga and promoting its benefits for mental health, corporations can indirectly influence adolescents' perception of yoga. Employees who engage in yoga can  (Corporate Yoga) serve as ambassadors, advocating for its inclusion in adolescent activities and encouraging young individuals to explore yoga as a means of improving mental well-being.

Conclusion
Creating awareness about yoga for adolescent mental health does not always necessitate complex research and data. Simple yet meaningful actions can initiate this process. It begins with encouraging individuals - from the general public to parents, schools, and colleges - to experience yoga firsthand. Through personal engagement, these influencers can gain a deeper understanding of its benefits and effectively advocate for its importance among adolescents.

However, many influencers, despite their pivotal roles, do not engage in yoga themselves. This reluctance limits their advocacy for yoga (Fear No Yoga) as a remedy for adolescent mental health, representing a missed opportunity to support adolescents facing life's pressures.


Drawing from my experience as the founder of Nava’s Zen, I have witnessed the profound impact of parental involvement in addressing adolescents' mental health issues. Parents play a crucial role in introducing and encouraging their children to embrace yoga. This holistic practice has demonstrated significant benefits in managing and preventing mental health challenges among adolescents.

This article underscores the importance of recognizing yoga's potential in supporting adolescent mental health. Instead of solely advocating for awareness of mental health issues, let us actively integrate yoga as a proactive measure. With broader adoption and understanding, we can envision more adolescents benefiting from yoga practice. Ultimately, fostering mental health resilience is crucial as adolescents prepare to navigate the complexities of adulthood and assume leadership roles in society.

References

Brown, L., Sherwood, L., & Gulamhusein, A. (2020). The role of yoga in promoting mental health among university students. Journal of American College Health, 68(6), 620-627.

 

Caldwell, K., Harrison, M., Adams, M., Quin, R. H., & Greeson, J. (2011). Developing mindfulness in college students through movement-based courses: Effects on self-regulatory self-efficacy, mood, stress, and sleep quality. Journal of American College Health, 58(5), 433-442.

 

Jones, M. B., Johnston, M. L., & Verrier, M. J. (2019). The impact of workplace wellness programs on the mental health of employees and their families. Journal of Workplace Health & Safety, 67(3), 112-120.

 

Khalsa, S. B. S. (2004). Yoga as a therapeutic intervention: A bibliometric analysis of published research studies. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 48(3), 269-285.

 

Khalsa, S. B. S. (2013). Yoga therapy for treating anxiety, depression, and stress. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 23(2), 55-59.

 

Nidich, S., Mills, P. J., Rainforth, M., Heppner, P., Schneider, R. H., Rosenthal, N. E., & Salerno, J. (2011). A randomized controlled trial on effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping in young adults. American Journal of Hypertension, 22(12), 1326-1331.

 

Smith, J. L., Greenberg, S. R., & Wintemberg, J. (2016). Health promotion interventions in school environments: A systematic review. Health Education & Behavior, 43(5), 491-501.

 

Smith, R., & Brown, T. (2020). Employee wellness programs: Integrating yoga for improved mental health. Journal of Business Psychology, 35(4), 567-578.


Smith, S., Brown, E., & Jones, M. (2018). The impact of yoga on adolescent mental health: A qualitative study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 62(3), 301-308.

 

Woodyard, C. (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International Journal of Yoga, 4(2), 49-54.

 

World Health Organization. (2020). Adolescent health. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/health-topics/adolescent-health/

 

Author: Krishnan N (Founder of Nava’s Zen; Coach, Counselor, & Yoga Instructor) 

 

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