Yoga may help teens to curb anxiety, be more resilient and effectively manage stress and mood, suggests a study published in The Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research (2011; doi: 10.1007/s11414-011-9249-8). Mental health conditions like anxiety, depression or related behavioral problems disrupt life for as many as 7.5% of adolescents. Many adults who suffer from these same issues started experiencing symptoms during the teen years. Since yoga and meditation techniques are known to lower stress and improve mood, researchers wanted to determine what mental health benefits might result from a school-based yoga program for adolescents.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston enrolled 121 students from the 11th and 12th grades in either a control group that took physical education (PE) classes as usual or a yoga group that took classes either two or three times per week for 11 weeks. Yoga classes were nonreligious and based on the Yoga Ed.™ program for high-school curriculum. At baseline and at the end of 11 weeks, all students completed questionnaires regarding mood, anxiety, perceived stress, resilience and other mental health issues.

Data analysis showed that yoga group members made statistically significant improvements in measures of anger control and fatigue. Control group members were worse off at the end of the 11 weeks than when they started the study. For yoga participants, other categories remained about the same or showed slight improvements.

“Our study showed that yoga was well-accepted and perceived as beneficial by high-school students assigned to participate in the program of yoga classes. The improvements we observed in resilience and emotion regulation should serve as self-regulatory skills that will not only improve the mental health of these adolescents, but serve to prevent the incidence of mental health problems into adulthood,” said Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, lead study author, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and assistant neuroscientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Researchers recommended that future studies on this topic be larger, with more outcome measures and a longer treatment period.

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