“Yoga is about exploring and learning in a fun, safe and playful way. Yoga and kids are a perfect match.” – PBS Parents
Childhood can be a wonderful time of life. But, it is often fraught with problems that can stress the child. Grammar school aged children are exposed to many stressors including problems at home. These can vary from simple disciplinary problems to physical and sexual abuse to familial economic stresses. At school they can be discriminated against, teased, bullied, or laughed at. In addition, modern testing programs insure that these children are constantly exposed to high stakes testing. All of these stresses can occur while the child has yet developed adequate strategies and mechanisms to cope with the stress. So, there is a need to develop methods to assist young children, perhaps even more so than adults, to cope with stress.
Yoga practice has many positive physical and psychological benefits including reducing the physical and psychological responses to stress in adults (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/contemplative-practice/yoga-contemplative-practice/). It has even been shown to benefit high school students (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/10/24/keep-grades-up-with-downward-dog/). It is known that mindfulness training has positive effects on 4th and 5th grade children (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/08/building-a-better-adult-with-elementary-school-mindfulness-training/) and even with preschool children (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/building-a-better-adult-preschool-mindfulness-training/). This suggests that there it is reasonable to further explore the effects of yoga practice on stress at earlier ages.
In today’s Research News article “Effects of a Classroom-Based Yoga Intervention on Cortisol and Behavior in Second- and Third-Grade Students: A Pilot Study”
Butzer and colleagues conduct an uncontrolled trial of 10 weeks of yoga training for 2nd and 3rd grade students and measured salivary cortisol levels, a marker of stress, and obtained teacher behavioral ratings. The children received instruction in the classroom in all components of yoga practice, including breathing exercises, physical exercises and postures, meditation techniques, and relaxation. They practiced twice a week for 30-minutes for the 10 weeks. Measures were taken before and after the 10-week yoga practice period.
They found that the 2nd graders showed a significant decrease in salivary cortisol levels from the beginning of the 10-week training period to the end. This suggests that there was a decrease in stress levels in these children. The teacher rating again revealed significant improvement in the 2nd grade children in social interactions with classmates, attention span, ability to concentrate on work, ability to stay on task, academic performance, ability to deal with stress/anxiety, confidence/self-esteem, and overall mood. This suggests that there was an increase in academic, social, and emotional abilities in the 2nd grade children over the testing period. Unfortunately, they did not observe similar benefits in the 3rd grade children.
These are encouraging results. But, it must be kept in mind that this was an uncontrolled pilot trial. Without a control group there is no way to tell if the children simply improved due to their maturing, growing more accustomed to their environment, or learning from the normal instruction over the 10-week period. There is also the possibility of a bias effect as the teachers who taught the yoga were the same ones doing the ratings. In addition, the fact that the 3rd grade students did not show similar responses as the 2nd graders, limits the generalizability of the results and questions their validity. It is possible, though that the differences between the 2nd and 3rd grade were due to differences in the teachers or the classroom environments rather than the yoga training.
Regardless, these pilot results provide support for implementing a larger randomized control trial of the application of yoga to grammar school children and, perhaps, demonstrate a safe and effective method to reduce stress in kids.
“We can learn so much from how children respond to uncertainty with a sense of curiosity and adventure. Rather than fearing that we’ll fail to meet an expectation, we can adopt a child’s practice of letting go, and so much more becomes possible. We can create more magic, inspiration, happiness, love, joy, and laughter both on and off the mat.” – Kali Love
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies