Reduce Anxiety and Improve Attention in Pre-Teens with Yogic Breathing
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Pranayama is an incredibly effective, important tool to teach children so they can control their energy, their mood, and their impulses.” – Amanda James
Breathing is essential for life and generally occurs automatically. It’s easy to take for granted as it’s been there our entire lives. Nevertheless, we become more aware of it when it varies with circumstances, such as when we exercise and also in emotional states, especially fear and anxiety. But we rarely notice it during everyday ongoing life. Yet, its characteristics are associated with our state of well-being. Slow deep breathing is characteristic of a healthy relaxed state. Breathing exercises are common in yoga practices and have been found to have a number of beneficial effects.
The Pre-teen years are transitional between childhood and adolescence. What happens here and what is learned can have a huge impact on the child’s ability to navigate the difficult years of adolescence. It is not known whether training in yogic breathing techniques can be beneficial for pre-teens.
In today’s Research News article “Immediate Effect of a Yoga Breathing Practice on Attention and Anxiety in Pre-Teen Children.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6678429/), Telles and colleagues recruited healthy pre-teen children (11-12 years of age) who practiced yoga and yogic breathing exercises and randomly assigned them to one of 3 orders of 3 interventions; high frequency yogic breathing, breath awareness, and quiet sitting practiced on successive days. The breathing exercises were practiced at school for 3 3.5-minute periods followed by 1-minute rest. They were measured before and after each session for anxiety and selective attention.
They found that there was a significant decrease in anxiety after all 3 interventions. After high frequency yogic breathing there was a significant increase in selective attention, while after breath awareness there was a significant increase in selective attention errors.
The reduction in anxiety cannot be definitively ascribed to the yogic exercises as quiet sitting also reduces anxiety. Anxiety reduction may also be due to relief for having finished the task as there was a reduction regardless of task. High frequency yogic breathing is known to produce physiological activation, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. This activation may be responsible for the improved selective attention. On the other hand, breath awareness practice tends to produce relaxation. It is possible that this relaxation reduces vigilance and increases errors in selective attention.
There is a need for more research on yogic breathing and its effects on anxiety levels to ascertain if the reduction in anxiety are due to contaminants such as placebo effects or relaxation after task completion. It is important to reduce anxiety in pre-teens as this is a difficult time and high levels of anxiety can interfere with the child’s ability to cope with the challenges. Also, improved selective attention with high frequency yogic breathing may help the pre-teens in their academic endeavors.
So, reduce anxiety and improve attention in pre-teens with yogic breathing.
“kids love working with the breath!! There is so much fun to be had with breathing exercises. They find inner strength and peace, it uplifts them, calms them, and teaches them how to focus in nerve-wracking or anxiety-inducing situations.” – Joanne Moules
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Telles, S., Gupta, R. K., Gandharva, K., Vishwakarma, B., Kala, N., & Balkrishna, A. (2019). Immediate Effect of a Yoga Breathing Practice on Attention and Anxiety in Pre-Teen Children. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 6(7), 84. doi:10.3390/children6070084
Pre-teen children face stressors related to their transition from childhood to adolescence, with a simultaneous increase in academic pressure. The present study compared the immediate effects of 18 min of (i) high frequency yoga breathing with (ii) yoga-based breath awareness and (iii) sitting quietly, on (a) attention and (b) anxiety, in 61 pre-teen children (aged between 11 and 12 years; 25 girls). Attention was assessed using a six letter cancellation task and Spielberger’s State Trait Anxiety Inventory STAI-S was used to measure anxiety before and after the three practices, practiced on separate days. Repeated measures ANOVA, followed by Bonferroni adjusted post-hoc analyses showed an increase in total attempts and net scores after high frequency yoga breathing (p < 0.05), while wrong attempts increased after yoga based breath awareness (p < 0.05). Anxiety decreased comparably after all three interventions. The 25 girls in the group had the same trend of results as the whole group with respect to the attention-based cancellation task, while boys showed no, how since change. For both girls and boys, anxiety decreased after all three 18min interventions. The results suggest that high frequency yoga breathing could be a short, useful school based practice to improve attention and reduce anxiety.