Yoga and Teen Mental Health
Yoga is a powerful tool for promoting teen mental health—naturally. This ancient practice is surprisingly effective. It enhances health and well-being, protects against substance abuse, and helps teens learn self-care.
Building the Brain
For adolescents, whose brains are still developing, learning to self-regulate is key to a healthy body and mind. Yoga helps build the brain’s executive function. This is the part of the brain that regulates impulse control and how we react to stress and challenging emotions and situations. Mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation calm the limbic system, which ignites primitive drives and catalyzes risk-taking behaviors. In addition, it enhances the work of the prefrontal cortex, which makes decisions and regulates emotions.
Healing a Broken Link
Yoga also supports the mind-body connection—a link that is increasingly broken for young people. The typical habits of today’s teens, include massive tech consumption and less time spent outdoors. This prevent them from being “in the moment.” In addition, this can lead to a feeling of disembodiment. Furthermore, it can create an inability to tune in to what the body wants and needs. Synchronizing breath and movement on the mat helps heal that disconnect, cultivating deeper awareness of one’s internal state. And the more you pay attention to your body, the better you treat it. Hence, self-care is a vital protective factor against mental illness and substance abuse.
Enhancing Enthusiasm and Self-esteem
Yoga practice improves physical fitness, strengthens the respiratory system, and allows teens to develop mastery. Therefore, this increases self-esteem. Like any physical exercise, doing yoga makes us feel stronger and more in control of our bodies. Regular exercise has also been shown to increase enthusiasm and positivity: In a study of 190 college students, those who were physically active reported greater levels of excitement and enthusiasm than those who are less active. The active students were more likely to report feelings of excitement and enthusiasm on days when they are more physically active than usual.
Equally important, yoga relieves stress and calms the nervous system. In a study of 47 high school students, participants reported significantly greater decreases in anger, depression, and fatigue from before to after participating in yoga compared to PE. That’s significant because stress, depression, and anxiety are underlying causes of substance use: Teens turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.
I urge doctors, mental-health professionals, and parents to look more closely at what yoga can do for adolescents. In conclusion, this is a powerful tool for teens, no matter what issues they’re confronting. Throw out the meds, and unroll the mat! Learn more about our approach and Yoga at Newport Academy.
Jamison Monroe, Jr., is the Founder and CEO of Newport Academy.
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Photo courtesy of Kristopher Allison for Unsplash.