The Importance of Physical Activities, Yoga, and Mindful Based Practices for Young Children

The topic of this blog post is the importance of physical activity for children. In terms of physical activity, I chose to focus on yoga practice for young children. I believe that children are a big part of our society and their health is a reflection of their surroundings, which is why children’s health is so important. I researched three unique and professional studies that show how yoga builds resilience, self-awareness, self-image, self-esteem, quality of life, and dramatically reduces fatigue and anxiety.

Studies show that exercise facilitates children's executive function by increasing activation in the prefrontal cortex and serotonergic system in the brain. Because of the integration of physical movement with breathing exercises and mental focus, yoga may prove to be an ideal form of exercise or treatment to enhance these aspects of children's mental state, physical, and cognitive development. Yoga has the ability to improve cognitive functions like awareness and reduce stress and anxiety in the classroom and at home. An increasing number of teachers, clinicians, and child psychologists are realizing that yoga poses, breath awareness, and mindfulness activities like this are beneficial to their students/patient's mental health and well-being. The many benefits of yoga and mindfulness-based practices for children are well known, and carefully-controlled scientific research is growing every year. Based on the increasing evidence supporting the effectiveness of children’s yoga, special yoga-based programs within schools are being developed for children, designed to address stress and anxiety, place emphasis on individual abilities, and provide a gentle method to increase physical fitness and enhance health and wellness.

     An article written by Pennsylvania State University in 2011 called, Nurturing Mindfulness in Children and Youth: Current State of Research, stated, “There is considerable concern that children and youth experience less than optimal physical and mental health and that it affects a wide range of outcomes, including academic performance, substance use, violence, and obesity” (Greenberg et al.,2003). Authors stressed how there needs to be a new method to nurture children’s health and well-being. In general, children who can develop positive habits or use mindful practices as tools, will build resilience. The article calls for more scientific research to support this intervention and to start implementing intervention into treatment settings and schools. To summarize, yoga practice is an opportunity to cultivate positive habits of mind and body and to promote the health and wellbeing of children and youth in our schools.

A before and after two group study was done by the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology in 1980 called, Body Cathexis in Children as a Function of Awareness Training and Yoga, to show connections between one’s mind and body to one’s self-image and self-esteem. The article used terms like low body-cathexis and low self-cathexis; both concepts develop at a young age and are intertwined. The study was designed to increase body satisfaction in children. The study was performed on twelve third-graders who demonstrated low body satisfaction and poor physical coordination. The children were randomly assigned to either a group that performed yoga practices and awareness training exercises or a control group. The results were measured and determined by a child’s version of their “Body Cathexis-Self Cathexis (BCSC) Scale and the Human Figures Drawing Test”. The children who participated in the experiment did yoga activities for thirty minutes, three times a week for a total of one month, in small groups of three children at a time. The results showed an increase in body satisfaction among the children participating in yoga and ‘awareness training’. The children who were in the control group demonstrated no change. An interesting finding in this article was the reasoning to the subjects’ initial body dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction was thought to be the result of reactions to previous parental or peer evaluations. For example, judgments from others that were then internalized. The goal and treatment of the study was to change the ‘behavioral-motor’ habits of these children by providing an emotionally accepting environment which allowed children to positively reevaluate themselves and how they view their bodies. This study demonstrated an effective way to counteract negative influence by the positive benefits of awareness training and yoga practices.

A study by BMC (BioMed Central) Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2015 titled, A Pilot Study to Evaluate the Feasibility of Individualized Yoga for Inpatient Children Receiving Intensive Chemotherapy, showed the positive effects of personalized yoga practices to reduce fatigue in patients and increase quality of life. This article stressed the frequency and severity of cancer-related fatigue. Fatigue is one of the most troublesome symptoms in paediatric cancer patients. This impacts their quality of life. The studies were conducted in children ages 10 to 18 and found that lack of energy was the most common symptom (50% to 76% of participants).  Fatigue symptoms were moderate to very severe in intensity. The study used yoga exercises for children receiving the most intensive chemotherapy because children may be too ill to participate in other types of vigorous exercise programs.  Yoga can be individualized for patients depending on their current status and yoga can be performed in any location without the need for equipment or materials. The study included children and adolescents (ages 7 to 18 years of age) who were diagnosed with various types of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and were expected to be an inpatient for at least three weeks. The results were determined by parent-reported Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory (PedsQL), Multidimensional Fatigue Scale, Fatigue Scale-Parent, PedsQL Generic Core Scales, and PedsQL Acute Cancer Module. Ten out of eleven patients had reduced pain, positive change psychologically. For example, reduced anxiety and agitation, better sleep, and improved mood overall. Many children felt yoga had given them the opportunity to relax and ‘escape’ from the hectic hospital environment. In summary, individualized yoga is effective for children with cancer receiving intensive chemotherapy.

Overwhelmingly, research shows that children who practice yoga-based movement, conscious breathing, and mindfulness activities are better able to regulate their emotions, manage stress and had increased self-esteem. The studies illustrate that centered, calm and focused children learn more easily, have better social skills and, in general, are much happier. In conclusion, everyone can benefit from yoga practices; children in school programs, children in specialized programs, children undergoing chemotherapy, and even parents.

It would be interesting to implement special yoga-based programs within schools. This could be designed for children who want to address issues like stress, anxiety, motor development, or place emphasis on individual abilities. This would provide teachers and educators with a new method of increasing physical fitness, health, and positive self-esteem into programs.

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments, and thank you for reading!

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