Research Update: Yoga Shows Promise for Anxiety Reduction in Kids

Research Update: Yoga Shows Promise for Anxiety Reduction in Kids. GettyImages

From private yoga practices to yoga in the classroom, occupational therapists are incorporating yoga into their treatment.

A new review of the effectiveness of yoga in reducing anxiety in kids shows promise that, with this specific population, yoga is an effective technique and hopefully the body of validating research will only continue to grow.

The Systematic Review of Yoga Interventions for Anxiety Reduction Among Children and Adults was published in the November/December 2015 issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

Here is a brief overview of the latest on this research front.

Why the Study Was Done

The researchers undertook this review because they discovered that despite the popularity of yoga in occupational therapy, there had not yet been a compilation of the different studies looking at its effectiveness with kids who struggle with anxiety.

What the Study Entailed

The researchers set these criteria for the articles they would include in their review:

  1. Peer reviewed and in English
  2. Revolve around yoga as an intervention. The researchers defined yoga as including physical postures, controlled breathing and meditation
  3. Participants in the study needed to be between 3 and 18 years old
  4. Include an anxiety outcome measure

After 2,147 references were initially identified, the researchers whittled the number down to 16 articles that met all of the criteria, 6 of which were random controlled trials, which are one of the more rigorous designs for research.

What They Found in the Review

Nearly all of the studies indicated decreased anxiety after a yoga intervention.

In the review, the researchers summarize the findings of the individual articles. Examples of yoga being correlated with decreased anxiety included, adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome reporting significantly decreased to girls 12-18 and youth 12-17 both showing decreased rates of respiration, which is controlled by the autonomic nervous system and may be an indicator of reduced anxiety.

The studies with the most impressive outcomes seemed to have two things in common. First, they targeted very specific populations who would benefit from anxiety reduction, for example, youth with eating disorders and young musicians with performance anxiety. Secondly, the participants received yoga intervention with a relatively high frequency, for example, 2/3x week for 10 weeks.

Take-aways for Parents and Practitioners

Research about yoga as a therapeutic intervention is still in its infancy, so be sure to keep watching for new information to be published. But, in the meantime here are some things to consider before offering yoga as part of your OT practice or enrolling your child in a therapy program that utilizes it as an intervention.

  1. Does the yoga practice have postures, controlled breathing and meditation? If it doesn’t have all three this compilation of research will not apply to you.
  2. Will they be tracking the impact of yoga on the child’s anxiety? If not, how will you know it is helping?
  1. Is the program utilizing a manualized intervention?
  2. Will the program be tailored to a specific population?
  3. Will yoga be undertaken regularly enough to make an impact? I would hesitate to participate in a program that only convened once per week for a month. 

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