Yoga for Kids

Millions of people practice yoga as a way to stay fit or for relaxation. But could it be used as medication?

Aaron Schaefer spent years battling debilitating migraines caused by stress. Since starting this yoga class, the headaches are gone.

"When I started taking that, it was like a cure from heaven," says Aaron Schaefer.

Researchers at Duke University are studying whether a program that combines yoga and other therapies can help children's mental and physical health.

"It calms you down,” explains Murali Doraiswamy, MD, a Professor of Psychiatry at Duke Medicine. “It relaxes your body. It lowers your heart rate. It lowers you respiration, and in general, it reduces the effects of stress on your body."

Doctor Murali Doraiswamy says these relaxation responses can help mild depression and sleep disorders. Yoga may also provide additional benefits for people with schizophrenia and ADHD when combined with standard drugs.

"The benefits were of the same magnitude of the benefits we see with psychiatric medications," says Dr. Doraiswamy.

Previous studies have shown yoga-based techniques can help individuals cope with anxiety, stress and low mood. Researchers are studying whether these methods can be adapted for children and teens.

"Often times, they don't fully understand that kind of awareness of body and the awareness of how their thoughts and emotions can be tied in with how they're feeling physically," explains Anava Wren Doctoral Candidate in Clinical psychology at Duke University.

His dad says it's been a great stress reliever for Aaron.

"What had been three or four, you know, a dozen headaches a week, disappeared completely," says Paul Schaefer.

Aaron can now concentrate on his dream of becoming an architect.

Researchers hope their findings will spur government agencies to fund larger national studies to confirm their initial results and make yoga a standard treatment option for mental conditions.

They say their evidence is still preliminary, and patients should consult with their doctors if they are concerned about a mental health condition.

Yoga for Kids
REPORT #2001

BACKGROUND: Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and currently, close to 11 million Americans are enjoying its health benefits. It is a mind-body practice that combines stretching exercises, controlled breathing and relaxation. Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines to achieve peacefulness of body and mind, helping one relax and manage stress and anxiety. (Source:;

BENEFITS OF YOGA: For many patients, dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. A number of studies have shown that yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety. It can also enhance a person's mood and overall sense of well-being. Practicing yoga has also been proven to lead to improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. Yoga has also been used as an adjunct treatment for specific medical conditions, including heart disease. It benefits other chronic medical conditions, relieving symptoms of asthma, back pain, and arthritis. (Source:;;

YOGA PRECAUTIONS: Yoga is generally considered safe for most healthy people when practiced under the guidance of a trained instructor. However, there are some situations in which yoga might pose a risk. These include:

* A herniated disk
* A risk of blood clots
* Deconditioned state
* Eye conditions, including glaucoma
* Hyperthyroidism

YOGA FOR KIDS: The beauty of yoga is that its benefits are available to students of all ages, including children. Studies show that kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who practiced yoga improved on-task time and attention as well as reduced symptoms. In addition, yoga has been used to help at-risk youth around the U.S. and is seen as an important outlet for students who have behavioral problems, spent time in the juvenile justice system, or failed at traditional school settings. The practice has also been shown to be an effective teaching tool when working with students with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, sensory integration disorder, and learning difficulties. (Source:

For More Information, Contact:

Taryn Allen or Anava Wren
Doctoral Candidates in Clinical Psychology
Duke University
(919) 681-0040 or

Rachel Bloch Harrison
Media Relations Representative
Duke Medicine Marketing and Communications

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