Yoga is being taught to and practiced by adults with mental and emotional disorders, including those who are developmentally disabled. And relatively recently, it is being taught to children and teens with similar challenges. According to people who suffer brain disorders, a session of yoga has more than physical benefits:
- Improving mood, and increasing self-esteem and energy
- Reducing anger and hostility, reducing tension and anxiety, and reducing confusion or bewilderment in developmentally disabled people
Yoga is simple: a series of gentle poses, postures, stretches, and breathing and physical exercises that can be practiced by most people. Yoga is safe and anyone can benefit for free. And from 65% to 73% report they have been genuinely helped by yoga practice. Types of yoga used in treatment settings are Iyengar and Hatha yoga (poses and exercise), and Pranayamas (breathing exercises). The specifics of these types of yoga are best explained in the articles at the end of this article.
There are a number of research studies showing that yoga qualitatively improves mood as self-reported by adult psychiatric patients (on evidence-based survey instruments, see below). But yoga has also been shown to help children and teens with serious mental and behavioral disorders. It is currently being taught in schools for special needs children (ex: Pioneer School in Portland, Oregon) and in psychiatric residential treatment programs for children.
At the end of this post are excerpts from articles on the benefits of yoga for calming, easing anxiety, and reducing depression in children and adults.
For more information on the practice of yoga specifically for troubled and traumatized children and teenagers, there are two organizations that provide yoga classes to help young people feel better, function better, and support their recovery.
The Flawless Foundation – “Creates and supports programs that enrich the lives of children who courageously face challenges of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders on a daily basis.” http://www.flawlessfoundation.org/
Street Yoga – Street Yoga teaches yoga, mindfulness and compassionate communication to youth and families struggling with homelessness, poverty, abuse, addiction, trauma, and neurological and psychiatric issues, so that they can grow stronger, heal from past traumas, and create for themselves a life that is inspired, safe, and joyful. http://www.streetyoga.org/
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Study: Yoga Enhances Mood
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, August 20, 2010
Research confirms what many have suspected—that yoga has positive effects on mood over other physical activities. In a recent study of 2 randomized groups of healthy participants, it was found that the group that practiced yoga 3 times a week for an hour increased brain gamma aminobutyric (GABA) levels over the other group that walked 3 times a week for an hour.
Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) researchers compared participants’ GABA levels on the first and final day of the 12-week study through magnetic resonance spectroscopic (MRS) imaging. With his colleagues, lead author Chris Streeter, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at BUSM
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The effects of yoga on mood in psychiatric inpatients
Roberta Lavey, Tom Sherman, Kim T. Mueser, Donna D. Osborne, Melinda Currier, Rosemarie Wolfe
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, Volume 28, Number 4 / Spring 2005
The effects of yoga on mood were examined in 113 psychiatric inpatients at New Hampshire Hospital. Participants completed the Profile of Mood States (POMS) prior to and following participation in a yoga class. Analyses indicated that participants reported significant improvements on all five of the negative emotion factors on the POMS, including tension-anxiety, depression-dejection, anger-hostility, fatigue-inertia, and confusion-bewilderment. There was no significant change on the sixth POMS factor: vigor-activity. Improvements in mood were not related to gender or diagnosis. The results suggest that yoga was associated with improved mood, and may be a useful way of reducing stress during inpatient psychiatric treatment.
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Practitioners using yoga therapy to mend bodies and spirits (excerpt)
By Michelle Goodman, The Seattle Times, January 11, 2006
As Tisha Satow stretches into the standing yoga pose known as Warrior II, she encourages her student Shaun, clad in sneakers, jeans and a Seahawks T-shirt, to adjust his feet. Across from Shaun, fellow yogi Susan, who travels with a baby stroller occupied by three teddy bears, grips a metal folding chair for balance.
Welcome to yoga therapy, one of the newer recreational activities available to clients of Seattle Mental Health on Capitol Hill. Shaun and Susan, adults who live in group homes and are diagnosed as both developmentally disabled and mentally ill, are regulars in this class, taught weekly by Satow or one of her co-workers at the Samarya Center, a Seattle nonprofit organization devoted to providing yoga to everyone it can, regardless of health issues or finances.
What is yoga therapy? Simply put, it’s the adaptation of yoga breathing, stretching, even chanting techniques to help people with health issues alleviate pain, gain energy and basically feel a heck of a lot better. Who can benefit from it? Anyone from typical backache sufferers to the terminally ill.
“Science is beginning to catch up to this, is beginning to validate this,” says John Kepner, director of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, which has about 1,400 members worldwide.
For the Seattle Mental Health clients, who often attend less glamorous classes such as anger management and checkbook balancing, yoga seems a breath of fresh air. Shaun, who’s shy yet quick to share a laugh with his classmates, says he likes the stretching best. And Susan, who calls yoga “fun” and likes that it gives her a chance to “see people,” shows off her biceps after class so instructor Satow can feel how strong she’s getting.
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Yoga as a Complementary Treatment of Depression: Effects of Traits and Moods on Treatment Outcome (excerpt)
David Shapiro; Ian A. Cook; Dmitry M. Davydov; Cristina Ottaviani; Andrew F. Leuchter; Michelle Abrams
Our preliminary research findings support the potential of yoga as a complementary treatment of depressed patients who are taking anti-depressant medications but who are only in partial remission. In this study, participants were diagnosed with unipolar major depression in partial remission. They took classes led by senior Iyengar yoga teachers. Significant reductions were shown for depression, anger, anxiety, neurotic symptoms and low frequency heart rate variability. Of those in the study, 65% achieved remission levels post-intervention. Yoga is cost-effective and easy to implement. It produces many beneficial emotional, psychological and biological effects, as supported by observations in this study.
Iyengar yoga classes typically involve sitting and standing poses, inversions (head stand, shoulder stand), breathing exercises (pranayama) and short periods of relaxation at the end of each class (savasana–corpse pose). An important feature of participation in Iyengar yoga is sustained attention and concentration. Iyengar theory and practice specifies asanas (poses, postures, positions), and certain asanas have been found to enhance positive mood in healthy (non-depressed) participants.
Previous research on the effects of yoga on mood in non-depressed healthy subjects, suggests the potential of yoga for use in the management of clinical major depression. In a form of yoga (Hatha Yoga) that has a strong exercise dimension much like Iyengar yoga, subjects reported being less anxious, tense, angry, fatigued and confused after classes than just before class.
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How Hatha Yoga saved the life of one manic depressive. (excerpt)
By: Amy Weintraub ; Psychology Today Magazine, Nov/Dec 2000
When Jenny Smith was 41 years old, her mental illness became so severe that she could barely walk or speak. After days of feeling wonderful one moment and hallucinating that spiders and bugs were crawling on her skin the next, she landed in the hospital.
Smith is a victim of bipolar disorder, an illness characterized by oscillating feelings of elation and utter depression. And though she had tried 11 different medications for relief, some in combination, nothing seemed to work. Upon leaving the hospital, Smith was told that she could expect to be in and out of psychiatric hospitals for the rest of her life. Soon after her release, Smith decided to learn Hatha yoga, which incorporates specific postures, meditation and Pranayamas, deep abdominal breathing techniques that relax the body. As she practiced daily, Smith noticed that her panic attacks—were subsiding. She has since become a certified hatha yoga instructor, and with the help of only Paxil, Smith’s pattern of severe mood swings seems to have ended.
Key to reaping Hatha yoga’s mental benefits is reducing stress and anxiety. To that end, Jon Cabot-Zinn, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts, developed the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program (SRRP), a system that emphasizes mindfulness, a meditation technique where practitioners observe their own mental process. In the last 20 years, SRRP has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety and depression, and thus alleviate mental illness.
Research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in India has shown a high success rate—up to 73 percent—for treating depression with sudharshan kriya, a pranayama technique taught in the U.S. as “The Healing Breath Technique.” It involves breathing naturally through the nose, mouth closed, in three distinct rhythms.
According to Stephen Cope, a psychotherapist and author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, “Hatha yoga is an accessible form of learning self-soothing,” he says.” Yoga students may also benefit from their relationship with the yoga instructor, Cope said, which can provide a “container” or a safe place for investigating, expressing and resolving emotional issues.