by Ashley Jordan Ferira, PhD, RDN
We are a stressed society, and our children are not immune. Stressors originating from home life and school (e.g. academic performance concerns, peer exclusion, social pressure, bullying, etc.) can result in negative short- and long-term consequences on children’s mental wellbeing, physical health and quality of life (QOL).1 It is estimated that in the 3-17 year age group of US children: 3% suffer from anxiety; 2.1% have depression; and 3.5% have behavioral or conduct problems.2 Furthermore, suicide was the 2nd leading cause of death among US youth ages 12-17 in 2010, which is certainly a sobering statistic.2
Since stress is a potentially malleable factor in children, evidence-based, replicable approaches to reduce stress and improve mental health and wellbeing are critical. Schools are a logical location to test and implement stress reduction strategies, since children spend a substantial amount of their life in school from 1st to 12th grade: approximately 14,342 hours based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (averages: 6.64 hours/school day and 180 school days/year).3
Researchers from Tulane University conducted a randomized controlled school-based study to examine the effects of a yoga and mindfulness curriculum on students’ QOL in a New Orleans, LA public elementary school.1 The participants included 3rd grade students who screened positive for anxiety symptoms; students were randomized to 8 weeks of small-group yoga/mindfulness activities (n=20) or control group receiving usual care (n=32).1 Yoga/mindfulness sessions were provided by an experienced community yoga instructor using validated Yoga Ed curriculum. Quality of life outcomes were assessed utilizing validated tools: Brief Multidimensional Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale-Peabody Treatment Progress Battery (BMSLSS-PTPB) and Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory (PedsQL).
The yoga-based intervention (when compared to the control group) corresponded with significant improvements in QOL:1
- 17 unit increase in student emotional PedsQL
- 43 unit increase in psychosocial PedsQL
The researchers also involved teachers and staff, who were invited to two professional development sessions, where they were taught how to introduce yoga and mindfulness into the classroom.1 They reported using yoga more often following the 2nd development session, and rated perceived benefits of incorporating yoga as consistently high.1
In summary, students, teachers and staff derived quantifiable benefits from a school-based yoga/mindfulness intervention.1 Improvements in emotional and psychosocial QOL were demonstrated in the children receiving the intervention (400 min total: 10 in-person 40-minute group sessions) which included breathing exercises, guided relaxation, and several age-appropriate Vinyasa and Ashtanga poses.1 A previous classroom-based, 10-week yoga intervention (uncontrolled pilot study) in 2nd/3rd grade students in Maine also proved advantageous for stress management and corresponded with a reduction in salivary cortisol levels.4
Why is this Clinically Relevant?
- Children experience numerous stress inputs, which can lead to serious short- and long-term health consequences
- Stress-reducing interventions and coping mechanisms are needed to reduce children’s stress levels and improve their QOL
- Yoga/mindfulness interventions incorporated into elementary school curricula have demonstrated benefits for children’s emotional and psychosocial QOL1 and stress management,4 and future studies should include larger populations and additional age groups
- Bazzano AN, Anderson CE, Hylton C, Gustat J. Effect of mindfulness and yoga on quality of life for elementary school students and teachers: results on a randomized controlled school-based study. Psych Res Behav Manag. 2018;11:81-89.
- CDC. Children’s Mental Health: Data & Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html. Accessed May 11, 2018.
- NCES. Schools and Staffing Survey. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass0708_035_s1s.asp. Accessed May 11, 2018.
- Butzer B, Day D, Potts A, et al. Effects of a classroom-based yoga intervention on cortisol and behavior in second-and third-grade students: a pilot study. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2015;20(1):41-49.