Yoga is an excellent system for promoting healthy development and can be an incredibly effective means of facilitating wellness in children. It is non-invasive and its “side effects,” including improved self-esteem, emotional equilibrium, more energy and the ability to self-calm, are completely benign if not totally beneficial.

Children who practice yoga may not only be better able to regulate their emotions, manage stress and calm themselves, studies now show that they may also choose better foods to eat and engage in more physical activity than children who do not.

Whether over- or underweight; body image issues and poor eating habits plague our children today. Studies suggest yoga may help.

One study examined the benefits of yoga for adolescents with eating disorders. These teens attended yoga classes as part of their psychiatric day treatment program. Typically suffering from a lack of self-esteem, nearly 75% reported an increase in well-being. They used the words “relaxed,” “calm,” “energized” and “more awake” to describe how they felt after class.

A case study on anorexic adolescents found that “focused breathing (pranayama), movement sequences (asana), meditation (dhyana), and alert relaxation (yoga nidra)…reduced starvation-induced stress, safely reintroduced physical activity for a weakened body, minimized fatigue and… corrected distorted self-perceptions.”

Other studies on children and adolescents looked at anxiety, depression, trauma, mood regulation, sense of well-being, self-esteem and “increased wellness.”

Studies concluded from a small sample study that a systematic use of breathing exercises, yoga postures and guided relaxation “provided useful strategies for emotional regulation for children with autism spectrum disorders.” Subjective outcomes included “improved focus, strength, flexibility, and balance; improved sense of self-awareness and pride; and improved ability to calm themselves.”

Girls ages 14 to 17 who had suffered traumatic abuse attended a yoga class twice a week and showed “significant decreases in depression, anxiety, dissociation, and intrusive/avoidant symptoms.” It was further reported that “the girls overwhelmingly noted that they felt happier, more relaxed, less stressed, and more at ease in their bodies on the days they practiced yoga than on the days they did not.”

It seems simple. Children are suffering from a lack of connection to their own bodies, their environment and the food they eat. Yoga facilitates connection. It’s easy, low cost, accessible, and anyone can do it. And now it’s being proven effective.

More and more teachers and other interested adults are sharing yoga with children. Kids have a natural tendency to share what they are learning when they get home, so this is an easy way to get the whole family involved. Parents may be practicing yoga themselves, and kids are always interested in what their parents are up to.

The more parents, teachers, doctors and other professionals working with children understand the practice of yoga and its benefits, the more likely it is to be seriously considered as a therapy.

In an era of children acquiring conditions and diseases previously unknown in childhood, proper breathing, exercise and deep relaxation may be the powerful healing force needed. Yoga resonates with children. They love the practice, and they love how they feel afterwards. With all of the research and “proof” now available, it may well be just what the doctor orders.