Thanks to Matthew Papaconstantinou from Weight Loss Triumph for his guest post on the physical and mental benefits of Ashtanga yoga for children.
Obese children face a well known list of physical risks. Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are just a few ailments that can strike far too soon. Their bodies aren’t all that is affected. In addition to being at risk for lifelong physical ailments, overweight children may also experience psychological distress. The emotional effects can be even worse for girls who are frequently exposed to unrealistic beauty ideals.
A vigorous type of yoga, such as Ashtanga or power, can help overweight kids improve their physical and mental health. Ashtanga sessions focus on challenging practitioners’ strength and flexibility while moving at a lightly aerobic pace. A recent study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, suggests that Ashtanga yoga could help overweight children lose weight while reducing depression and improving self-image.
Ashtanga Classes for Kids at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes
In this study, two University of Texas researchers, Benavides and Caballero, investigated how yoga affected children’s weight loss. Through community outreach, the researchers invited overweight children to participate in free Ashtanga classes as part of the study. The kids were asked to go to three one-hour-and-fifteen-minute yoga sessions each week for three months. They weren’t told to change their diets or their activity levels.
- Kids who were overweight, had an immediate family member with type 2 diabetes or were of Hispanic or African American descent were invited to take part in a 12-week Ashtanga yoga program.
- The 14 participants, most of whom were Hispanic, ranged in age from 8-15.
- After enrolling in the program, the kids had their weight, height and body mass index (BMI) recorded.
- They also underwent lab tests to check their levels of glucose, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Everyone completed a survey to measure anxiety, depression and self-concept at the beginning of the program.
- After finishing the program, the participants weighed in and took psychological surveys again. Those with unusual lab results had their tests repeated.
Weight Loss and Psychological Improvements
By the end of the program, the kids had lost weight—an average of 2 kilograms, or 4.4 pounds, each. One 13-year-old girl lost 5.9 kilograms (13 pounds) the largest decrease of all the participants. Of the two kids who had abnormal lab test results, their retests at the end of the program showed an improvement.
Most of the kids who indicated emotional distress in their initial surveys also showed improvement.
- Five of the kids had low or very low self-esteem scores; four of them showed improvement in their self-esteem by the end of the program.
- Three kids initially showed signs of depression that, by the end of the study, had improved.
- Two kids who had a high level of anxiety were less anxious by the end of the study.
- One parent commented on the increased confidence that her daughter showed after the Ashtanga program.
What Does This Mean for Kids?
Adults who do yoga frequently already know that regular practice has a soothing effect on the mind. Grown-ups are not alone in the ability to feel calmed by performing the asanas. Yoga has been associated with lowered anxiety and increased feelings of relaxation in a study of kids with ADHD. The children )mostly boys) practiced Hatha yoga, a slower and more relaxed style than Ashtanga.
Overweight kids, who are likely to be self-conscious and stressed out about their bodies could benefit even more from the more vigorous Ashtanga style of yoga. Children who develop a regular Ashtanga practice will strengthen their bodies and, quite possibly, begin to feel better about themselves. They could get a boost in self-esteem boost from taking action to get into better shape and as they begin to feel and see the difference in their bodies, develop healthier self-images.
Dr Matthew Papaconstantinou is a research fellow at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. Funding from the American Heart Association allows him to research cardiovascular disease and obesity, his longtime passion. In his spare time, Matthew is developing his website that offers a coupon code for Nutrisystem diet program. In addition to publishing the latest weight-loss news from the scientific community and credible weight-loss articles, he posts Medifast coupon code discounts and reviews of diet plans for weight loss.