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Yoga may help kids' mental, physical health - researchers

June 17, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Millions of people practice yoga as a way to stay fit and relaxed, but this ancient exercise could also help children battling health issues, such as chronic headaches and attention deficit disorder.

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

"When I started taking that, it was like a cure from heaven," said 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. It relaxes your body. It lowers your heart rate. It lowers your respiration, and in general, it reduces the effects of stress on your body," said Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry.

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," said Doraiswamy.

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

"Oftentimes, 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," said psychology researcher Anava Wren.

Schaefer's father says it's been a great stress reliever for his son.

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

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

Researchers hope that 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.


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