Researchers study effects of yoga as a potential treatment for children with ADHD
According to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), yoga is the sixth most commonly-used complementary health practice among adults, with about 21 million participants nationwide. The survey also found that 3.1 percent of U.S. children, some 1.7 million, practice yoga.
UC Davis recently sponsored an intervention study researching the effects of yoga to improve attention and impulsive behaviors in children displaying attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. The study followed 23 children exhibiting ADHD symptoms who were 3 to 5 years old from the Triumph Center for Early Childhood Education in Sacramento.
Symptoms of the disorder include making careless mistakes, engaging in risky behavior, trouble concentrating, being squirmish, having a hard time resisting temptation and having difficulty getting along with others, as stated by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
“Anyone can benefit from practicing yoga, but there may be some added benefits for kids that have difficulty with attention,” said Samantha Cohen, UC Davis Developmental Behavioral Pediatric Fellow and principal investigator of the study.
The primary purpose for the yoga intervention study was treatment for ADHD symptoms. The participants practiced yoga both at home and at school for six weeks every day. School yoga sessions were taught by an instructor who led the participants through breathing exercises and engaging poses such as ocean, outer space or jungle adventure.
ADHD is present in about 5 percent of the child population in the United States, making it one of the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disorders, according the American Psychiatric Association.
Previous studies have looked at yogic interventions in various age groups, but the primary therapeutic strategy on the preschool level has been centered around teaching parents strategies to manage and alleviate their child’s symptoms.
“I decided to focus on that [preschool] age group to see if yoga would be something that would be beneficial as a type of behavioral therapy […] to help with learning some self-regulation skills,” Cohen said, “Things that they could use from when they’re young and on the way through their life.”
Studying ADHD to find solutions and preventative measures for the symptoms will help millions of children as well as older age groups because symptoms often persist into adulthood.
Biological data collected included recording heart rate variability every three months. Additional data was collected through surveys completed by parents and teachers, including: rating the participant’s attentional attendance, concentration, pro-social behaviors, impulsive behaviors, emotional state and peer problems.
“Some of the kids would do yoga throughout the day. At random times they would do poses or they would teach their friends poses. Other kids wouldn’t do it on their own, but if you prompted them to do it they could,” Cohen said.
If no yoga session was held at school, a children’s yoga video was provided to the participant’s caregiver to practice at home. Encouragement from the children’s’ parents and teachers to participate in yoga activities was highly reinforced.
One of the primary differences Cohen’s study noticed was that the intervention’s efficacy varied depending on the environment.
“When we put the kids out of class to do the yoga it didn’t work as well as when we […] had the whole class participate together,” Cohen said.
Cohen noted that there is still a ways to go, with the need to perform larger studies with more participants. Although, if the indications of current research scale well, Cohen hopes that more parents and educators recognize the potential mindfulness yoga techniques have to offer both at home and in the classroom.
Cohen also encourages parents interested in getting their children involved in yoga to explore the classes currently offered by many Davis yoga studios.
Recently, the 2015 National Health Statistics Report listed reasons for practicing yoga as reported by yoga users: general wellness and disease 80 percent, improving immune function 30 percent and improving memory and concentration 31.2 percent.
“Yoga truly helps ameliorate pain, rejuvenate and revitalize the body after holding repetitive positions and motions,” said Ellen Street, a fourth-year clinical nutrition major and yoga instructor at the Activities and Recreation Center, in an e-mail interview.
The emphasis on awareness of breath and movement encourages strategies similar to clinical therapies. In doing so, yoga also offers a chance for anyone to gain the skills needed to cope with the demands in their lives, especially students.
“Students need yoga. […] Biking, walking, sprinting to class and of course, sitting, studying and reading –– [they] take a toll on your body!” Street said via e-mail.
Tonya Keck, yoga instructor at the Student Health and Wellness Center, promotes routine practice among students.
“Mainly the pressure is so strong as a college student, and everyone has so much stress on them that [yoga is] a release,” Keck said. “There are so many different types of yoga and that’s another benefit […] you can pick from whatever works for you.”
Yoga’s benefits are applicable to a wide range of ages and personalities, and as this practice becomes more popular in Western culture, further benefits are being researched as a valid approach to preventative medical care and treatment.
“There’s a reason this practice is still going strong after it’s origin 5,000 years ago,” Street said.
Written by: Logan Sidle and Shivani Kamal – firstname.lastname@example.org