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Gen-Z(en): Can Yoga Calm Teen Moods?

New research says yes! An after-school yoga program helped adolescents cope with anger, depression, and difficult emotions.

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If you’ve been around a teenager lately you know that “teen angst” isn’t just a catchphrase; the “terrible teens” are definitely A Thing. But to be fair, it’s not entirely their fault: Their brains are still developing, and the transition from child to adult includes hormonal shifts that throw off their equilibrium. Add in anxiety-producing social media habits and a year when teens have also had to cope with the stress of being “bored in the house” (as the coronavirus anthem goes), teens have it tough.

“We live in a world where there’s so much stimulation, a lot of it really negative for kids,” says Crystal McCreary, ERTY-500 a health educator who who teaches yoga and mindfulness in New York City schools. “[That includes] a lot of anxiety-producing distractions, from social media to the current polarizing political state of our country. They’re absorbing it, they’re feeling it, they’re anxious about it.”

But a recent study indicates yoga can help teens manage their emotions. A team of researchers from Duke, Harvard, and University of North Carolina recruited more than 100 middle schoolers, aged 11–to–14 years old, to participate in the Y.O.G.A. for Youth (Y4Y) after-school program or an alternate activity.  At the end of six weeks, the yoga students reported a reduction in anger, depression and fatigue, and an increase in their ability to regulate their emotions. Students in the other activity only reported a decrease in fatigue.

The Y4Y program was founded in 1988 by noted Kundalini yoga teacher Krishna Kaur Khalsa. Khalsa designed it to address four major components of student life: behavioral stability, self-esteem, physical health, and scholastic aptitude. With those things in equilibrium, teenagers can address their thorniest adolescent problems—from poor grades and bullying, to substance abuse and eating disorders. Kaur has offered the program in schools, detention centers, and youth programs across the country.

For parents and  teachers who have been offering yoga to their students, the research results may come as no surprise. McCreary says yoga practice supports children to cultivate stillness and pay attention to their thoughts, emotions, and body sensations.

“When we support them to become self aware, we’re reminding them that they’re born with their own resources to regulate and soothe themselves,” she says.