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Ashtanga Yoga For Children - A Viable Alternative For Weight Management And Psychological Well Being

By: Matthew (Ted Ballwin)

There is a growing epidemic sweeping the nation that is affecting our most valuable and precious resource - our children. With adults making poor lifestyle and family choices, a trickle down effect has reached our youth. As a result, the percentage of overweight or obese children is growing at an alarming rate. 30% of children and 15% of adolescents are now considered overweight or obese.

While there are many contributing factors that make weight management among this population increasingly difficult, the most common are calorie-laden foods, lack of exercise, and stressful events within the family or at school. Unfortunately, a vast majority of today's children prefer playing video games or television to going outside to play with their friends. Separation or divorce sometimes causes children to feed their emotions with junk food.

This behavior leads to a multitude of problems, chief among them are health risks. Complication such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease show up much earlier in children who are overweight. Perhaps equally as damaging are the long-term psychological effects. Self-esteem and self-concept plummets causing these children a great deal of emotional pain, especially among females.

The question is how to address this growing problem. Credible reviews about diets on weight loss are a good source for available strategies and tools to help with managing weight. But one of the many challenges in weight management of children and adolescents is finding some type of physical activity that interests them.

Often times an overweight child feels embarrassed or self-conscious playing team sports. And because engaging in strenuous physical activity is more difficult for overweight children, they often give up feeling defeated.

Yoga - A Feasible Option For Children

That's why yoga is a viable alternative for these children and adolescents. Because yoga can be performed in relative privacy and is less strenuous than other sports, overweight children are often more willing to choose yoga as a form of exercise.

But does yoga actually contribute to weight loss? And more importantly, is the weight loss significant enough to deter serious health issues?

A pilot study conducted at the University of Texas says yes. The principle investigator of the study, Sandra Benavides, concluded that Ashtanga yoga might be beneficial as a weight loss strategy. The primary objective of the study was to determine the effect of yoga on weight in children and adolescents. The secondary objective was to determine the impact of participation in yoga on self-concept and psychiatric symptoms such as depression or anxiety.


In the pilot study children and adolescents, ages 8 to 15 years participated specifically in Ashtanga yoga. This type of yoga is composed of a series of asanas, or postures, connected with a breathing technique pranyama that links the movements of one posture to the next. Through these movements either a flexibility or strength challenge is presented to the children.

At the end of each yoga session children engage in 5 to 10 minutes of meditation or relaxation. Ashtanga yoga is often referred to as power yoga because it is more aerobic than other yoga methods.

The children were eligible to participate only if they had a least one of the following risk factors for type 2 diabetes as defined by the American Diabetic Association: overweight, first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes, or Hispanic/African-American descent.

Once eligibility was determined, the children were invited to attend an introductory yoga session. Children received their own yoga mat. Their weight and height were recorded and their body mass index (BMI) was determined. The participants also underwent a fasting laboratory analysis where their serum concentrations of glucose, total cholesterol (TC), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides were analyzed. At the end of the 12-week program the same tests were repeated if they were initially abnormal.

These children practiced yoga three days a week for 12 weeks for approximately one hour and 15 minutes. The same instructor taught all classes in order to ensure consistency and quality control. There were no dietary or activity restrictions at any time during the study.


Weight loss

Out of a total of 30 children, 14 completed the study. The average age of these children was 11.7 + or - 1.5 years. The average initial weight was 61.2 kg with an average BMI of 26.4 kg/m2. The mean baseline weight was 61.2 and decreased to 59.2, which correlated with changes in BMI from 26.4 to 25.6. On average, participants had a 2 kg weight loss. The most significant weight loss was achieved by a 13-year-old female who lost 5.9 kg.

Lab findings

At the initial laboratory screening two participants had abnormal lipid panels. After the 12-week study, the lipid profiles in both of these participants improved. In addition, the total cholesterol decreased and HDL increased.

Psychiatric results

Also, of the 14 participants completing the study, three initially had low self-esteem scores while two had very low self-esteem scores. After the study, four of these five participants showed improvement. Three children showed elevated symptoms of depression that improved after the study. Two participants with elevated symptoms of anxiety at baseline showed improvements.

The Significance

The study is the first to be published that uses yoga to address the problems of overweight children and adolescents. As mentioned earlier, overweight children are at risk for many diseases that can carry on into adulthood, particularly type 2 diabetes. Therefore, weight management in childhood may be the cornerstone for overall health in adulthood.

It's also important to note that no other study has evaluated the role of yoga in any disease state.

The weight loss found in this study is consistent with the desired weight loss of 1 kg per month for children and adolescents. The results may be attributed to the increase aerobic activity of Ashtanga yoga. Not only is aerobic activity important for weight loss, but is essential for good health in general.

Also significant is the overall improvements in self-concept seen in six participants. Three patients had improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety decreased in both participants with elevated anxiety. Not only were children provided a weight loss strategy, but according to one parent, practicing yoga also increased her daughter's self-confidence.

It's possible such positive outcomes may be due to the calming effects of yoga. For example, one child with irritable bowel syndrome demonstrated lower anxiety after 4 weeks of Hatha yoga at home as compared to a control group. Another study determined that Sahaja yoga in adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) leads to lower rates of anxiety and higher self esteem.

Three participants in the Ashtanga yoga study displayed worsening in self-concept and/or depression. According to the principle investigator of the study, this could be attributed to the fact that yoga positions may be more difficult for some. They could have had a hard time achieving certain poses or perhaps didn't progress as quickly as their peers. Therefore, they had a diminished view of their capabilities. With practice, however, they could have improved their techniques and developed a more accepting view of their limitations. However, none of the participants experienced an increase in anxiety.


Based on the findings of this study, it appears yoga may be a weight loss alternative in children and adolescents. After the 12-week program, most children lost an average of 2 kg. This is consistent with other weight loss programs.

In addition, participants showed improvement in self-concept and depression. This suggests that Ashtanga yoga may provide positive mental health benefits.

Larger control studies are needed to fully determine the short and long term benefits of yoga in children and adolescents. Currently a YogaEd program is incorporated in American schools. Overweight and obese children can certainly benefit from these programs.

Matthew Denos of WeightLossTriumph.com is a postdoctoral research fellow at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. His current research is funded by the American Heart Association, which supports research on treatment of cardiovascular related diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Ted is personally interested in obesity research and through his  ... More

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