Is your child struggling to lose weight. Perhaps Ashtanga Yoga is the answer. In a first of its kind study, the University of Texas looked at the impact of participation in yoga on weight, self-concept, and psychiatric symptoms in young people. As many parents already know, pediatric obesity rates are at epidemic levels. Almost one of every three youngsters today is overweight, with an astounding 15% of kids’ Body Mass Indexes (BMI) in the obese range. An increase in health problems unfortunately accompanies the increase in weight. High blood pressure, diabetes and even heart disease are what the future holds for these children, and at even earlier ages than in previous generations.
Ethnic Minorities at Even Greater Risk
Most seriously affected by the obesity epidemic are ethnic minorities, with more than two out of every five of these youngsters overweight, and almost one in four are obese. With these facts in mind, Dr. Sandra Benavides, the study’s principal investigator, enrolled twenty predominantly Hispanic children, ages 8-15, in a 12-week yoga program. The children attended a yoga class that lasted for about 75 minutes each, three days a week, for each week of the twelve-week study. The same instructor was utilized throughout the study period to ensure consistency in each class.
"Power" Yoga Chosen for Study
Dr. Benavides employed a type of yoga that is more aerobic than many other types of yoga. Known as ‘Ashtanga’ or ‘power’ yoga, this particular method utilizes a series of postures known as ‘asanas.’ The focus of the various asanas is either strength or a flexibility challenge to the participant. Each asana is a fixed posture held while the participant performs a unique breathing technique called ‘pranyama’. These special breaths actually help connect one asana to the next. Participants hold the asana position for approximately five of these special breaths. Five to ten minutes of meditation or relaxation follow each yoga session.
Of course Ashtanga is the most advanced form of yoga, and therefore questions might be raised as to how exactly it was modified so that it can be practiced by children in this particular study. “Yes, I would be very concerned about having children (particularly overweight) starting a very aggressive yoga program. I am quite aware of the intensity, as it is my favorite form of yoga to practice!” said Dr. Benavides when asked to comment on this issue. “The primary series was modified in that the children were introduced to the sun sal A for one class. In the subsequent class, they worked on the Sun Salutations A and added the beginning of Sun Sal B. Then they would begin on the standing poses. In all honesty, they would practice the sequence with modifications or at a slower pace. In a way, it was a bit like it is practiced in Mysore, in which if the person can't do the pose, the practice is over, but not as intense.”
Abnormal Lipid Profiles Improved With Astanga
Of the twenty children originally enrolled, fourteen completed the twelve-week program. Records of each child’s height and weight were made upon enrollment. Serum concentrations of total cholesterol (TC), triglycerides, and high-density lipoprotein- otherwise known as HDL the so-called ‘good’ cholesterol, also were measured. The laboratory analyses were repeated at the end of the twelve-week program if they were initially abnormal. At the end of the study, the two children who had abnormal lipid panels at the beginning of the study had improved lipid profiles. TC decreased from 203 and 222 mg/dL to 200 and 212 mg/dL, respectively. HDL increased from 64 and 55 mg/dL to 66 and 58 mg/dL.
Children’s Diets and Activity Levels Unchanged
The participants did not have to modify their diets or activity levels in any way for this study. The only change made in the youngster’s lives was the implementation of the 12-week, modified Ashtanga yoga program. The average weight loss achieved by the study participants was 2 kg each. One thirteen-year-old girl lost 5.9 kg, the most significant of the fourteen participants. The goal for weight loss in children and adolescents is one kg per month.
Children’s Overall Mental Health Improved with Yoga
Four of five children with low self-esteem improved, although two had decreases in self-esteem. Anxiety symptoms improved by the end of the study, and none of the participants experienced an increase in anxiety. Forty-three percent of participants had improvements in self-concept. Depression and anxiety decreased in twenty-one percent of participants. Researchers speculate that in the small percentage of children who had a decrease in self-esteem or increase in depressive symptoms, this could be attributed to the children’s evaluation of their own performance. Participants may have had difficulty achieving certain poses, or may have progressed more slowly than their peers did. It is possible that with a longer program these children’s initial limitations would be overcome, resulting in a positive mental outlook for these children as well.
Yoga a Beneficial Weapon in War on Overweight and Obesity
Participants lost an average of 2 kg with the Ashtanga program. The amount of weight lost is comparable with other successful weight loss programs. We now have YogaEd, a curriculum of yoga for children that has been developed and is used by schools across the nation. Based on this study, such programs should be beneficial in these school-age populations. Parents whose children do not have access to this program may want to consider enrolling their children in yoga themselves. With the physical and mental health benefits available to participants, your children too can lose weight with a smile.
About the Author
Dr. Matthew Papaconstantinou is a research fellow at Washington University School of Medicine where he is currently researching obesity and cardiovascular disease. Matthew owns Weightlosstriumph.com where he publishes current research findings related to weight loss. He regularly posts a coupon code discount for Medifast diet, a medically approved program, and Nutrisystem coupons and discounts.