THE BENEFITS OF YOGA FOR CHILDREN FROM VULNERABLE ENVIRONMENTS

by Melissa Nas

If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate
violence from the world within one generation
Dalai Lama


Indonesia, a nation which lays in an area which is prone to natural disasters, has experienced over 30 major earthquakes, more than 50 floods and landslides, volcanic eruptions and disastrous tsunamis (Asian Disaster Reduction Center, 2016).  Hence, Indonesian residents are repeatedly exposed to significant traumatic events. In these situations, emergency first-aid responders face the task of how identify the means by which distress is expressed in Central Java culture as well how to treat such a large population for health problems.

In the aftermath of disasters, children are among those at the highest risk for developing psychological trauma, such as overt-aggression, withdrawal, post-traumatic stress symptoms, suffer increased anxiety and fear similar disasters arising from their memories (Belfer, 2006; Norris et al., 2002). Unique to this developmental period, is the possibility that these distressed children may exhibit decreased school performance. A study done by Widyatmoko et al. (2011) point out that working with local teachers for identifying and screening distress among children impacted by a disaster provides important insights into the context of trauma for that particular community. Two years after the earthquake in 2006, teachers identified that children exhibit decreased school performance (decreases in student achievement, lack of motivation to study, absences, and the inability to concentrate and master school lessons), a fear of the traumatic experience re-occurring and emotional problems.

Large-scale screening for children’s mental health problems in the wake after a disaster is challenging, through emergency health care providers report feeling unprepared to respond to the children’s mental needs. There is a need for a more efficient screening tool that is able to identify post-disaster mental health problems in children. Therefore, it is important to recognize the potential utility of teachers as an effective resource for assessing the psychological state of children exposed to disasters. Thence, first-aid responders have started to partner up with schools (Widyatmoko et al., 2011).

This article does not only address the potential teachers have for screening mental health problems in children after disasters, but also address their role of implementing yoga exercises in schools for children to cope with the aftermath of disasters. This could eliminate the decreased school performances and help to care for the children’s feelings of anxiety and distress. Several studies indicate the beneficial effects of yoga in children. According to Telles et al. (2012) yoga can be used in managing trauma related to natural disasters, combat and terrorism and interpersonal violence. Learning yoga can empower a person’s self-determination and regain their sense of being in control of their lives. Yoga can be used as a preventive technique as well as a means of improving children’s well-being, improve adjustment among self-regulatory capacities and stress, including rumination, intrusive thoughts and emotional arousal (Telles et al., 2013).

Although yoga can benefit children’s well-being in many ways, this article mainly focuses on the effect that yoga can have on stress and anxiety levels in children. After a tremendous disaster, anxiety is a major disorder having significant impact on a child’s behavior in the classroom, their ability to focus, their overall physical health and well-being. Teachers can provide vital information regarding the child’s need and present a setting that is structured and supportive. Rosenberg’s study (2018) found that 10 minutes of daily yoga practice in the classroom had a significant impact on the anxiety levels of children. Therapeutic yoga appears to be useful in helping children cope with stress and anxiety by practices encompassing asanas, pranayama and mindfulness/meditation sessions as it brings a calming effect to the mind. Breathing techniques (pranayama) and deep relaxation (yoga nidra) induces change in brain activity, lowers oxidative stress, activated the parasympathetic nervous system and therefore reducing the heart rate. When children learn these practices and do them consistently, they can distress themselves, connect with their inner world through the coordination of mind, body and breath. Thus, they may not need to depend on medication whenever they are stressed (Nanthakumar, 2017).  

The NGO organization, Project Child Indonesia, located in Yogyakarta, wants every child in Indonesia to have the opportunity to learn, to have a healthy start, and to feel supported and secure living in a clean environment that is prepared for natural disasters (Project Child, 2019). Project Child’s Sekolah Sungai offers an alternative form of education to children of a vulnerable community which is prone to natural disasters. Therefore, they could make a start implementing a 10 minute of daily yoga at the beginning of their classes to calm the active physical behavior and minds of the children. A ‘sun salutation-exercise’ at the beginning of each class with an additional 2-minute breath exercise could make the children be more aware and focused before the class starts. Because of creating awareness, yoga could help the children understand that they can contribute to the solution instead of being a part of the problem of their community. Additionally, a full 45-minute yoga class could be implemented each semester to let the children connect with their inner-selves and experience the environment around them in a new way.

Several studies mentioned in this article have shown yoga may be a great benefit to a child’s mental health. Therefore, I strongly recommend integrating yoga into the curriculum of schools after it has become a viable option to address emerging emotional and physical health problems in children. If yoga sessions are incorporated as a part of physical education or after school hours (such as Project Child Indonesia) as an extra activity, it can enhance psychological health in children. Therefore, schools should give equal importance to yoga as other school subjects as yoga’s positive impact on holistic health have been uncontroverted.


  1. The Indian science of living, yoga, includes several practices such as physical postures (asanas), voluntary regulated breathing (pranayama), meditation, conscious sensory withdrawal (pratyahara), and philosophical principles (Taimini, 1986)
  2. Anxiety is generally a state of unwarranted fear of nervousness about real or imagined circumstances. There are many symptoms, and they may vary from one person to another, affecting physical and mental health. Anxiety causes stomach aches, headaches and dizziness in children.


Reference:

  • Asian Disaster Reduction Center (2016). Disaster information archive: Indonesia. Retrieved February 22, 2019 from Asian Disaster Reduction Center website: https://www.adrc.asia/countryreport/IDN/2016/Indonesia_CR2016A.pdf
  • Belfer, M. L. (2006). Caring for children and adolescents in the aftermath of natural disasters. International Review of Psychiatry, 18, 523–528.
  • Nanthakumar, C. (2017). The benefits of yoga in children. Faculty of University Studies, HELP University, Journal of integrative medicine. DOI: 10.1016/j.joim.2017.12.008
  • Norris, F. H., Friedman, M. J., Watson, P. J., Byrne, C. M., Diaz, E., & Kaniasty, K. (2002). 60,000 disaster victims speak: Part 1: An empirical review of the empirical literature, 1981–2001. Psychiatry, 65, 207–239
  • Project Child Indonesia (2019). Sekolah Sungai. Retrieved February 25, 2019 from http://projectchild.ngo/our-program/sekolah-sungai/
  • Rosenberg, M. (2018). Reducing Anxiety in Elementary School Children by Implementing Yoga. The Eleanor Mann School of Nursing Undergraduate Honors Theses. Retrieved February, 25, 2019, from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/nursuht/66/
  • Taimini I.K., (1986). The Science of Yoga. Madras, India: The Theosophical Publishing House
  • Telles, S., Singh, N., & Balkrishna, A., (2012). Managing Mental Health Disorders Resulting from Trauma through Yoga: A Review. Department of Yoga Research, Patanjali Research Foundation, Haridwar, India. Retrieved February 25, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3388328/
  • Telles, S., Singh, N., Bhardwai, A.K., Kumar, A., & Balkrishna, A. (2013). Effect of yoga or physical exercise on physical, cognitive and emotional measures in children: a randomized controlled trial. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health: 37. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://doi.org/10.1186/1753-2000-7-37
  • Widyatmoko, C. S., Tan, E. T., Seyle, D.C., Mayawati, E.H. & Silver, R.C. (2011). Coping with natural disasters in Yogyakarta Indonesia: The psychological state of elementary school children as assessed by their teachers. School Psychology International, 32 (5), 484-497