The mood swings, the drama, the self-doubt — emotional hallmarks for many, if not most teenagers, which can contribute to family tension and poor choices. Sports can be an excellent way of channeling all of those hormone-fueled impulses, but research suggests another kind of physical activity — yoga — may have even more therapeutic effects.

Previous research has shown the stress relief yielded by regular yoga practice for adults, so Harvard researchers wanted to see how mindful stretching might impact that particularly emotive population of teens. The study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics evaluated 42 high schoolers of both genders (average age 17 years old) on various metrics of mood scores before enrolling them either in a three-times-a-week yoga class, or standard physical education class for ten weeks. The yoga students enjoyed a 20% reduction in tension anxiety scores, 10% less mood disturbance, and an 8% improvement in general outlook — PE students actually showed worse scores over the same time period.

You don’t need to be a troubled teen to reap the emotional benefits of yoga. Researchers from Boston University found that yoga novices enjoyed 240% higher mood scores after three months of practice, compared to a control group of a walking regimen. Subjective? Not necessarily: Using nuclear magnetic resonance, the scientists actually found 14% higher levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter linked, at low levels, to depression and even epilepsy. Other research found a 31% reduction in hot flashes with yoga practice for menopausal women.
Published December 1, 2012