Yoga as complementary care within child and adolescent psychiatry



Research indicates that adolescents from millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) report higher level of psychological distress (1,2) and 10–20% of young people in Europe and worldwide suffer from mental illnesses, while one out of five struggles with emotional or behavioral problems (1,3).


It was previously shown that yoga improves children’s physical and mental well-being (4) and helps students improve resilience, mood, and self-regulation skills pertaining to emotions and stress (5). Yoga’s most often proven health potential is to be a copying strategy with stress, anxiety and sleep problems (6)

In a review on scientific knowledge about yoga’s role in children’s and adolescents’ development and mental health it was concluded that yoga is an important life skill tool to cope with stress and self-regulation in a life-long perspective (6). The authors argued that children and young people need such tools to learn interoception and learn the recognize their feelings (6).


The evidence of yoga practice among children indicates improved benefits in concentration, stress alleviation, resilience, self-awareness, consciousness, self-regulation, behavioral and emotional maturity, and self-confidence in everyday life (6). Yoga practice is coupled to improved focus even in case of children with attention problems (7) and to a capacity to support executive function development (8)


It is suggested that the physiological working mechanism behind the phenotypic changes is yoga’s capacity to down-regulate the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (9). Nourollahimoghadam et al (10) recently summarized in their review on yoga’s therapeutic impact on neuropsychological conditions, the neuroanatomical and neurochemical ways through which yoga impact the brain. They conclude that yoga stimulates brain synaptic plasticity and by that can improve cognitive functioning and working memory. Most often the limbic system is included when neuroanatomical chage sare recorded in yoga practitioners (10). In neurochemical changes an increased cortical GABAergic production was detected beside an enhancement of dopamine in the ventral striatum and a rise in serotonin after regular yoga practice (10).


In their review article, Büssing et al. (11) suggest:

Yoga may well be effective as a supportive adjunct to mitigate some medical conditions, but not yet a proven stand-alone, curative treatment. Larger-scale and more rigorous research with higher methodological quality and adequate control interventions is highly encouraged because yoga may have potential to be implemented as a beneficial supportive/adjunct treatment that is relatively cost-effective, may be practiced at least in part as self-care behavioral treatment, provides a life-long behavioral skill, enhances self-efficacy and self-confidence and is often associated with additional positive side effects (2012: 1).


Undoubtably, we need (more) high quality scientific research about yoga practice among children and adolescents. Therefore, our newest study focusses on the effect of yoga in child and adolescent psychiatric settings.

The aim of the study is to evaluate - with the help if previously validated psychological and biological measures – the impact of trauma–adapted yoga (TAY) as complement to care as usual in child and adolescent psychiatric (CAP) clinics in the USA and Sweden.


It is hypothesized, that six weeks of (TAY) yoga practice (in combination with the standard treatment within CAP) will:

  1. reduce participants’ reported symptoms of trauma, anxiety, depression, negative affect, aggression as well as self-harm behaviors and relationship difficulties.
  2. increase patients’ self-reported resilience, emotional control, bodily awareness, and physical health (both self-reported on pain measures and measured heart rate variability).


As a result of increased well-being, yoga will enhance the success of other ongoing treatments in CAP, foster improved wellbeing for staff and provide patients with tools for self-care.

The study's results have great relevance and importance in the development and improvement of evidence-based and effective care for children and adolescents suffering from mental illness and fill an international scientific knowledge gap about yoga's function as a care method.



  1. Sifferlin A. The most stressed-out generation? Young Adults (2013). Available here
  2. Kerekes, N., Zouini, B., Tingberg, S., & Erlandsson, S. (2021). Psychological Distress, Somatic Complaints, and Their Relation to Negative Psychosocial Factors in a Sample of Swedish High School Students. Frontiers in public health, 9, 669958. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2021.669958
  3. World Health Organization. Adolescent Mental Health. Mapping Actions of Nongovernmental Organizations and Other International Development Organizations (2012). Available here
  4. Telles S. The Effect of Yoga on Mental Health of Children. In: Nayar U editor. Child and Adolescent Mental Health. New Dehli: Sage Publications (2012). p. 219–27. Available here
  5. Khalsa SBS. Yoga in schools research: improving mental and emotional health. Invited Presentation at the Second International Conference on Yoga for Health and Social Transformation. Haridwar: Patanjali Research Foundation (2013). Available here
  6. Hagen, I., & Nayar, U. S. (2014). Yoga for Children and Young People's Mental Health and Well-Being: Research Review and Reflections on the Mental Health Potentials of Yoga. Frontiers in psychiatry, 5, 35. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00035
  7. Rabiner D. Does yoga help children with attention problems? Internet4Classrooms (2013). Available here
  8. Diamond A, Lee K. Interventions shown to aid executive functions development in children 4 to 12 years old. Science (2011) 333(6045):949–64. doi: 10.1126/science.1204529
  9. Ross A, Thomas S. The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. J Alternat Complement Med (2010) 16(1):3–12. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0044
  10. Nourollahimoghadam, E., Gorji, S., Gorji, A., & Khaleghi Ghadiri, M. (2021). Therapeutic role of yoga in neuropsychological disorders. World journal of psychiatry, 11(10), 754–773. doi: 10.5498/wjp.v11.i10.754
  11. Büssing A, Michaelsen A, Khalsa SBS, Telles S, Sherman KJ. Effects of yoga on mental and physical health: a short summary of reviews. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med (2012) 2012:165410. doi: 10.5498/wjp.v11.i10.754