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Brain science to support teen yoga

The physical growth of the brain mainly happens during the prenatal and postnatal periods. However, different parts of the brain then develop in different stages. This development is often through the creation of neural pathways, allowing different parts of the brain to communicate [1].

This development of neural pathways could be described as remodelling or resculpting of the brain. It begins around aged 6, peaks around adolescence and continues to the early twenties. This time period is referred to as the ‘use it or lose it’ stage, simply because you only get this chance once [2]. Hence, children learn languages much more rapidly than adults, and ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.

First to mature is the frontal lobe around the age of 11-12, which is responsible for motor co-ordination, attention and behaviour. Next is the temporal lobe at age 16, which is in charge of memory and speech [1]. Finally, and crucial for explaining some adolescent behaviour, is the prefrontal cortex that doesn’t fully mature until the twenties. This is responsible for rationality and decision making, which may explain why teens act impulsively [3].

Why does this mean that children and teens should do yoga? Well, the positive effects yoga could have on the motor-coordination and attention are fairly self-explanatory. Those schools that are teaching teenagers yoga are already seeing positive effects on their behaviour [4]. In fact, Yoga Enhanced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a treatment currently being researched to treat people with mental health issues such as anxiety, with significant improvements in symptoms for patients studied so far [5].

As for memory, it has been shown that when a group of adults that had practiced yoga was compared to another group that had practiced brain exercises, the yogis had improved memory and focus [6].

And if all of that science wasn’t enough for us all to go running to the Houses of Parliament with brightly coloured banners screaming for yoga to be compulsory on the National Curriculum, then consider this. You get up in the morning and have breakfast, because it is a learned behaviour. If you skip it, you feel guilty (and hungry…), because it is a habit embedded in your brain. If we taught young people how to self-care and take charge of their own wellbeing as part of their everyday lives, imagine how transformed society would be. Self-care would be just as accepted in the daily routine as breakfast.

Surely, with the current shocking statistics about mental health, this is something to be seriously considered. Justine Greening, I suggest practicing yoga if you don’t already.

 

 

1. Phillips, S. F., 2007, The Teen Brain, Chelsea House, New York

2. Centre for Adolescent Health, 2017, ‘Your teenager’s developing brain’, Raising Children Network, Available online at: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/brain_development_teenagers.html, Accessed 30/08/17

3. Allen, A., 2014, ‘Wild teenage behaviour linked to rapid cognitive change in the brain’, The Guardian, Available online at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/sep/05/teenage-brain-behaviour-prefrontal-cortex, Accessed 30/08/17

4. Martinus, C., 2015, ‘How Yoga has Changed Teenagers Behaviour’, Teen Yoga Foundation, Available onlone at: http://www.teenyoga.co.uk/2015/07/how-yoga-has-changed-teenagers-behaviour/, Accessed 30/08/17

5. Khalsa, M. K.., Greiner-Ferris, J. M., Hofmann, S. G., Khalsa, S. B. S., 2015, ‘Yoga Enhanced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Y-CBT) for Anxiety Management: A Pilot Study’, Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 364-371

6. Reynolds, G., 2016, ‘Yoga May Be Good For The Brain’, Well, Available online at: https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/yoga-may-be-good-for-the-brain/?_r=2 ,  Accessed 30/08/17 

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