Categories: My Voice

Samir Shukla


By Tasneem Sihorwala

Children and teens are experiencing more mental health issues than ever before. According to the American Psychological association an estimated 15 million of our nation’s young people can currently be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Anxiety, depression, and suicide are all on the rise among young individuals.

Big mental problems always start small, therefore it is important to teach a child how to manage their emotional landscape when they are young, so that they can develop better emotional resilience as they grow up. Of course, counseling is of tremendous value when other strategies don’t work but providing them with tools that will help them manage their emotions is also important for their mental wellbeing as an adult.

Yoga and meditation are phenomenal tools for managing emotional well-being, stress, and anxiety. Most people associate yoga with purely physical benefits, but research shows that it also helps with mental health issues and emotion regulation. Researchers have found both yoga and meditation can help increase HRV or Heart Rate variability. HRV is simply the distance between one heartbeat to the next. The goal is to try to have an increased HRV because it has been shown to calm the autonomic nervous system and regulate emotions. When someone is feeling stressed or anxious, their breathing gets shallow and their heart may be beating fast. This decreases HRV. But when one is feeling relaxed or is engaging in deep breathing, there is more space between each heartbeat and their HRV is increased. This leads to feeling more emotionally regulated or calm.

Yoga practices help calm the nervous system by stimulating the vagus nerve, an important nerve that originates from the brain and travels to different organs like the heart, lungs, stomach and intestine. It is part of the parasympathetic nervous system which is the rest and digest system. For optimal mental health we need the parasympathetic nervous system to be dominant. Yoga, mindfulness meditation, and breath work increase the vagal tone.

In a 2016 study from Carnegie Mellon University Published in Biological Psychiatry, 35 test subjects practiced mindfulness meditation as a means to handle life’s stressors. After only four months, subjects demonstrated healthy vagal tone.

Yoga and meditation practices additionally help with increasing focus and improving memory, which leads to better academic performance.

Studies using MRI scans and other brain imaging technology have shown that people who regularly did yoga had a thicker cerebral cortex (which is the area of the brain responsible for information processing, and the hippocampus, (which is the area of the brain involved in learn­ing and memory) compared with nonpractitioners.

Additionally, yoga can affect mood by elevating levels of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is associated with having a better overall mood and having decreased anxiety.

Parents spend a lot of time, effort, and money to ensure that their child gets the best education and access to the best extracurricular activities, but parents may not give much thought to addressing the child’s or teens mental wellbeing, because most of the time they are not aware that there could be any potential problems.

In my daily work of teaching yoga and mindfulness meditation to the youth, I have realized that they have problems, and their problems are real, but they may choose not to confide in their parents for multiple reasons.

The child may not want to discuss problems because they feel that the parents may not understand their problems or trivialize the issue. Another reason is that parents may approach a child’s problem with a “fix it,” attitude, being quick to offer solutions on how they could or should be handling the problems.

Our children do not need to be fixed; they just need to be understood.

They need to be empowered with tools that will help them manage their world with ease.

Tasneem Sihorwala is a yoga teacher and a Mindfullness Meditation coach.