Yoga and Adolescent Substance Abuse

The present study tested the efficacy of yoga for reducing substance use risk factors during early adolescence.

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It is during adolescence, most commonly, that we begin most concertedly to form a sense of identity. As young child, our identity would have been considerably wrapped up in the identity and relationship with our parents or primary caregivers from which point we gradually begin to form a separate sense of self, a project reaching its pinnacle as we head into adolescence.

This is one of the reasons why adolescence can be such a confusing and painful time. We are faced, often starkly, with questions such as the following; who are we? What do we want from life? What qualities are truly ours and which have we squirreled away from other people? What are our dreams and ambitions? What is our life all about?

This time of identity formation is one of the most typical times for mental health struggles and substance abuse issues to emerge as we negate our way between a merged and a separate sense of self. As the linked paper explains, adolescence is a key developmental period for preventing substance use initiation, yet education programs are rarely as effective as hoped.

The present study tested the efficacy of yoga for reducing substance use risk factors during early adolescence. Students were randomly assigned to receive either a 32-session yoga intervention (n = 117) in place of their regular physical education classes or to continue with physical-education-as-usual (n = 94). Participants completed pre- and post-intervention questionnaires assessing emotional self-regulation, perceived stress, mood impairment, impulsivity, substance use willingness, and actual substance use. Participants also completed questionnaires at 6-months and 1-year post-intervention. Results revealed that participants in the control condition were significantly more willing to try smoking cigarettes immediately post-intervention than participants in the yoga condition. These are very important and exciting findings indeed from which we hope many further studies on this theme will spring.

Heather Mason

Founder of the Minded Institute, The Minded Institute

Heather Mason is a leader in the field of mind-body therapy and the founder of Yoga Therapy for the Mind. She develops innovative methods for mental health treatment drawing on her robust educational background including an MA in Psychotherapy, an MA in Buddhist Studies, studies in Neuroscience and a current MSc in Medical Physiology.. She is also a 500 RYT, a yoga therapist and an MBCT facilitator. Heather offers various professional trainings for yoga teachers, healthcare professionals and therapists, lectures around the world, and delivers training to medical students. She also develops protocols for different client populations by translating cutting edge research from the psycho-biology and neuro-biology of stress into yoga practices, breathwork, mindfulness interventions and therapeutic holding. Further she is involved in research on the efficacy of these practices, holds the annual UK yoga therapy conference and is blazing the trail for the integration of yoga therapy into the NHS