Short Communications of Medicinal Herbs and Complementary Therapy 

Maheshkumar Kuppusamy, Veni Ramaswamy, Poonguzhali Shanmugam, and Padmavathi Ramaswamy

Abstract 

Objectives: Covid-19 Pandemic has affected everyone’s mental health. In addition to several preventive measures such as wearing a mask, using sanitizer, measures also need to be taken to prevent anxiety and depressive disorders due to this unexpected crisis situation. Practicing yoga is one of the simple, scientific methods to combat stress and prevent anxiety among children. 

Methods: The scientific evidence and anecdotal experiences on the benefits of yoga is described in this paper, highlighting the importance of yoga in nurturing the mental well-being in children. 

Results: Scientifically designed and conducted studies as part of the research programs by health professionals objectively conclude that mental health parameters improve significantly with yoga as an intervention. In addition to mental health, yoga will also improve physical health and boost immunity among children which will also help in reducing the infection rate in children. 

Conclusions: As a way forward, authors strongly recommend establishing yoga as a curriculum at scale to cover the vast vulnerable population of young children who are the future of the nation. 

Background 

The year 2020 was touted to be the most significant year, the most happening year, the most looking forward to a year and the children waited with eager anticipation for the same in order to spread the wings, to achieve the impossible, to scale to new heights. As each one was running behind one’s dreams and aspirations, the cold-blooded Covid-19 crept silently and stealthily jolting all to the reality of the uncertainty of life [1]. The carpets were pulled off our feet and from soaring in search of our dreams, we were crushed to the reality of learning to struggle to survive. The pandemic brought the statement ‘Survival of the fittest to the fore, targeting physical health directly and targeting mental health indirectly. 

Masks, gloves, sanitizers, social distancing, lockdowns, hygiene, medicines are the ways of maintaining physical fitness, but what about mental fitness? [2]. People have lost jobs, have had pay cuts, have been working from home, have stopped being social, educational institutions and offices have closed indefinitely all leading to anxiety and paranoia. The combined effect of all these had a humongous effect on young minds blinking at an unknown future. How to tackle this? How do we remain sane in this period of insanity? How do we remain cheerful in this period of utter gloom? 

The answer is through mindful practices such as Yoga, meditation, learned optimism, and positive thoughts. Yoga is most often confused as a religious practice, but in fact, it is a discipline [3]. Yoga in Sanskrit means to connect, join, or balance the mind and the body. It teaches us that with the right breathing and right exercise coupled with the right thoughts, we can lead a contented and cheerful life [4]. These practices have become even more imperative during this pandemic. 

This article brings together the combined viewpoints of medical professors, practicing yoga health professionals, and school academicians towards addressing the mental wellbeing of school-going children. The many years of research carried out in this field by health professionals along with practical experience of seeing the change by the school academician provide promising insights on the benefits of yoga [5]. 

When we think of the word ‘discipline’, the word which automatically comes to our mind is ‘School’ and the pictures which evoke in our minds are the children walking in a straight line in the corridors with their hands at their backs, sitting quietly listening to the teacher in the class, having a class monitor to maintain the silence in the absence of a teacher. But all these happen when someone is observing or else it is bedlam. Discipline is to follow what is right and what is just even when no one is looking. Yoga instills this discipline in us. 

The world is moving at a rapid pace with exponential advancement in technology. It is critical to have focus and mindfulness while adapting to these changes, these can be achieved through yoga. So what is the right age to learn Yoga? The magical age is between six and eight [6]. Hence Yoga is made one of the compulsory subjects in the school curriculum in India but unfortunately, many schools club this under their physical education periods and call it a ‘games period’. If Yoga is taught in its right sense, we shall reap a bounty of highly adjustable and adaptable, calm, and happy children. 

Yoga for mental health 

Stress in children due to the current pandemic can cause anxiety and depression. Stress can dysregulate the physiological processes in the body and result in disturbed homeostasis leading to mental ill-health. Stress affects the HPA axis and causes excessive production of cortisol. Yoga reduces cortisol levels and reduces depression [7]. Stress can trigger inflammatory response and production of inflammatory cytokines. However, IL-10 is a potent promoter of an anti-inflammatory state as it regulates or completely inhibits the expression of several pro-inflammatory cytokines like IL-1beta [8]. Yoga causes a reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines and an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines. Yoga also reduces oxidative stressors. Studies have shown changes in inflammatory mediators with the practice of yoga [8]. Hence, yoga can modulate the pathogenesis of stress and help in mental fitness. 

Yoga is not only therapeutic in reducing stress but can be practiced as a promotive and preventive activity for a healthy mind and healthy body for children. Literature and scientific studies have shown that yoga and meditation are good for holistic development in children [5, 8]. It improves cognitive functions, reduces stress, and maintains a good emotional balance. It also helps in improving circulation, stabilizing the autonomic nervous system, improves the strength and endurance of muscles, and enhances resilience in children. Pre and early adolescent children who underwent the Meditation program showed significant improvement in their optimism and classroom social competent behavior [9]. Qualitative studies have also shown improvements in self-esteem, academic performance, and reduction in stress among school children [10].

Research experience of the authors among school children (adolescent population) 

Bhramari pranayama has been extensively researched among the adolescent population by the authors. Bhramari pranayama was taught to school children and was followed up periodically for a period of 6 months. Several health parameters have been evaluated using a robust scientific study design. Bhramari pranayam was found to be beneficial in improving cardiovascular parameters such as heart rate, Blood Pressure [11], Heart rate variability [12], Pulmonary functions [13], and cognitive functions [14]. The study on cardiovascular functions and cognitive functions reveals that yoga’s beneficial effects are through parasympathetic dominance and improvement in cerebral blood flow. 

Samsidh schools experience 

Samsidh Group of Schools based out of Karnataka, AP, and Tamil Nadu in India have been following a set of mindful practices in their Schools as a part of their Character Development and Leadership Program for the last 6 years and have seen a sea change in the behavior of their children [15]. The day at Samsidh begins with a Loving Kindness Meditation by everyone which helps one inculcate positivity in oneself while wishing the world to be safe, happy, healthy and to live with ease. Before the beginning of every period, the teachers and the students follow one yoga or mindful exercise like – alternate nostril breathing, bumblebee breathing [Brahmari pranayama], super brain Yoga, hand-clapping, body loosening, focused breathing, and meditation. These mindful yogic exercises are incorporated to help the children to glide from one thought to another and to sustain the power of concentration. Apart from these exercises, the children also have regular Yoga classes

where they do the asanas and Surya Namaskar (dynamic yoga practice) under the guidance of their teachers. The children also undergo the WOOP and GRIT exercises to be able to focus on their thoughts [16]. The processed food of the present day is a cause for children to become restless and develop symptoms of ADHD. Samsidh conducted a pilot study on the children with the symptoms of hyperactivity with a set of yogasanas and a diet chart having no processed food. At the end of the year, it was found out that the children were more settled and could concentrate better. This shows that both physical health and mental health can be attained through Yoga. Children also have interactive sessions on ethical practices and attitudes [17]. 

The pandemic Covid-19 peremptorily shut the Schools and colleges and the children had to get used to a new normal of having their classes online. But the Samsidh children took to this new normal like a duck takes to water. The yoga classes which were hitherto being run in school are being run without any hindrance through an online platform.

In fact, even International Yoga Day 2020 was celebrated by the Schools online – participated by the parents, the teachers, and the students. Feedbacks from both the children and parents alike have been very positive and encouraging towards the initiatives rolled out by Samsidh. While we hear of the cases of restlessness and erratic behavior in children, we have never come across even one Samsidh child throwing tantrums. This is because of the Mindful practices followed at the Schools.

Conclusion
  •  Scientifically designed and conducted studies as part of the research programs by health professionals objectively conclude that health parameters improve significantly with yoga as an intervention
  • Anecdotal experience shared in this paper from school visibly demonstrates the benefits of yoga in improving the well-being of the mind of school children. 
  • Research with robust scientific designs and experience sharing by the academicians can further substantial the importance of yoga as part of school and college curriculum. 
  • As a way forward, the authors strongly recommend establishing yoga as a curriculum at scale to cover the vast vulnerable population of young children who are the future of the nation. 
  • Prevalent technology platforms should be leveraged to the maximum to teach yoga online that would help to rapidly increase the coverage and reach in quick time especially in the new normal where social distancing needs to be followed.
  • Validated E-modules with specific, appropriate, and suitable yoga practices for children can be prepared in the local language as well as English which can be provided through online classes in the new normal.

Acknowledgment: The authors would like to acknowledge the unstinted support by the management of SRIHER (DU), Chennai and Samsidh Group of Schools, Bengaluru Competing interests: The authors declare no competing interests.

References
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