DURHAM, N.C. - Millions of people practice yoga as a way to stay fit or for relaxation, but could it be used as medication?
Nine-year-old Aaron Schaefer spent years battling debilitating migraines caused by stress, but since starting a yoga class, his headaches are gone.
"When I started taking [the class], it was like a cure from heaven," Schaefer said.
Researchers at Duke University are studying whether a program that combines yoga and other therapies can help children's mental and physical health.
"It calms you down. It relaxes your body. It lowers your heart rate. It lowers your respiration and, in general, it reduces the effects of stress on your body," said Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, professor of psychiatry at Duke Medicine.
Doraiswamy said these relaxation responses can help mild depression and sleep disorders. Yoga may also provide additional benefits for people with schizophrenia and ADHD when combined with standard drugs.
"The benefits were of the same magnitude of the benefits we see with psychiatric medications," Doraiswamy said.
Previous studies have shown yoga-based techniques can help individuals cope with anxiety, stress, and poor mood. Researchers are studying whether these methods can be adapted for children and teens.
"Often times, [children] don't fully understand that kind of awareness of body and the awareness of how their thoughts and emotions can be tied in with how they're feeling physically," said Anava Wren, doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Duke University.
Paul Schaefer, Aaron's dad, said it's been a great stress reliever for his son.
"What had been three or four, a dozen headaches a week disappeared completely," he said.
Now, Aaron Schaefer can now concentrate on his dream of becoming an architect.
Researchers said they hope their findings will spur government agencies to fund larger national studies to confirm their initial results and make yoga a standard treatment option for mental conditions. They said their evidence is still preliminary, and people should consult with their doctors if they are concerned about a mental health condition.
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