A recent study in Poona (India) suggests that yoga asanas and pranayamas, in conjunction with sound nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, can significantly increase the rate of physical growth of schoolchildren. Dr K. V. Panse, nutritionist and yoga therapist, undertook a 6 month controlled study, involving over 200 Poona schoolchildren aged between 10 and 16 years. He decided to conduct the experiment after reading a report that the Japanese national average height has increased dramatically from 4'10" to 5'8" within the last few generations. This increase, which has been attributed to factors of improved nutrition and exercise amongst the Japanese people since the end of the last world war, suggests that hereditary factors are less important in determining our physical characteristics than was previously assumed by researchers.
In the Poona study, after one month of practice, children in the experimental group exhibited a height increase of 2.6 cm., compared to only 0.5 cm. in the control group. As anticipated, the greatest increases in height were recorded in both groups from 10 to 12 years, corresponding to the physiological growth spurt of pre-puberty. However, significant extra growth was reported in the children practising yoga.
A daily asana program, including surya namaskara, shavasana, tadasana, trikonasana, vajrasana, shashankasana, padmasana and sarvangasana, maximises the harmonious interaction of the endocrine hormones secreted by the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal glands during the adolescent growth spurt. Minute concentrations of vital endocrine secretions, including growth hormone from the pituitary, calcitonin from the parathyroids and thyroxin from the thyroid gland, control the rate and extent of physical growth and metabolism. Balanced interaction of these hormones ensures maximal growth and development, and is promoted by a yogic lifestyle including regular asanas, adequate sleep, exercise and a healthy diet.
Dr Panse proposes that dynamic and static asanas such as pada hastasana, paschimottanasana, halasana, yoga mudra, matsyasana and supta vajrasana, which exert a powerful stretching effect upon the vertebro-spinal axis, hips and legs, profoundly influence the nervous and arterial plexuses supplying and innervating the epiphyseal growth plates of the spine and long bones (femur and tibia). They promote maximal nutrition and contribute to the development of the skeleton before fusion of the epiphyses occurs, usually by the 16th year.