The Peaceful Play Yoga Program at Hospitals & Clinics in St. Paul & Minneapolis

About six years ago, yoga teacher Megan Thygeson’s goddaughter was diagnosed with childhood leukemia. Because of her work, Megan wasn’t able to physically be there for her goddaughter and the family through their trials. Fortunately, Megan’s goddaughter, now 11, came out of the ordeal healthy and thriving, her leukemia is now in remission.

The experience left Megan painfully aware of just how stressful it is for families to have a child with a life-threatening illness. It fostered in her a desire to help other families and their children going through similar traumatic and taxing times. With the help of a Ph.D. certified nurse, Megan Thygeson formed the Peaceful Play Yoga Program at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics in St. Paul and Minneapolis, for children suffering from cancer and blood disorders. Megan says that the program allows her to “offer something to these families that I hadn’t been able to offer to my goddaughter and her family.”

The program, which began last April, offers a weekly 45-minute yoga class to inpatient hematology/oncology children and their parents. Megan formulated the class, which draws mainly from Hatha yoga, specifically with the needs of the children in mind; the basic yoga routine combines breath work with simple poses held for a short period of time. The program encourages the kids and their parents to relax and have fun; “It’s very playful,” Megan says, “there are lots of animal noises and barking and meowing.” Loosening up in both body and spirit can provide relief from anxiety during the troubled time these children and their parents are going through.

Through the Peaceful Play Yoga Program, Megan is conducting a study to explore the effects the 45 minute yoga class has on anxiety. Children and their parents can opt to be in the study, which simply requires them to fill out a 20-question form (with an open-ended question at the end) before and after their participation in the class.

Although the results are still in process (the study will eventually be published), Megan says that already they are seeing a “stunning decrease” in anxiety in the parents and a “notable decrease” for the adolescents. As for the younger children, Megan says they haven’t seen much of a change in anxiety levels. She speculates this may be “because the children really aren’t that anxious to begin with.”

Regardless, the Peaceful Play Yoga Program has provided something unique to its participants. One mother, who had experienced “sky high” levels of anxiety, left the class with a new level of peace. A young woman confined to a wheel chair found that even the modified poses “really helped calm” her anxiety. A father replied to the open-ended question “what would you tell another parent or child about what it was like to do yoga?” by stating he “didn’t remember ever feeling this relaxed” in his “entire life.” And one fifteen-year-old young man said that he felt “at one.”

Even the nurses have noticed the results. Megan says, “the Nurses tell me that when the class ends, the participants ‘float out of class;’ they always know that yoga is over because these people are ‘floating’ out of the class.”

For parents and their children, yoga provides a means to stabilize a sense of calm within the storm of treatments. “Yoga provides you with a focus,” Megan says. She explains that yoga can help with “focusing on something other than your pain, your discomfort, your life situation, your fear–all of those things. I definitely saw these children focusing and being very present. I could see that: that was palpable for me as a teacher.”

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