More yoga for teenagers
Lyn Eborall on the benefits of yoga for teenagers, and what she has learnt from them during their classes
We’ve all read articles about the challenges young people face today, the rise in mental health problems, the pressures of social media, exams and the growing uncertainty as climate change becomes more evident. So, it’s no surprise that schools are looking at more innovative ways to support their students.
I must admit at first, I was a little sceptical about teaching yoga to teenage girls. I wasn’t sure how receptive they would be and whether it would interfere with my calm vibe, should I need to hush those at the back. It was nearly two years ago that the school I work at introduced yoga into their enrichment programme for years 10 and 11 (that’s ages 13-15 years). However, I have been pleasantly surprised. Not only were the girls keen to embrace yoga but many of them seem to genuinely enjoy it and see the benefits. Classes are a little more spirited than the norm, but I rather enjoy it. I have noticed that adults do take themselves rather seriously at times, and it’s a pleasure to see the girls smiling and having fun because even I think some of the names and poses we get into are rather funny.
Initially, I thought I would adapt my regular adult classes to something a little more dynamic and fun to keep the girls interested. But after a couple of weeks, I realised that they didn’t need me to ‘teenage it up’, they were just as engaged with slow, static poses with the same mindful, meditative practices I would include in my gentle, Hatha yoga for adults. In fact, the slower the better. I realised over time that a slow, mindful practice is just what these girls need. Every day is filled with so much going on. Constantly absorbed in learning, socialising and more frequently worrying what everyone else thinks of them. This lesson gives them a break from that busyness. They are encouraged to step into themselves and take a moment to observe their mind and bodies. Slow down their breath and become acutely aware of all that is going on physically and emotionally.
The other surprising factor I found was that not all teenage girls are super flexible. Many are a long way from touching their toes and have an equal number of niggles and limitations as my 60+ class. It has been a welcome reminder to never make assumptions. We need to take the same care and attention for our bodies whatever our age.
I have made a couple of concessions; I have revisited my yoga playlists to appeal to a younger crowd, and I let them all keep their socks on – for some reason, teenagers have a disliking for bare feet!
I could give my (no doubt) biased opinion of just what I think the girls gain from my teaching, however, I think it’s best you hear from them. I asked the girls to complete a questionnaire for me and these were my top interesting findings.
- Even though practiced in a school environment the majority of the girls said they are able to forget their surroundings and focus on their practice.
- The benefits of yoga have extended into their lives outside of the lesson, noting that it helps them get into a more positive mindset for the rest of the day, that it gives them mental clarity in their other sports, that they have used the relaxation techniques to stay calm in stressful situations and that overall it has helped them control their moods.
- Their perception of yoga has altered over the past couple of years of the practice, understanding the importance of looking after their bodies, and finding out that it’s more than just stretching the body, and that yoga can help in a holistic way which enables wider awareness, stress relief and concentration.
- The areas they found most challenging were balances, being distracted by what others are doing around them and pushing themselves to keep going when something is difficult.
- The important things they have learned so far during yoga are that they need to focus on themselves and not worry what others think, that they are so much more capable than they give themselves credit, that it’s important to take some time out and go slow, that no matter what is happening in your life you can always find a calm state of mind within yourself… and of course, that it really helps you become more flexible.
I have been pleasantly surprised with how well the girls engage in all aspects of yoga. My advice to yoga teachers out there is if you’re ever offered the opportunity to shape the lives of young people with the benefits of yoga, then go for it. You will learn as much from them as they do from you. Sometimes it’s easy to put down the youth of today, worrying that they spend too much time glued to their phones and that they are self-absorbed and detached from the real world… well, what I’ve seen in my classes is a mature group of individuals, who are learning to become more aware of their bodies and minds, willing to challenge themselves, open to new ideas and of course, know not to take themselves too seriously when we finish with ‘Happy Baby Pose’.