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We live in an over stimulated world and although some stimulation is important for mental ability and growth, living in a state of constant flux pulled between our devices, social media, peer group pressures and academic pressures can contribute to mental health problems. Navigating a global pandemic and lockdowns has meant more time on social media, less in person interaction and less access to group sports.

Tweens and teens are a unique group exposed to all the above demands whilst also grappling with body awareness and self-esteem issues. The teenage brain is very different to the adult brain. Simply put their frontal and prefrontal cortices which control insight, empathy and risk taking are not fully developed. Which in part explains the mood swings and impulsivity because they don’t yet have full access to their frontal lobes. Also, this lack of executive functioning means they’re not planning ahead and their priorities may not always seem to make common sense (leaving the wet towel on the bed!?)!

How can yoga help?

Yoga as both a form of movement and mindfulness helps to make us feel more present, aware, and able to resist distractions. It can provide teenagers with essential life tools such as positive body image, healthy self-esteem and confidence, better concentration, greater self-awareness, and empathy towards other and greater internal and external strength. As a form of physical and mental exercise it can be incredibly empowering and strengthening.

Yoga enables all of us to tap into our parasympathetic nervous system which is essential for calming us and lowering our stress hormone levels. As tweens and teens deal with exams this is a particularly useful skill to have.

What might a teen yoga class involve?

Yoga classes for these groups might consist of a warmup, fun and challenging poses (asanas) with lots of variety (standing, sitting, twisting, balancing etc), partner work and perhaps an accessible meditation, visualisation or calming breathing exercises.

Teens are amazing. The teenage brain has more synaptic connections (the way parts of the brain connect to each other) than adult ones making them highly impressionable, able to learn quickly and memorise things faster. This is a time of huge potential and yoga provides the opportunity to explore and learn new movement patterns, explore balance and mobility, and remember coping tools to help in moments of stress or anxiety. These age groups can be incredibly curious and willing to try new things (tweens especially). Often popular are partner yoga sequences, group yoga flows, yoga mandalas (moving in a circular fashion), yoga waves (where one teen does a pose and one after another the others follow) and allowing teens to express their autonomy and create new yoga poses (within reason!).

The physical elements of a class can create a lot of laughter (for us all!) and are fantastic for lifting mood and creating a sangha – yoga community – enabling everyone to feel connected however shy, introverted, or quiet. Concepts or themes as well as being great in adult yoga classes are also great for teen yoga. There could be a physical theme such as slow down and embracing rest, opening our hearts (backbends are great for this), softening, empowering ourselves and feeling strong or it might be more conceptual such as trust, working together or happiness (partner work is great for these).

Many teens are up for a challenge and willing to try poses such as bakasana arm balance. Some of these challenging poses tie in with concepts mentioned above such as trust i.e. Trust yourself and your body as you explore these poses. Other concepts such as gratitude i.e. Expressing gratitude for our amazing bodies for being so strong and allowing us to practise yoga can be particularly useful to tap into as we go about our daily lives. Some might like to visualise themselves in the pose first and understand more about the physical mechanics. Others may be more inspired and motivated by the journey. Thinking about how a yoga sequence or asana makes us feel is ultimately more important than the shape we end up in! There are so many modifications and variations and its great to see teens developing awareness and knowledge which enables them to modify poses themselves. The ability to be flexible and adaptable is a skill which can be taken off the yoga mat.

As teens move through the physical poses its useful for them to know what the benefits are, what parts of the body are being stretched and engaged and how it affects their breath? Knowledge is power.

Although for many asanas are the most tangible way to access a yoga practice there is so much more to yoga. Meditation, visualisation and breathing techniques can be explored separately or included in a more physical practice. Teenagers are more than capable of understanding the science behind breathing techniques and it’s a great way to encourage them to be curious about how the way we breathe can impact our moods, posture, and overall wellbeing.

Simple techniques such as visualising a thought bubble and placing something inside it such as “I am not my thoughts” and then gently on exhalations blowing that bubble away like a balloon (great for anxiety). Techniques that can be taken away and practised off the mat (pre exams perhaps). Basic mudras (hand gestures) can be very useful. Humming bee breath and golden feather breath are both incredibly calming as they lengthen the exhalation activating our calming parasympathetic nervous system. Relaxation is important for this age group which has so many demands upon their energy and time, but it might be challenging to stay still so providing a brief guided relaxation or yoga nidra (calming yoga practice) can be a more accessible and still nurturing way to close a practice.

Mindfulness practices

can help teens to notice unhelpful thoughts, be aware of how they make them feel, acknowledge the need to change these thoughts (through yoga and mindfulness) and being aware of how that change feels. Maybe being able to still the “chattering monkey mind” is a result of our practice but also empowering teens with the knowledge that they are not their thoughts can be very grounding and reassuring.

Ultimately yoga has many physical benefits for teenagers, but it is perhaps the emotional, mental and energetic benefits which are the most significant for this age group.

I often use this quote in teen classes as a great reminder of the potential and incredible inner strength that teenagers possess now,

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it”

J.M.Barrie , Peter Pan

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