My idea to start teaching yoga to classes made up of just teens, I must admit, stems from raising three teenagers. Although the physical and mental aspects of the teenage years remain the same--growing pains, puberty, body image issues, etc.--from when I was a teen, the social conditions are very different. Watching my kids navigate this electronic age and unique stresses has been daunting to say the least. They never seem to “disconnect” and just be; hence, the birth of my idea to create a class for teens to “disconnect to connect.”
It has been a challenge finding teens with the time and willingness to try yoga. This was illustrated well after a class when one girl said, “I really liked that. I bet that will be a great thing to do when I’m old.” To which I replied: “You can start now, you don’t have to wait until you get old.” She looked at me, dumbfounded, and said: “I don’t have time for yoga!” Touché. She was right, teens these days really don’t take time to relax, breathe and reconnect. Between their busy schedules of school, sports and other activities, they rarely have any downtime. According to a recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "Study: Teen Stress on the Rise", even when they do have a break in their schedules, "social media has created a situation where kids are always 'on'. They are always having to navigate how to fit in with their peers and they no longer get a break from that."
From a physical perspective, yoga can be so beneficial to the growing teen. The deep stretches can help relieve some of the discomfort from the painful growth spurts that teens often experience. And as many teens become more focused on one sport, yoga can improve flexibility to parts of the body that may be neglected from repetitive movement and perhaps protect them from injury. Also, as balance is an important part of any yoga practice, it is something many of them have never tried. Although it can at first be very frustrating, I remind them that working on balance will help develop patience and focus. It is wonderful to see as they progress from falling out of “tree” and other balances in the first few classes, to balancing longer as they learn to breathe and feel themselves present and rooted to the earth. I remind them that every day is different and many times your ability to focus and balance is directly related to what is going on inside of you. The realization that they have control over their thoughts and focus can be so liberating.
We start and end each class with simple breathing techniques. By practicing breathing and learning to simply observe their thoughts, without judging or trying to change them, it becomes easier to calm the mind. And finally, we end each class with what seems to be their favorite part, svasana. I offer them eye-pillows with a douse of lavender and blankets before they go into this most important part of any yoga class, extended relaxation. No phones, no electronics, just allowing themselves a few minutes to breathe, relax and just be.