Yoga with Adolescents

Since its early roots, the demographic of “who-is-yoga-for” has evolved significantly.   We might imagine anything from a yogi monk to a HIIT yoga guru, sporting the latest trend  legging style. Today there are hundreds of styles and classes, specific to market groups and populations for whom the practice is tailored.  The beautiful thing is that in the 21st century, yoga has extended far from the once exclusive practice, to now being accessible and relevant to almost any population.

In this blog  we will explore practicing yoga with adolescents, and why the practice is beneficial for physical, but mostly for  mental health in our youth. The mind of an adolescent is incredible; the way the neurons are firing, the connections in the brain developing. The ability to build self-compassion and awareness is developing, but is also very vulnerable.

 As a teacher in a prestigious international school, we see students who are in an environment of ever increasing academic benchmarks and an expectation to be the best.  While there is positive intent in these goal driven environments, the community has also witnessed adverse effects on the well being of students. In some instances, we see tragic ends and responses to the societal and academic bar. 

The prescription for how to cope with stress has evolved as well.   While it is true that prescription medications are still quite prevalent as a “fix” in our society, we also see more pathways toward self-compassion, therapy, and meditation.  Studies are revealing that yoga and related practices in schools or communities are also contributing to a cultivation of self-compassion and overcoming inadequacies in positive ways.  Yoga practices the holistic development of students in all age groups, and the range of mind-body-soul practices has deep rooted effects in well being. 

There is a lot  of research out there to support the positive effects of incorporating yoga into school programs and with youth; 

As mentioned above, it can contribute to a more positive learning environment.  It helps students with anger management, stress, body image… more than can be described in a simple blog.  The research is out there.

 However, a  few points to highlight are:  

-Yoga practices aim to bring about solace among students who are unable to manage uncontrollable influxes of self-demeaning and self critical ideas when they’re unable to meet their set ideals.

-Physical and meditation practice help to shape more realistic and grounded beings.  The practice helps students to withdraw from the idea of an inflated self, or idea of being somebody they are not. 

-The emotional uplift and support needs to be initiated by school teachers, support, mentors, and authorities.  Adolescents need the support and vision of their mentors to guide them on this journey, and through other trials and tribulations.  If you as a practitioner bring yoga to your youth, you have the potential to make really positive impacts on their lives. But they need you to initiate. 

In short, yoga +  mentorship can instill humbleness, self compassion, and perspective to our younger generations.

Here are some helpful things to remember when practicing yoga with youth:

-Say yes (& often).  Don’t get caught up telling your students what not to do.  Tell them what to do, and tell them what they’re doing well.   Saying yes is empowering, especially to youth who are often told “no” all day long.

-Create a soothing environment. Many students struggle with being overstimulated, and are often medicated or punished for it. Try to tone down the visual and aural distractions.  Create an atmosphere for calmness. Remember, most adolescents are far far away from a state of dharana. 

-Give structure, but offer choices.   Meet your students where they are. What do they need from their practice? How do they feel capable? What is success to them? Give them the gift of individuality and permission to be who they are. Allow them to take from their practice what it is that they need. 

Lastly, when working with adolescents (or any population really), take a moment to reconnect with your own purpose for teaching. Being present and aware of your own intention will allow you to meet your students right where they are.  Kids are smart, and they’ll either see right through you, or truly appreciate the energy and support you bring to them.