Yoga can be an immensely powerful educational tool to help teenagers develop into healthy, confident, and conscious adults. Teaching Teen Yoga is a rewarding task because it can make a great positive impact on a young person’s life. Teen Yoga supports teens and young adults in developing their attention span and emotional intelligence. Yoga also supports teens to develop an awareness of their own body, as well as overall coordination and cognitive abilities. Just like in adults, yoga helps teenagers to reduce stress and anxiety and helps them experience more well-being, peace, harmony, and joy.
Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education. – Mark Twain
Our conventional educational system relies on the competitiveness between pupils to improve their performance in assimilating a standard curriculum. In general, our conventional schooling system does not teach emotional stability, how to discover your own talents and important social skills such as empathy.
The adolescent years are delicate and very important. It is in this period that teenagers develop behavioral patterns that will influence their future life. Yoga can play a vital role in developing healthy patterns, both in posture and attitude.
For adolescents, yoga is a powerful instrument for developing self-knowledge through awareness of the deep connection between the body and mind. Yoga opens the pathways to:
Teenagers are understandably often worried about their body’s function and outlook; their body changes and hormonal changes make them feel overwhelmed. Practicing yoga helps them to bring attention to their body in a conscious and non-judgmental way. It helps them know and appreciate their body for what it can do, and at the same time to accept its limits.
Listening and becoming aware of one’s limits in an asana, the ability to stop when necessary, teaches teenagers to say no. This will support them both in situations concerning their own body and in relationships with the outside world.
Yoga provides teens with the tools to learn how to stay focused and calm even in the midst of external experiences. Deep breathing and relaxation techniques promote concentration during the preparation for an exam and help manage states of anxiety and tension.
Teenagers look for their place in society and try to understand how to express themselves. Adolescents experiment with ways of acting and behaving, building their independence, their ability to decide independently about their own life.
Practicing yoga helps teenagers achieve all these goals while respecting themselves and others. Yoga becomes a precious help even at school as it encourages students to look internally to make decisions based on self-respect and consideration for others.
Yoga encourages teens to make decisions in a variety of situations. During a yoga class, the teen decides whether to proceed to a more advanced pose, or how to support their body in the best way.
For example, a teenager with tighter hamstrings is encouraged to use a block instead of trying to reach the floor in Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana). The decision to use support in an asana stimulates the adolescent to seek solutions and answers. It stimulates the teenager to observe himself without comparing himself to those around him, to what others do. This attitude becomes fundamental when the adolescent copes with issues such as drugs, sex, alcohol.
A yoga class is a place where teens can learn to put worries aside and experience relief from stress. This relief, even when temporary, can give them a refreshed perspective and train the mind to focus on one challenge at a time. A very important topic, when we talk about teens is stress management and yoga can be very helpful. If you work with teens as a teacher, as a therapist you can observe how overcharged, overbooked their life is. Yoga can be very helpful in giving teens the right tools to manage their inner responses to what’s going on in their life.
The word education derives from the Latin word ‘educere’, which means ‘bring out’. Education is not only the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction. Education is a system of laying a solid foundation of the individual’s character and personality.
Educating means helping someone to develop the ability to understand what is true, pure, valid, and lasting. Education is the tool through which a child and therefore a teen can develop spirituality and morality. True education prepares us to face life with courage and firmness.
When working with teenagers, our job is to help them express their talents and the inner and natural values that they carry within. It also means to help them improve their abilities to overcome frustrations and difficulties – resilience – to develop a stronger self-confidence, stronger self-esteem.
Yoga is a path, a way to self-realization, a journey to self- harmony and balance with others and with the planet. Yoga helps teenagers to become aware of their abilities, they develop sociality and their sense of belonging to a group. They learn self-respect, respect for others, for the whole of humanity, and for every other form of life.
Knowledge and skills alone are not enough to generate a happy adult and a healthy society. Before we aim to transmit knowledge and skill, in my opinion, we first must convey values such as cooperation, kindness, respect, positive thinking for themselves and others.
The purpose of teaching yoga to teenagers is to encourage the development of the whole personality through the balance between asana (pose), pranayama (control of breath), relaxation, and dharana (concentration). Understanding the needs of teens and what you have to offer them begins with self-reflection.
Teenagers constantly look for an authority figure that they can trust. They trust someone as an authority figure who is able to create a connection with them, respects them, and guides them from a point of equality. Some more tips for teaching Teen Yoga:
1. Create and adhere to a comprehensive structure:
Structure is important for children and teenagers. Teens might look resistant to structure, but secretly they need it almost as much as loving relationships. When teenagers resist structure, it is mostly due to the fact that it is forced on them without their consent or understanding of the benefits for them.
Structuring your class in a comprehensive way and sticking to that structure helps the teens to know what to expect. This understanding helps them to relax more into the present moment. Often teachers feel the need to constantly generate new and different classes, but students often don’t actually like that. With structured consistency, students can measure their own successes (however they define that for themselves) and feel proud of their practice.
Want to learn more about sequencing comprehensively? Check out our book Hatha Yoga for Teachers & Practitioners – A Comprehensive Guide to Holistic Sequencing
2. Be encouraging:
Your job as a yoga teacher for teens is to help them reach their goals and guide them on their path to self-acceptance. Teenagers can be a handful, especially if you are trying to confine and control them within a framework of restrictions, orders, and authoritative expression. In a frank dialogue try to first find out what struggles and needs your teenage students, and how yoga can help them.
When you instruct them in class, try to use language that tells them what to do. Avoid prohibitions and make sure to appreciate good effort.
3. Adapt to your students’ energy level:
When entering your Teen Yoga class, tune into their level of energy. If they are excited, begin the class with a level of higher intensity, and gradually let the class become slower and more relaxed. If your students seem exhausted, make sure to start the class gently and see if you can add a little more energy in the middle of the class. Always end the class with an extensive final relaxation in Shavasana (at least 10 minutes, preferably 15 minutes).
In the beginning, your adolescent students might struggle with the final relaxation. The idea that rest is something that they can create on their own, is a new concept for most of them. Most teenagers are exhausted, and with the right conditions, they’ll come back to yoga wanting more and more time for Shavasana. You can offer some different resting poses at the end of class for those students who don’t feel comfortable in Shavasana.
Marzia Bendotti is an experienced yoga teacher, specialized in Yoga Therapy and Postural Yoga. She’s the founder of the method Care Yoga and with her medical-scientific background, she’s the director of a Yoga Therapy Program dedicated to lowering stress levels and strengthening the immune system in women with cervical cancer.
Her project YO! Yoga for children and teens is dedicated to spreading the yoga practice in schools. Yo! Includes a specific program dedicated to teaching staff, to help them create a healthy environment, and a harmonious relationship between students and teachers. She regularly teaches yoga in primary and secondary schools. For the Arhanta Online Academy, she has created a 50-hour YACEP accredited program, Teen Yoga Teacher Training.