Teens Need Yoga, Too!
Guest Blog Post
By Colleen Clemens, PhD
I started teaching teen yoga because I really, really wish I had known about yoga when I was a teenager. I was a perfectionist—my grades, body, and personality all had to be perfect. I was a friendly kid, for the most part. As friendly as a teenaged girl can be, I suppose.
But I was always so afraid of letting those around me down, of letting the world down, of letting myself down. I was in constant movement. I worked, volunteered, studied, socialized. My parents were thrilled when I got my drivers’ license and they didn’t need to taxi me to activity after activity.
Now I teach teenagers. Spending time with them in classrooms for the past 20 years has shown me that many teens grapple with the same concerns I felt when I was their age.
I cringe when I hear people tell teenagers that their problems are “small” or “don’t matter.” The fear of failure is palpable to them, and it is affecting their bodies and beings. In a recent poll, 82% of teenagers reported that they felt moderate to extreme stress during the past school year. My students tell me they do not sleep or eat well. They feel at the end of their ropes, just like I did.
I found yoga early in my teaching career when lesson plans, parent phone calls, and grading papers were about to drown me. I was sick, tired, grumpy, and distressed. A friend suggested I take a yoga class with her, and, most days, my ability to cope with the world became possible. In the beginning of my practice, I was twitchy, antsy. But the more I practiced, the more I learned how to maintain a sense of calm on even the stormiest days of life.
Teens have been coming to my yoga class for years with their parents. But this past summer, I wanted to create a space where just teenagers could practice together, where I could speak with them directly and honor their specific concerns in life. Because their lives are whirlwinds of school, Snapchat, and socializing, they feel just as pulled in too many directions as do the adults in their lives.
Ten teens signed up for the 4-week session at Shine Yoga Center. At first they were timid. I have noticed teens have excellent flexibility; however, their body awareness and muscle strength need more development. I worked on short breathing practices and talked about how they can use them in their daily lives, like before a test or when facing a challenging decision. I taught them basic poses such as tree and warrior and tried to help them see the connection between the shapes of their bodies and the focus it develops in their mind. Just like I do for my adult students, I wanted the teens to see that the practice itself will not be “perfect,” that the perfection is showing up on your mat to give yourself some time to recharge.
One of my students said he had never felt his mind as focused as he did when at yoga. When I asked him for a comment on the class, he wrote, “Imagine a room full of people your age, without worrying about anything aside from what you and your body are doing. This is teen yoga.”
And this is what I wanted my teens to see: that there is a place where you can feel this way, where you can feel like the eye of a storm and handle all that life swirls around you.
Imagine if we could help more teens feel this way, give them more tools to cope with the world and the challenges they face and are about to inherit. Developing solid habits and a practice early in life would have helped me face all that life blessed and challenged me with. I can only hope that teaching teens yoga will give them support to face their own challenges and blessings.
I remind myself of Gandhi’s advice often: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." The peace we create inside ourselves through yoga is not only a personal gift, but one we share with everyone we encounter. I feel blessed to teach. My hope is that students leave class feeling restored and calm, with a sense of serenity and strength. I know yoga can be beneficial; over a decade ago I found it when the overwhelming work of teaching high school English forced me to learn to manage stress. In my first pigeon pose, I discovered my body could offer its own comfort. After several years of practicing, one early morning I arrived at the gym only to find the instructor was ill; I asked to use the room to practice on my own, and before I knew it, I was teaching a group of ten people. Seeing happy, relaxing bodies resting on mats felt like a gift the students gave me, and I continue to feel gratitude for those wonderful moments in teaching. I realized I needed to teach yoga regularly and pursued my yoga certification. For me, yoga is all about the meaning of the word itself, which translates into “to yoke, to unite.” I love teaching both students who are on the mat for the first time and those who are doing their ten thousandth down dog in the course of their lifetime of practice. I began teaching in 2003 and haven’t stopped loving it!
Are you curious as to how yoga could benefit your teen? Or, have you already witnessed the benefits in a teen? Please share in the comments below.