The Case for Starting Yoga as a Teenager and Why You'll Wish You Had
You remember being a teenager right? Those years marked by uncertainty, drama, stress, and surging hormones. The years when friends change as often as clothing styles. The years when your parents seems like enemies and the phrase "my life is over" crops up on a weekly basis. Sure there are fun times too, and looking back we can romanticize a time when our biggest responsibility was deciding what movie to see on a Friday night. It's easy to look back and think how silly it all seemed. How could we possibly have cared so much about things that seem so small? Why did we let what other people said cut so deep? Why did we make such stupid decisions and treat our parents so poorly?
If my research into the teen years has taught me anything it's that as teens, most of us did the best we could with the tools we had. Science shows that teens' still developing brains are a major hurdle to making rational decisions. Not to mention the stress of school, influence of peers, and insecurities that cloud a teen's vision. Being up against so much, it's a wonder that any of us make it through.
From my observations, things are getting even more difficult with the rise of social media. The bullying that exists in the online world is appalling and makes me seriously concerned for the next generation. And it's not just bullying that affects teens. It's the constant noise of seeing images that distort body image and promote unrealistic and unhealthy ideals of what woman should look like.
I often think back and wonder why no one ever said to me: "It won't always be like this, you'll figure out who you are and soon you won't care what they all think." Maybe they did and I just wasn't ready to hear it. Knowing what I know now, I can't help but think that having a regular yoga practice as a teenager could have made all the difference.
Research shows that teens who practice yoga are less stressed, more confident, and better able to form a sense of identity. These teens perform better in school, and feel generally happier and more calm. Yoga encourages a connection to the self and a presence of mind that literally forces students to remove themselves from the clutter of the outside world. It helps them to become healthier, in body and in mind.
For me, yoga is a mirror to the rest of my life. It provides me with the tools to navigate difficult situations, offers a release from stress, helps me stay focused on the unique path that I am carving for myself. Many students come to yoga later in life as a way to heal. They have become so burnt out by the stress of life, so lost from the life that they wanted to live, so unable to deal with the surmounting pressure of everyday life that they need a way to rewire their brains, bodies, and souls. I too came to yoga after a period of darkness. I can't help but think how such a time could have been avoided if I had started practicing yoga sooner.
It is my goal as a teacher that students will take what they learn on the mat and be able to apply it in all facets of their life. We learn to breathe through difficult poses, and by extension through difficult situations. We learn that yoga is not a competition, that each body is different and has its own strengths and weaknesses. I hope that they will realize that their body is perfect the way it is, that what their neighbor can do is of no relevance to them and shouldn't affect the way they see themselves. We learn to listen to our bodies, to understand when it is telling us that something doesn't feel right, and to listen to that voice within us. We find strength in our bodies that we didn't know we had, and then find strength in our mind to rise above negativity. We learn not to believe everything our mind tells us, that the stories we create about what we should do, think, or look like are not true. Finally, as yoga teachers we can plant a seed in the mind of our students. We can model for them what it means to be kind and compassionate to all beings. For teens, I hope that they'll think of this message next time they see a classmate being made to feel different or unwanted. Maybe they'll have a new found compassion and reaction, planting a seed in the minds of their friends and setting of a chain reaction of compassion.
Our teens need this. They need the coping mechanisms to navigate the most tumultuous period of their young lives. They need a way to see the bigger picture, to understand that they have the power within themselves to stand on their own two feet, to respect themselves and see their full potential. They need to be shown the kindness that exists in themselves so that they can share this kindness with others.
(This is a self-portrait by one of my teen students, it is completely amazing and beautiful)