Are yoga teachers failing our young people? Why we need to do more to support our teens and tweens.
It’s no secret that our young people are under more pressure than ever. You may like to label social media as the bad guy and blame it all on that but we have a whole host of stuff going on that they have to deal with. From constantly increasing academic pressure, bullying (which was always around but is now online too), body image pressure for both sexes to more working parents and less secure attachments, more screen time and constant noise of being contactable 24/7. Our young people are struggling with their mental health and it’s time to work on prevention and giving tools to help them manage today’s lifestyle rather than just berating the so-called “causes” like social media.
This is where yoga can help right? Most yoga teachers like myself have come to teach yoga after experiencing the transformative benefits for ourselves. Often that is related to our own stress levels / mental health or general sense of self understanding and self love. This is a wonderful thing and I am so, so pleased that we are realising that this could be what our young people need. However, most Yoga Teacher Training courses will lead you to believe that teaching teens / young adults is pretty much the same as teaching adults. They can physically do an adult class so that’s what you would teach and they will reap the benefits just like an adult.
This is where I feel that we could be letting our young people down. If we delve deeper in to what is going on for our young people we will see that there is a lot going on for them that we can’t necessarily see. Their brains are pruning away unused connections, their bones are growing faster than their muscles, their hormones and bodies are changing, they are biologically wired to be changing their attachments to their parents and forming different attachments with friends and relationships. They need more from us than just an adult class.
Here are my top three tips if you’re teaching to, or considering teaching yoga and mindfulness to young people:
Be ready to scrap your lesson plan
This was the key take-away from learning how to deliver yoga to young people: Meet them where they are at.
This comes relatively easy to me as it’s the same approach I take to my adult classes - I will have a plan of what I would like to teach the specific group in my head but if I get to class and feel the energy isn’t right then I’ll improvise and work with them.
What do I mean by this? I’m very sensitive to energy so am lucky to be able to pick up on the energy on the room but you can also just ask - how is everyone feeling, what has been going on for them today? If they’re stressed, you want to de-stress them, if they’re tired then something a bit easier or energising. If they're really not up for yoga then maybe you have an outside mindfulness exercise instead, noticing clouds, breathing in fresh air and the ground under their feet. If they’re energised and happy then partner work might be a great fit.
I think we have all been to that yoga class where the teacher has a plan and is determined to stick with it no matter what clients are there, what restrictions they have or what mood they are in. Please don’t be that teacher. The biggest hurdle is getting them in to door, please don’t blow it by being just like all their other pressures, forcing them to do a class that really isn’t right for them on that particular day.
Instead teach them the best bit of yoga - that is has something for everyone on any given day, it can be fast or slow, movement or just breath, a way of life not just another to-do to tick off the list.
Bring your authenticity, love and compassion
Teens will sense any BS a mile away, there’s no putting on a soft yogi voice and using words that aren’t your own in an attempt to create a certain persona. That will go down like a lead balloon. They want to relate to YOU, hey want to see that you are real, that you get it and that you genuinely want to help them.
The good new is that this part is easy - Yoga teachers genuinely want to help everyone so all you have to do is be true to yourself and teach from that place of holding space for them for what they need from you on the day.
Savasana looks different
Do you remember that feeling when you first went to a yoga class and at the end everyone started lying down on their backs and closing their eyes? If you were anything like me, this would have seemed really strange and quite honestly like a big waste of time (not to mention how damn uncomfortable you felt about lying down and relaxing next to strangers for who knows how long). Savasana is a very vulnerable pose and particularly if you are working with anxious teens, not only is this a very self conscious potion but possibly a very frightening one to be in. A simple option is encourage students to relax on their tummies at the end of class. From there they may feel more comfortable to close their eyes and it’s also a great position to be able to feel the breath as their tummies press against the mat.
Want to find out more?
I offer yoga for teens and young people privately, in group classes and in schools around Surrey (UK) - please get in touch if you’d like to find out more, book a class or find out how to get yoga in to your school.
If you are a yoga teacher, or a school teacher and practice yoga you may want to take a look at the training offered by TeenYoga, I would highly recommend either the in-person or online course to anyone interested in this field and all profits go to the TeenYoga Foundation - a charity working to bring yoga to young people across the country as well as researching the benefits of yoga for this group of people.