When I was 15, my best friend said to me, “Oi! Mum and I do yoga after school with this German lady and it’s really fun. You should come.”
She didn’t need to convince me to try it.
I love trying new things and yoga sounded like such a hipster thing to do because no one our age does it (at least no one where we live.) She then went on to tell me how the teacher was really pretty and had a bit of a funny accent that made the classes fun, and in the last ten minutes of class, we got to pretty much go to sleep while the teacher put cotton pads with rose water over our eyes, gave us a bit of a massage and sang to us.
My friend was right: it was really fun. The way we moved in that class was fresh and different to anything I’d ever done before. It was so nice to be able to try new types of balancing, like Warrior III and not be ridiculed and yelled at for not being perfect at the poses, something I am very used to from years of dance. It still amazes me how you can do a complete flow, including all the different categories of poses from standing to inverting to balancing to restoring, all on a rectangular piece of rubber.
I remember opening my eyes after savasana in that first class feeling fantastic and completely at peace with myself and the world around me.
I was hooked!
The next day, I woke up thinking my muscles would feel tired and pulled like they usually are after dance class, but they weren’t. I still can’t get my head around this. How can I do so many lowers from plank to chaturanga, squats, lunges and splits without feeling any tightness in my hamstrings or arms or quads the next day?
Properly warming up the body before the peak of the flow and allowing it to rest in savsana afterwards is how. Well, that’s my theory at least. I remember thinking, this is great! I can work all these different muscles I’ve never used before and feel great for days after!
Although adults have stressful jobs and have to look after families and pay bills, teenagers still have to study for exams, sit exams, complete assignments and perform speeches in front of peers. All of this sitting and studying for exams makes our brains fry and crumple and turn to mush. Well, mine does anyway.
We don’t need yoga as a means to stay fit. We’re generally quite fit, but we need it as a tool to calm the mind, relax and stay in the present. Rather than worry about that speech we have to give next Tuesday, or about how behind we are on our assignments compared to everyone else, we need to just be in the moment. The present moment. We need to concentrate on the breath and the body, while focusing on those sweet, sweet asanas.
Another reason why I love yoga and why we (still talking about teenagers here) need yoga is because we are so judgmental. We’re not only judgemental of ourselves, but we’re judgmental of others. We’re not skinny enough, not pretty enough, we have too many pimples, we haven’t had enough boyfriends, we don’t have a Pandora, we don’t have the latest iThis or iThat, we don’t wear enough makeup or we wear too much makeup, our school uniform doesn’t look as hot as the next b****’s because we haven’t rolled our skirt up so our a** is hanging out…you get my point.
We all need to chill out, take a child’s pose and really let out all that judgment and hatred and stress and negativity out.
Now please don’t take what I’m saying to mean that I believe teenagers deserve more attention in class or more yoga time than everyone else, because I’m not. I’m simply saying although beneficial to us for different reasons (coping with exams, judgmental peers, failure on exams) than adults, we don’t want to be excluded from adult “normal” yoga classes. We’re young, yes, but we just want to learn and be away from the hatred and judgment and stress for an hour or so like all of you other lovely people.
So here’s a bit of advice (in no particular order) to yoga teachers trying to open their doors to the teenage community:
- Sing to us—obviously something to do with yoga.
- Put nice smelly stuff on our eyes (another one of my teachers used to give us lavender eye pillows, but we’ll be fine with cotton pads sprayed with rose water, lavender oil or really any popular essential oil.)
- Ease us into the philosophy/meditation stuff, but don’t start going off your nut about the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali or niyamas and yamas.
- Explain things a bit more if you’re dealing with first-time teenage yogis. For example, my groins are very open and I can sit for a few hours easily in sukhasana without feeling pain (however, I do fidget because I’m bored or can’t still my mind), and so if you’re telling me to sit on a blanket or block to get my hips above my knees, you need to tell me why. You need to tell me why I must have two blankets under my shoulders in halasana and shoulderstand and then I’ll be like, “All good, bro, thanks for helping me protect my neck.” But don’t just say to me, “Okay, we’re going to do utthita padangusthasana with the foot pressing into the wall and a belt around the foot” if you’re not going to tell me why I can’t do it freestyle to test my balance and flexibility. Also, make sure to explain what the heck the Gayatri Mantra is if you’re going to sing it to us. I still don’t really know what it means.
- A gentle forehead massage or a pressing of the shoulders in savasana and a spine lengthening adjustment in child’s pose will definitely earn you more brownie points.
- Also understand that some teenagers probably won’t be as enthusiastic about yoga as people like me, especially when it comes to philosophy. But then again, they definitely could be completely into it (I honestly don’t see how anyone could not be into yoga). So feed us more information! Tell us the history of yoga, how old it is (I don’t think I’ve had a teacher yet who’s told me this, but I’ve Googled it), talk about Patanjali and the limbs of yoga and even the different styles of yoga. Maybe even hold a session where we just read through some ancient. Having a teacher explaining, in modern language, what these texts entail would be a huge help! Add in a bit of chakra love.
- Repetition is key if you want certain things to stick. If you’re hoping your teenage students will take a bit of your class home, practice sun salutes at the beginning of pretty much every class or have a certain sequence of postures that is the motif for the week or even month.
Please note that although I’ve requested to ease us into the philosophy and mediation aspects of yoga and give a lot of reasons why, don’t treat us like we’re little kids. Treat us like the rest of the adults in the class and especially don’t leave out philosophy and meditation just because you have teenagers in the class.
As a side note, I’m not a big fan of the term “Yoga for Teenagers.” Talk about exclusion!
Exclusion is the opposite of unity, which is therefore the opposite of yoga. I understand where these teachers are coming from, yogis hitting puberty have different needs to those who don’t have pimples and obsessions with the opposite sex, but at the end of the day, for example, it’s not like teenagers can’t do the poses that everyone else is doing. Instead, maybe have an extra class that discusses the benefits of certain poses for the changing adolescent or offer special yogic tips on how to deal with stress and peer pressure.
Just don’t flick us out of the mainstream classes, because we love yoga too.
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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Brianna Bemel