As a children’s yoga teacher trainer, the most frequently asked question that I receive is, “How do you make yoga cool for teens?”
While teenagers can be moody, awkward and intimidating, they can also be fun, focused and co-operative with the right guidance and teaching techniques.
I started my yoga journey as a teenager; my first class was an uncomfortable, daunting and quite frankly, embarrassing experience. These were the days before children’s yoga was established and teens who were interested in trying yoga were thrown into a yoga class with both expert yogis, uncoordinated adults and in my case, the elderly.
Needless to say, it was many years before I entered a yoga studio again and even longer before I really fell in love with yoga.
I often wonder if that first experience had been different, if it had been more creative, interactive and most importantly, with people of my own age, would I have instantly fallen in love with yoga? Would it have changed my teenage years? Would it have transformed me into a well-rounded, emotionally balanced teenage yogi?
There is a lesson to be learned in all experiences, even the uncomfortable and embarrassing ones (more so, in some cases).
What did I learn from this experience?
Yoga for teens needs to be tailored to teens! How can we expect teenagers to find enthusiasm and cultivate passion for the yogi lifestyle if we present it in a methodical and dull manner? We should be empowering young people through interactive and engaging yoga classes.
Yoga for teens should be colourful, bright and vibrant; it should be light-hearted and full of laughter. It should also be educational, philosophical and practical. As yoga practitioners, we should be creating a safe, non-judgmental space in which teens can freely explore their ideas and emotions; learn about and discuss the basic principles of yoga philosophy; be part of an open-minded, free-thinking community and feel confident, empowered and inspired (as well as bending, stretching, strengthening and calming).
It can take a lot of time, effort, trial and error to develop teen yoga programmes that are fun, creative and holistic. By combining music, dance, art, writing, group discussion, story-telling and play, you can create interactive and appealing yoga sessions that cater specifically to each type of learner: visual, verbal, logical, kinesthetic, musical, and intra and interpersonal. Listening to teens and asking them about their interests, insecurities, strengths and weaknesses can enable you to address these areas throughout your yoga sessions.
Here are five key tips on how to make your yoga cool for teens:
1. Discover their Interests and Insecurities.
At the beginning of each teen yoga course, I ask each individual to write down their interests and insecurities in order to plan a tailor-made programme that is specific and beneficial to that group. I ask the group three questions in particular:
What are your strengths?
What are you working on?
What are you fears or doubts?
This can be related to yoga, lifestyle or personality traits. This gives me a broad idea of what they like to do, what they would like to achieve and what challenges they want to overcome.
2. The Power of Two.
Some teens love to be challenged with advanced poses, inversions and arm balances while others display anxiety and panic and the mere mention of the word handstand. Experiencing, acknowledging and understanding self-doubt and fears are all huge and beneficial elements of yoga and life. Overcoming challenges on the yoga mat can be incredibly empowering, but it is important that we provide a safe, non-judgmental space for teens to explore their challenges.
Partner yoga is the perfect technique to enable teenagers to feel secure and motivated to try new yoga challenging poses. Ensure each pair know how to fully support their partner, physically and mentally, with positive words of encouragement and a strong, supportive body.
3. Do the Weird and Wonderful.
When I first started teaching teens, I was terrified to introduce any components of yoga that could be considered strange or peculiar. Chanting? Visualising? Hindu Mythology? Why would teenagers want to learn about this? Won’t they think I’m really weird? Yes, maybe they will, but it’s all part of yoga.
By holding back on what we teach, sticking to the “mainstream,” Westernised elements of yoga, means that we are not introducing them to something that could be highly beneficial or significant to their lives.
In my experience, teenagers welcome the weird and wonderful. They are open to trying something new and quirky and they are highly grateful that you have taken the time to teach them something unique and meaningful.
4. Creative Expression.
Movement is a huge and highly beneficial aspect of yoga for teens. It allows them to be creative and expressive, not to mention strong, stable and flexible. Giving teens other creative options to express themselves, their opinions, ideas and visualisations can be incredibly beneficial too. Art, dance, music and writing are some other ways in which teenagers enjoy processing and understanding their emotions and ideas. Introduce a mandala art diary or writing journal into each of your classes so that teenagers can reflect, inquire, discover and express their thoughts and feelings.
5. Explain and Reason.
Teenagers, like adults, often need a reason or explanation as to why they are being asked to do a particular pose, meditation or breathing technique. Introducing a new element of yoga without an explanation or reason as to how it can be beneficial to them, can cause confusion, frustration and de-motivation.
At this age, most teens have a good understanding of anatomy, knowledge of the world and curiosity of the mind. Promote and enrich this by explaining and reasoning with them; tell them how a particular aspect of yoga can be beneficial, when and why they should use it outside of the studio, how it works and what effect it is having on their mind and body as they practice. Encourage teens to ask questions and don’t be afraid to introduce more complex concepts of yoga anatomy and philosophy.
So, the next time you’re nervous about teaching teens, push those feelings aside, take some of these tips and confidently create an empowering and unique class for your teen yogis.
Author: Laura McEgan
Image: YouTube still
Editor: Travis May