Yoga Relief for Stressed Out Teens

This guest post is by Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT, has joyfully spent the past 13 or so years on the yoga and mindfulness playground with kids, teens and teachers at schools and centers across Los Angeles and beyond.She is the founder of Shanti Generation, through which she created “Yoga Skills for Youth Peacemakers” a teens and kids yoga DVD.

Can Yoga in schools help teens cope?

Are teens really that stressed out?

As an advocate for youth yoga programs, I hear those questions all too often. If you work with teens, or take care of one, the answer may seem as obvious to you as it is to me.

 

Let’s take a peek at the world teens have grown up in. A girl who is 13 years old today was 4 when 9/11 happened. The country has been engaged in multiple wars for most of her lifetime. Massive earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes have stricken almost yearly. We are experiencing financial meltdown, while poverty and hunger continue to claim lives around the globe. And that’s just a shortlist of what’s been happening in the outside world! Not even to mention the varied, complex home lives and inner worlds of teens.

 

The short lived, but intense, part of life we call adolescence carries acute physiological and neurological changes alongside a host of social and emotional challenges. No wonder defiance is a hallmark of being a teen. Unlike children, teens have not only greater access to information about what is happening around the planet, they also have a higher capacity to understand current events. Yet, teens don’t have the life experience of adults to aid them in making sense of the world.

 

My intention is not to paint a dire picture of teens’ lives here. Many teens are still able to thrive amongst the chaos. I would simply like to suggest that as parents, educators and guides, we may be wise to actively encourage healthy relaxation into teens stressed out schedules, especially in schools, where teens spend most of their time.

 

“Can We Just Chill Today?”

 

For eight years I had the pleasure of teaching yoga as part of the curriculum at New Roads Middle School in Santa Monica. Classes were held just after lunch in the period of time many tweens and teens refer to as “food coma.” Students would often drag into class asking, “What are we doing today? Can we chill?”

 

My response, “Of course.” For youth, “chilling” is just a code word for time spent just being. This type of free time is actually vital to health. In yoga,, our “chill time” is spent directing the mind to the breath and consciously relaxing.

 

Conscious relaxation is, of course, altogether different from the disengaged style of chilling familiar to many youth.  While teens will often name video game playing, web surfing and YouTube watching as favorite relaxing pastimes, these activities do little in the way of teaching teen skills needed to relax in challenging situations. Even though kids feel relaxed and happy while “screening,” due to dopamine rewards among other chemical responses, they have no idea how to recreate those feelings outside of the activity.

 

In contrast, yoga practice centers on cultivating clear awareness of one’s state of being and developing the skills necessary for shifting that state if desired, For example, in our after lunch yoga class I would typically create a quiet nurturing environment using low lighting, soothing music and pleasing aromatherapy scents. Students would enter the classroom and begin class in Constructive Rest Pose, a relaxation posture laying on the back with bent knees and arms crossed over the chest. For the first 5-10 minutes of class, until everyone was fully settled and ready to learn, students would be guided to pay attention to their breathing and how the breath affects the body.

 

This “chill” time also lends well to many forms of contemplation and reflection during which students are able to build emotional intelligence by listening to their own voice. Once relaxed and out of the stress response, students are much more able to hear their voice beyond the layers of fear and anxiety that can dominate some teens’ experiences, leading to the kind of disengagement previously mentioned.

 

As teen yoga students learn these skills for relaxation, they are also prompted to reflect on how these skills can transfer from the yoga practice to the rest of their lives. I am never disappointed by teenagers abilities to make this important step in yoga. In fact, I am very often delighted and surprised by how quickly they are able to do so.

This guest post is by Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT, has joyfully spent the past 13 or so years on the yoga and mindfulness playground with kids, teens and teachers at schools and centers across Los Angeles and beyond.She is the founder of Shanti Generation, through which she created “Yoga Skills for Youth Peacemakers” a teens and kids yoga DVD.

Flikr Image From: stevendepolo

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