Reflections on Yoga for Teens

When a local middle school in Berkeley contacted our studio to offer yoga for their teens, we were ecstatic. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in middle school. So I started to think back to what that felt like. Intoxicating. Scary. Funny. Awkward.  Confusing.

Here’s a description I wrote for the class: Yoga is also a great tool to calm the mind and stay in the present. Using various yoga postures to build inner and outer strength and flexibility are the main focus of this class. Part of the class will be devoted to partner/group poses and playful yoga games. Experience emotional balance through the physical and mental benefits of yoga by practicing breathing exercises, flowing sequences, balancing poses, and deep relaxation while building a healthy relationship with your body. Positive self-awareness and esteem are encouraged!

It’s only been two weeks, but watching the students start to relax in the space and express themselves fully has been fascinating.

A couple things have changed since I was in middle school. For one, all the kids have cell phones. A lot of things haven’t. Here’s the thing: kids have different needs. Some of them are growing up too quickly, are out spoken, and attention starved. Some are focused, self-conscious, and worried. Many pick up on social cues from each other. They look around to their peers, trying to figure what is ok, and what is allowed, and how they should be. The challenge of the school system is of course to meet the needs of all the students. I remember being particularly quiet in Middle School. This might not come as a surprise, but I’ve always liked observing. I would speak out only to my closer friends in smaller groups. I could never understand why students would disrupt teachers in class. Didn’t they want to know what the teacher was going to say? If I did lose interest, I turned inward instead. Getting lost in my own thoughts and daydreams.

On the second week of teen yoga classes, we have the students practice Anjali mudra-- where you place the thumbs at third eye to express purity of thoughts, at the lips for speaking with kindness, and at the heart for love. A girl raises her hand and asks a question, “What if someone does something mean to you. Is it OK to think bad thoughts?”

Later in the class, the teacher asked the students if they ever feel any negative emotions in their own body. She shares that she feels anger in her jaw. When she was younger she would often forget she was clenching her jaw, and it would hurt by the end of the day. One student says “Nope, I don’t have negative emotions, it’s always butterflies.” The girls around her giggle.

Aparigraha is the concept of non-possessiveness, non-grasping or non-greediness. It is an invitation to resist what is resisting you. Yoga is not a one size fits all. We can take what we need out of the practice. In fact, the quicker you abandon any preconceived notions about what yoga is, the sooner you will begin benefit from it. Each of our 7th graders is on different roads, come from different types of homes, and have different needs. If I could offer them only one piece of advice, it would be: focus on your own story. Life is transient, fluid, forever changing. It’s hard enough, without someone telling you who you need to be. Is it ok to feel bad thoughts? Yes. Is it ok to experience negative feelings? Yes. It’s ok. Acknowledging them is half the battle. You are enough. Forgive yourself for them instead of berating yourself. And then continue down a path that resonates more with you. Replace those thoughts with ones that vibrate with your soul. Here’s my second piece of advice: It’s also ok if this takes you your entire adult life to learn how to do.

by Anna Volfe