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Yoga and meditation for teens

There is no question, life for our teens is hectic. There are so many stressors, that seem to come from every angle, school, home, friendships, changing bodies, reshaping brains. Not forgetting the 24/7 pressure from social media they are battered with, something we parents did not have to navigate at such a pivotal time of our development. Is it any wonder our teens mood swings fluctuate as they do, and how are they supposed to understand what makes them who they are and know their purpose when there is so much for them to process?

Anxiety and Depression among teens is on the rise and when you look at what each day brings, if our teens are not mentally and physically equipped to manage life, the wheels may start to fall off. In teen brains the connections between the emotional part (Amygdala) of the brain and the decision making part (Pre Frontal Cortex) are still developing and not always at the same rate, nor are they communicating with each other and on top of that the rational, thinking part of the brain won’t be fully developed until around the age of 25. Adults mostly think with the rational part of the brain whereas teens think with the emotional part, that’s why when teens are overwhelmed they aren’t able to explain what they were thinking as they weren’t so much as thinking as feeling. Often the Instinctive Brain and Emotional Brain are overriding the brains ability to think clearly and this can lead to irrational and over emotional behaviour which may lead to poor judgement and making choices they possibly come to regret. And it does not matter how well your teen does at school, they will still make decisions you as their parent will be questioning as to why.

This is where yoga and mindfulness can help. Mindfulness has become a buzz word in recent years and simply put mindfulness translates to paying attention and being in the moment. When we have anxiety, we worry about what may happen and if we suffer from depression we perhaps linger in the past. Present moment awareness is believed to be one way we can short circuit negative and unhelpful ways of thinking and, yoga is mindfulness in motion. When coming into a slower moving yoga class, the student is invited to pay attention to everything that is going on within their bodies. How the body moves, how the body feels, being aware of the breath and how the breath can affect change both in body and mind. In yoga everything is interrelated, every small action in a yoga class has a big effect on how our day starts or ends. When we are living in the emotional, irrational part of the brain we activate the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) (flight, fight or freeze) which has us on high alert ready to react whenever the need arises. Living in the SNS constantly spikes our adrenalin, blood pressure and heart rate which leaves the body in a constant state of stress which can lead to fatigue (mental + physical) as well as illness. Through its connection with the body, mind and breath, yoga moves us from the SNS to the Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest, digest, rejuvenate) by stimulating the Vagus Nerve which in turn can minimise the activity of the Amygdala. This allows us to view the world from a more responsive logical viewpoint rather than a reactive over emotional one. Do not get me wrong, emotions are particularly important to how we live our lives, that is what makes us human. Emotions guide us through every thought and every moment of the day, it is when the emotions get to run the show that the trouble starts so we need to keep them in check.

More benefits of Yoga:

  • Reduces Stress + Anxiety
  • Helps to alleviate unhelpful thinking patterns
  • Improves Coordination + Bodily Awareness
  • Builds and strengthens Physical health
  • Can help stimulate the Brains Neuroplasticity
  • Can enhance Self Esteem and Body Image
  • Helps improve Sleep Quality
  • Improves Concentration
  • Helps develop discipline and routine

Unfortunately though most teens when you mention yoga, roll their eyes and have the preconceived idea that yoga is out there and a bit alternative. And whilst there can be that element, there are many yoga studios, classes and instructors who are less toward that side of the spectrum and offer a more accessible to “All” yoga class. So, when looking for a studio, check out their website and socials to see what they are about and if they offer teens classes. It may also be wise to attend a small group style of class for teens who are self-conscious and unsure about doing new things, especially in a larger group.

Yoga is also often seen as a thing girls do, but everyone can benefit from yoga. Yoga was originally designed with men in mind and we are seeing more and more guys returning to yoga for its many health benefits. The industry is also seeing a lot of high level athletes turning towards Yoga to help their performance and recovery and some professional sporting clubs are incorporating elements of yoga and mindfulness into their ongoing training programs, such are the benefits associated with a regular practise.

Yoga is also a really great way to get your reluctant teen into some movement and mobilisation, without the over exertion associated with sport or going to the gym. Some teens just aren’t designed for high intensity high impact forms of exercise. Yoga is also wonderful for the more reserved teen that does not particularly like group or team interaction. Yoga is for the individual, Yoga is about the self and yoga is about discovery and feeling comfortable with who you are and where you are at, on any given moment on any given day. Another wonderful thing about yoga is that it is non-competitive and non-judgemental, something I am sure your teen is longing for in this very judgemental world. Yoga is also a wonderful way for our teens to understand how important self care and practising kindness is in shaping the person they are to become.

Often adult students will comment they wish yoga had come into their lives when they were younger as it would have helped them deal with the ups and downs of life. Upon completion of teen classes at our studio feedback from parents often is; my child is far happier and more at ease when they leave class. If only they could learn to take that feeling through life with them, what a gift that would be.

Leah Nylander
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