Wondering why “teen” yoga is a thing? For so many reasons:
Biology. Teens inhabit a unique developmental stage, in terms of physiology, cognition, self-organization and actualization: yoga tailored specifically to this challenging and exciting time of life, while not essential, is useful and important. Making sense of all the moving parts of adolescence, through movement, contemplation and connection with peers makes yoga ‘4’ teens valuable.
Comfort. Any person who has rolled out a yoga mat for the first time can relate to how intimidating a traditional yoga class can be. Discomfort itself isn’t bad - and shouldn’t necessarily be avoided - it is difficult to learn anything without it. However, changing bodies and the emotional intensity of the teenage years makes dedicated teen classes essential. Not to mention that many teens may have difficulty enjoying yoga if they roll out a mat amongst adults. Teen yoga classes allow for the creation of spaces where young people can more easily be themselves, and which allows them to help direct group practice which speaks to their collective priorities. Understood as ‘unity’ or ‘yoking,’ age-specific yoga practice during the formative years is even more special.
Context. The challenges which people face in their lives differ significantly by life-stage and situation. Yoga can help many people to better understand themselves and their place in this world. But how that manifests, and how particular communities experience the challenges of life will necessarily differ. There is no reason that an eight year old, a forty-eight year old and an eighty-eight year old can’t practice together. That said, practice with peers who are experiencing similar life-experiences is valuable, at any age.
Focus. Teen-organized yoga allows classes and communities of younger persons to practice in ways that reflect their priorities. Teen classes can focus on how to understand and integrate different aspects of students’ lives into yoga practice, and yoga into daily life. Yoga designed for teens can speak to challenges such as how to use social media mindfully, or growth not only of the physical body but also discussion of the impact of healthy diet and the challenges of body-image, among so many other themes and topics. Yoga is a valuable resource with much wisdom to offer teens about how they might navigate the liminal zone between child- and adulthood.
Play. For a number of reasons, few people would associate the solemn, serious (and silent) practice of yoga with play. Such understandings miss this: play is as old as yoga itself: Lila in Sanskrit (the traditional language of yoga), play is an essential ingredient of learning and the full expression of the human experience. Play is a determinant of health. Play is the seed of creativity. Play allows for freedom. Play feels great. Sadly, and unnecessarily, most people give up play, misunderstanding it to be something which is childish, or meant only for the immature. Making games and play an essential component of teen yoga not only enriches the practice in class, it offers a broad expanse for non-judgmental expression and experimentation - because when we play, we make up the rules as we go, and collaborate rather than compete. Play is too important to discard as we move into adulthood. Therefore, teen yoga can employ play not only as an organizing strategy, but as a means of allowing play to become the practice of a lifetime.
Wellness. Today’s teenagers are not the teenagers of the past, or at least the worlds they inhabit are substantially different, faster-moving and infinitely more complex. Teens today face many adult pressures, and often unfettered access to information and distraction that simply did not exist even a decade ago, because of the speed at which our world - the world teen’s will inherit - is changing. Change is a fact of life. Change is often hard (and a cause of suffering). Change is often seemingly its hardest, and hardest to understand during adolescence. This means that today’s teenagers have arguably more: more power and responsibility than their parent’s generation did. They also have less: less privacy. Less security. Less protection. Less support. The health impacts of all of this, more and less, is serious and well documented. Teen yoga can be one strategy for developing an understanding of the determinants of wellness, and the power it holds for teenagers to become active directors of their own wellness practices.