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Why Introducing Your Teenagers to Yoga Can Help Them Thrive

Defined as it is by physical change, emotional upheaval and the slow cessation of childhood, adolescence has always been a challenging time. However, within the last two decades, the normal fluctuations of mood which are experienced by the majority of teenagers appear to have shifted to something more troubling, and mental health issues within this age group are on the rise.

With 20% of adolescents experiencing a mental health problem in any given year and 75% of mental health issues becoming established before the age of 24, finding ways to support teenagers as they navigate their way into adulthood is key in the long-term management of mental health issues in society. It appears that modern pressures are weighing heavily on a generation that is too young to cope, but we can help them build their resilience through techniques such as yoga, yoga therapy ( ) and mindfulness.

How Yoga Can Help Young People: The Theory

Everyone encounters challenges throughout their lives, but adolescence is particularly tumultuous. Conflict at home, bullying from peers and the pressures of social media are just a few of the issues which disrupt many teenagers' peace of mind - and they have to face these frightening problems without the cognitive maturity and experience of adulthood on their side.

By teaching teenagers how to pursue a regular yoga practice, we equip them with important tools that will help them to develop self-reliance and increase in confidence. Yoga gives people a source of quiet and calm that they can find in, and by, themselves, which they can use to retain emotional balance even when other sources of support are unavailable.

This is particularly important for young people, who can feel misunderstood, aren’t always comfortable communicating with the adults in their life, and may intermittently fall out with their friends. Yoga is a method through which people can process difficult emotions, giving teenagers more space to learn how to manage their feelings, while also becoming more self-aware.

This isn’t to say teenagers should have to cope with difficult emotions alone, or that they shouldn’t access all the sources of support available to them. But having a technique at hand which makes them feel more self-sufficient and at ease with themselves has a myriad of benefits. In cases where young people live with mental health issues, yoga is also a scientifically sound complementary therapy, and can easily be used alongside taking therapies and pharmaceutical intervention.

Yoga, as a non-judgemental and non-competitive practice, is also socially beneficial, with classes cultivating feelings of connectedness with other people. Additionally, the mindful element of yoga promotes present moment awareness, allowing teenagers an escape from negative thought cycles and to exist more thoroughly in the now - rather than living in worry and rumination, or the netherworld of social media.

How Yoga Can Help Young People: The Evidence

“Mindful yoga has a profoundly positive effect on all pupils academically, emotionally and socially”
Charlotta Martinus, founder of UK-based Teen Yoga

Much of the research into the benefits and potential clinical applications of yoga has concerned adults. However, many of the benefits apply to both age groups, and there has been some investigation into the benefits for teens in particular, such as:

A small review of studies found that mind-body practices such as yoga are efficacious in treating teen anxiety - both in school and at home.

One study showed that a single yoga class improved adolescent mood when compared to PE, leading the researchers to conclude that while more research is needed, yoga appears is a viable practice for supporting the psychosocial needs of youth in today’s classrooms.

Yoga has been found to improve classroom behaviour - something which would have a wider impact on educational outcomes and suggests greater emotional calm.

In 2011, a US study into school mindfulness programmes found an 11 per cent improvement in achievement, a 25 per cent improvement in social and emotional skills, and a 10 per cent decrease in classroom misbehaviour after two years.

Another study found that yoga can reduce anxiety and stress in children and adolescents - something that there is already a wealth of evidence for in adults.

These results (amongst others) have convinced many schools of the value of introducing mindfulness and yoga to their pupils. Vulnerable groups of teenagers, in particular, can benefit from being taught yogic techniques, to help them deal with the social or health concerns which trouble their day-to-day lives.

Regularly practicing yoga has a significant effect on the body’s nervous system (principly concerning the “fight or flight” response) which allows people to become less reactive to stress and anxiety, and more able to unconsciously soothe themselves into a calmer state. This can have a truly powerful impact on people’s state of mind and is a primary reason for including yoga as a complementary treatment in a variety of mental health conditions.

It also shouldn’t be forgotten that yoga has positive physical effects such as improved heart health, strength and flexibility. Feeling better within their bodies - as well as regarding them as a dynamic means through which they move and interact with the world, rather than something passive that is there to be observed by others - can have a positive impact on teenagers’ self-esteem. Given that body image is of great concern to young people and that social media has amplified these anxieties, yoga offers counterbalancing force to the negative messages they receive elsewhere.

By Heather Mason

Tue, 20 October 20 : 8:10 : Heather .

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