Yoga for teenagers - A tool for life

  • Emma Lawrence, yoga teacher, at The Cotswold School

Yoga teacher Emma Lawrence has been tutoring today’s over-stressed, over-stimulated teenagers – with encouraging results

For some of us, our teenage years are a long way off. We all have some angst-ridden memories, and might even occasionally flashback to pop star-endorsed walls (and other cringe-worthy recollections). But being a teenager today is not the same as it was in my Bon Jovi-loving years.

The difference with GCSE-taking students today is the pressure that they (and the teachers, and the schools) appear to be under. Pressure of all kinds is passed down to the pupils and can manifest itself in all sorts of ways - from headaches, sulking, stomach problems and fainting to outbursts, isolation, self-harming and eating disorders.

The other huge change in today’s life as a teenager is technology. Constantly messaging, uploading pictures and snap-chatting, much of a teen’s world exists virtually, and much of the validation they receive is in the form of ‘likes’, and comments. Equally most of the bullying is done via social media. There is no escape from it unless you turn it off - and that, in turn, comes with a fear of ‘missing’ something.

Teens can often be overcome with fear. Fear that they don’t fit in, fear that they will fail, fear that they aren’t good enough. They are also in the midst of crucial developmental changes, both hormonal and physical, whilst pressure from school and parents starts to mount. Pressure to perform well academically along with the emotional stress that can come from ever-changing friendships and family situations.

However, as we all realise as we grow older, stress and pressure are not only limited to adolescent years. We soon realise there is more to deal with once we have families, employment and more meaningful relationships, and that's when exhaustion and illness come into play.

Studies show that meditation, relaxation and yoga can help reduce stress and can help with academic performance and concentration - as well as helping teens cultivate empathy and impulse control. Yoga isn’t just about exercising the body - we can teach them tools for life. Tools to help them switch off, calm down, remain unruffled and find some inner peace when all around them appears chaotic and demanding.

In September 2016, I ran workshops with the Year 10s at The Cotswold School. It was part of their Personal, Social and Health Education. Out of 230 children, only a handful had ever had any experience of yoga or relaxation. As I expected, they were skeptical to start, but open to what I offered as tools to aid potentially anxious times ahead.

We started our session with some very basic breathing techniques. All were able to follow and practise these. Starting the class this way had the dual purpose of calming what were excitable and wary pupils, and making them realise they were capable - capable of learning and practicing a new technique. Confidence is important.

We then moved on to asana (yoga postures) and sun salutations (a series of poses performed in a sequence to create a flow of movement).

I explained that I teach all ages, sizes and abilities, from children only 3 years old, to my oldest client - just turning 75 years old. I told them that yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on flexibility, strength and breathing to aid physical and mental wellbeing.

To my surprise, most of them were quite inflexible physically and this I can only put down to sedentary after-school lives, as I know The Cotswold School is very passionate about sport and exercise. I think they were also surprised.

The boys particularly liked the strength element, especially when I informed them that many footballers and international rugby teams now supplement their training with yoga - and lots of it.

Finally, we finished with fifteen minutes of Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is among the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness. Everyone lay down very still, closed their eyes - and some even fell asleep.

I was very privileged to be able to see so many 14-year-olds lying motionless, relaxed and rested, their worries washed away and their nervous systems calm (and not a gadget in sight).

For more information on classes and course, please visit www-the-yoga-tree.com

Here is some of the feedback, from both staff and pupils, from Emma's yoga session at The Cotswold School:

Physical Education Teacher Mr Chris Jones took part in Emma's session. He said: ‘I'd never tried yoga before and found it quite physically demanding but very enjoyable.’

Freddie Roberts - a keen sportsman and rugby player - said: ‘It wasn't something I'd normally do... but I found it very relaxing.'

Laura Palmer: ‘It was very calming and relaxing and I will definitely be trying the breathing techniques again for exam stress.’

Louise Minns: ‘It was really good!  I would definitely do it again and think that both the physical aspects and the breathing techniques will be beneficial as I do tend to get quite stressed about things.’