In my last 15 years of teaching yoga in schools, community centers and studios, one of the most effective methods I have found for engaging adolescents is partnership.
Developmentally, teens have a strong need for interaction. Unfulfilled, the need for positive social experience can drive young people to lives of loneliness, depression and long-lived anxiety.
Adolescence is the perfect time (and yoga is a perfect method!) for guiding teens to learn the components of healthy relationships.
Here are five great reasons why you might want to encourage your teenager to try partner yoga:
1. They will feel more connected.
It's no secret that teens are typically highly social beings. In fact, the most popular complaint I hear from aspiring teen yoga teachers is that teens talk too much. So rather than fighting against this developmental need, we can utilize it by encouraging teens to communicate in partner yoga.
With time and practice, I will eventually advise students to use non-verbal cues in their partner practices, but in the beginning, I do ask them to talk to one another and express their experience. For example, I ask that students let their partners know when they have reached a threshold of strength or flexibility. Ironically, when we allow teens the freedom to talk within the boundaries of the practice, they feel safe enough to actually be quiet!
2. They'll feel like they're being heard.
We all want to be heard — but for teens, the need to be heard is a driving force in their fast-developing lives. Many teens utilize their outward image to communicate what they do not otherwise know how to say. In teen yoga practice, we set a tone for "easy listening."
As teachers and parents, we can normalize a whole spectrum of experiences by naming the possibilities that teens might share with each other. For instance, I ask my students to let their partners know if they feel afraid, uncertain, ready, inspired or confused. This opens the gate for teens to share their authentic experience with their peers.
3. They'll feel more supported.
For some teenagers, leaning on a friend requires a depth of vulnerability they would rather not reach, especially teens living with anxiety disorders. In yoga, we go through the physical motions of learning to be supported in poses. Within that process, students also uncover the steps to being supported emotionally. Teens experience embodied support when practicing yoga together.
4. They will learn to appreciate how to support others.
Even teenagers with little to no athletic ability, can learn to use their core to support a peer. How empowering for a young teenage girl to discover she can support a peer nearly twice her weight! Teens who have a hard time allowing others to support them can find the strength to do so by first being a support themselves.
5. They will learn how to take their mindfulness off the mat and into their lives.
Time and again, teens tell me how meaningful partner yoga practice is outside of the actual yoga class. The relationships built during the yoga process, extend well beyond the mat into the social and emotional lives of teens. Teens say they are more willing to stand up for a peer being bullied, once they have had the experience of practicing yoga with that person. The connections made through the practice of yoga empower teens to find richer community and more meaningful relationships.
The youth-mindfulness program I'm a part of called Shanti Generation, is featuring a Partner Yoga for Teens DVD, and a teacher guide to help educators introduce mindfulness education to their middle and high school students. Check out our website to learn more about the giveaway!