One of the most effective methods I have found for engaging adolescents in mindful yoga 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.
1. Talk to Me
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 so much. Rather than fighting against this developmental need, we can utilize it to meet our learning objectives. In partner yoga, teens are encouraged to communicate. Over time, I like to guide 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 advise students to 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. Listen to Me
We all want to be heard. For teens, the need to be heard is a driving force. Many teens utilize their outward image to communicate what they do not otherwise know how to say. In 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 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 peers.
3. Support Me
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 practice, 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. Let Me Support You
Even teenagers with little to no athletic ability can learn to use their core to support a peer. How empowering it is for a meek young teen 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. Let’s Take this Off the Mat
Time and again, teens tell me how meaningful partner yoga practice is outside of the actual yoga class session. The relationships built in 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 in yoga practice empower teens to richer community and more meaningful relationships.