3 Ways Teaching Yoga to Teens Will Change the World

3 Ways Teaching Yoga to Teens Will Change the World

Today, being a teenager is harder than ever. Teens are overstimulated, overscheduled, and constantly bombarded with negative messages from the media, peers, and adults.  Stress levels, anxiety, and depression among teens are at an all-time high.  Gun violence in schools has become epidemic. These facts are both sobering and frightening, especially considering that our youth are our future. 

Fortunately, teens are incredibly open and impressionable once you establish a genuine connection with them. They are seeking new ideas and experiences as they explore who they are and their place in the world. Yoga is an incredible gift we can share with young people, empowering them to connect with their inherent peace, navigate the myriad challenges they face, and become agents of positive change.

Three Ways Teaching Yoga to Teens Changes the World:

1)  Catalyzing Inner Peace and Transformation: If we want to experience outer peace in our world, it must begin with cultivating inner peace within the hearts and minds of individuals, especially our youth.  Yoga gives teens a quiet space to calm their minds, open their hearts, and connect to their authentic selves. Sharing the practice of yoga with teens catalyzes their inner transformation and sows seeds for a more conscious and peaceful planet. 

2)  Fostering Compassion and Community: Despite living in a culture of great technological connectivity, many teens suffer from loneliness and crave true connection. We can address this in a teen yoga class through group building activities, partner and group yoga poses, and group discussions. By modeling authenticity and vulnerability, we as teachers can create a safe space for our students. Together, we can have authentic dialogue about how to integrate yogic principles such as inner peace, non-violence and compassion in the context of our lives, our struggles and our desire to make a difference.  Through these activities and conversations, teens who otherwise might not ever speak with one another cultivate empathy and a shared understanding.

3)  Empowering Teens to be Agents of Positive Change in the World: When we give young people the opportunity to connect to their deepest, most authentic selves, they naturally also connect to the part of themselves that wants to serve and make a difference in the lives of others. Teaching the practice of karma yoga (selfless service) gives teens the opportunity to connect to the joy of giving, without expectation of return.  A teen yoga program can include a selfless service project, in which students learn to give back to others and to the community. Combining karma yoga with other aspects of yoga catalyzes self-inquiry and provides a channel for teens to grow into conscious citizens who lead lives of service.

Imagine a world filled with a generation of young people who are deeply connected to their sense of inner peace and compassion, and who are empowered to be of service and bring more joy and love to their communities.  This vision is entirely possible—all that is needed are adults who can hold space for teens and give them access to the tools of yoga that unlock these gifts.  If this work at all speaks to you, I invite you to join me in this mission to empower young people for a better future.

In the words of one of my teen students, “Everyone does yoga?  That’s world peace right there.”

Three Great Restorative Poses for Teens

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Three Great Restorative Poses for Teens

Take a spring break! Teens benefit tremendously from the opportunity to slow down, rest, and rejuvenate.  In today’s hectic world, though, most teens (and adults for that matter!) are doing anything but resting and relaxing during spring break--or any time of year.  Integrating restorative poses into a teen yoga class can be a great way to help teens unwind, release stress, and connect to a sense of peace within themselves.

Here are three great restorative poses you can include in a spring break-themed teen yoga class:

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1. Restorative Bridge

Props Needed: One or two textbooks, or a yoga block

Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, parallel about hip width apart.  Your feet should be close to your hips.  Pressing into your feet, lift your hips and slide the books or block under your sacrum, the bony part of the lower back.*  Let your sacrum rest on the prop, so you are not exerting any effort to stay on the prop.  Your arms can rest by your sides.  Stay for 5-10 minutes. To come out, press into your feet again and slowly lift your hips.  Remove the prop and gently lower your back to the floor.  As a counter pose for the low back, you can hug your knees into your chest and rock side to side.

*If you notice any discomfort in your lower back during the pose, remove one book to lower the height, or remove the prop altogether and rest with your back on the floor.

2. Chair Leg Rest

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Props Needed: A chair

To begin, sit in front of a chair and gently lay down on your side and swing your legs up onto a chair, continuing to roll onto your back.  Make sure your calves are supported by the chair.  The legs and hips can relax outward.  Make any adjustments so that your body is completely comfortable and relaxed.  Your arms can be stretched out to the sides or you can rest them on your belly.  Take long, deep breaths, releasing any tension in the body as you exhale.  Stay for several minutes.  When you are ready to come out, you can gently hug your knees into your chest and roll onto your side for a few breaths before coming up to sit.

3. Restorative Twist

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Props Needed: Pillow, backpack, or bolster

One thing we don’t want to slow down is our digestion.  This pose gently compresses the abdominal organs, giving a gentle massage and boost to aid digestion.  To come into the pose, begin by sitting with your right hip against the pillow, backpack, or bolster. Inhaling, grow taller as you lengthen your spine.  As you exhale, slowly lower your chest down onto the prop and turn your head to the side.  Let your arms relax on either side of the bolster or pillow.  Take deep, slow breaths, allowing your body to relax completely on each exhalation.  After 5-7 minutes, you can slowly come back up to sit and repeat on the left side.

Enjoy these restful poses!

Erin Lila Singh

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End of Year Releasing Ritual for Teens

End of Year Releasing Ritual for Teens

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As 2017 draws to a close and the winter solstice approaches, it is a great opportunity for teens to reflect on the past year, to acknowledge, honor, and release all that has happened.  This also creates a clean space for the new to come in, once the old has been released.

Here is a 6-step process for guiding your students through a releasing ritual in your last class of the year (and a great exercise to do for yourself, as well!):

  1. Opening Centering Practice: Begin by having students come to a comfortable seated position.  With the gaze downward or eyes closed, have students inhale to a slow count of three, and exhale to the count of 5. 
  2. Journaling Activity: After a few minutes of the opening meditation, have students slowly open their eyes and begin reflecting on the past year. 
    1. At the top of a clean sheet of paper, ask your students to write down things that went well in the past year—accomplishments, joys, successes, breakthroughs, celebrations, etc.
    2. On the back side of the paper, have students write things that didn’t go well in the past year—setbacks, disappointments, losses, and failures.
    3. On a separate sheet of paper, ask students to write down everything they learned from both their positive and negative experiences in the next year.
  3. Sharing: After completing the journaling activity, sit in a circle with your students and ask if anyone would like to share any of their positive or challenging experiences in the past year, and what they learned from those experiences.  Reflect with the students whether they grew more from their wins or hardships.
  4. Releasing Ritual: After finishing the journaling exercise and discussion, students can physically release the sheet of paper with their successes and losses in the past year.  There are lots of ways they can release the paper—they can tear it up and throw it in the trash or recycling, put it through a paper shredder, cut it up with scissors, etc.  I would avoid letting teens burn it however, as teens and fire aren’t always a great combination. ;)
  5. Deep Relaxation: Guide students through a relaxation lying on their backs in which you have them imagine they are releasing any worries, burdens, or negative feelings from the past year from their physical body, with each exhalation.
  6. Closing Circle: To close the class, sit in a circle and ask each student to share something they are grateful for in their life.

Many blessings and warm wishes for a holiday season filled with love, peace, and joy!

Erin Lila Singh

3 Great Gratitude Practices for Teens

3 Great Gratitude Practices for Teens

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With Thanksgiving right around the corner, gratitude is a great theme to weave into your teen yoga classes.  Practicing gratitude has incredible physical, mental and emotional health benefits, ranging from improved sleep, to better relationships, to an overall increase in happiness and wellbeing.  Integrating a gratitude practice in your teen yoga class can also be a powerful way to build community, a sense of connection, and a network of support.

Here are three great gratitude practices you can incorporate into your teen yoga classes around the Thanksgiving holiday (or any time of year!):

1.      Gratitude Journal (with prompts):

Have students create their own gratitude journals that they can write in weekly or even daily.  Sometimes it can be a little hard for teens to get the ball rolling, so you can start with some prompts to help teens recognize the things they are grateful for:

  • I am grateful for myself because
  • I am grateful for my friend because
  • I am grateful for this teacher because
  • I am grateful for my family because
  • Something good that happened to me today is
  • Something else I am grateful for is

After students have had a chance to write in their journals, you can partner the teens to share with each other, or come together as a group and invite any students to share their entries.

2.      Gratitude Circle: 

As a closing to your class, sit in a circle with your students.  Starting with yourself, go around the circle and have each student share one thing they are grateful for or appreciate about the person sitting next to them.  Kicking off the circle with a genuine, heartfelt sharing of what you appreciate about the student sitting next to you will help catalyze authentic sharing in the group. This is a great way to build positive relationships among your students and build community in your class.

3.      Gratitude Letter:

Have students hand write a letter to someone in their life for whom they are grateful.  It could be a friend, family member, teacher or mentor or anyone else who they deeply appreciate.  In the letter encourage students to share what they appreciate about the person, and how the person has positively impacted their life.  Students can mail or hand deliver the letter.  You might bring envelopes and stamps to support the students in sending the letters.  A few weeks later, you can have a follow up where students can share any outcomes or responses from their letters, and how it may have deepened their relationships.

I am grateful to all of you for your commitment to empowering the next generation through yoga, mindfulness, and community building.

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Erin Lila Singh

Helping Teens Build Self-Esteem in Yoga Class

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Helping Teens Build Self-Esteem in Yoga Class

Many teens struggle with self-esteem, but yoga can be a great way to support teens in learning to love and accept themselves, and in developing a positive mental attitude towards themselves and others. Here are three ways you can help your students build their self-esteem and encourage healthy self-talk:

 1. Challenge Students to Replace Negative Thoughts and Beliefs with Positive Ones

Our thoughts create our reality, so if we want a better reality, we must choose to focus on better thoughts. Ask students to notice when negative thoughts enter their minds, such as “I’ll never be able to do this,” or “I suck at this.”  When they notice a negative thought, they can replace the negative thought with a positive thought, such as “I can do this!” and “I am getting better and better every day!”  Ask students to write their favorite affirmations on a piece of paper and post it where they will see it every day.

 In yoga class, when students become discouraged and say they cannot do a difficult pose, respond with something like “There is a saying, ‘if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.’  Your attitude will create your reality.  So if you believe in yourself and persist, you will be able to do anything you put your mind to!”

Remind students that what holds them back most in their yoga practice (and in life!) is not their physical limitations, but the mental limitations they set for themselves and an attitude that they will not succeed.  Challenge students to change their beliefs about what they are capable of—remind them that they have infinite potential—all they need is to believe in themselves as much as you do as their teacher. 

 2. Encourage Students to Focus on Their Strengths

Most teens (and adults!) spend more time focusing on what they don’t like about themselves than what they do like about themselves.  Teens spend a lot of time wishing they could be different—taller, shorter, or skinnier, better at math or soccer, more popular, etc.—rather than thinking about what they like and appreciate about themselves.

Remind students that they each have gifts, talents and internal qualities that make them unique and beautiful.  As an exercise, you can have students write down a list of things they appreciate about themselves.  Encourage them to look at this list every day to remember their strengths and positive qualities.  If students have a hard time thinking of what to write that they appreciate about themselves, you can get them started by sharing a few of their internal qualities that you appreciate as their teacher. 

Also as a closing ritual at the end of class, you can have students sit in a circle, and individually share with the class one quality each student appreciates about the student they are sitting next to.  This creates a class culture of support and appreciation that also helps to build community and trust in the group.

 3. Praise and Acknowledge Students for What They are Doing Right

Many teens, especially those who have a history of trauma or who have behavioral issues, are always told what they are not doing right.  As their yoga teacher, you may be one of the only affirmative voices in their lives—and it is a voice they desperately need to hear.

Praise students for what they are doing right, even if it is something that is expected of them, such as being on time, being prepared for class, or doing a good job participating fully in class.  Acknowledge students for even the slightest improvement in their poses or in their behavior.  Recognize students for personal skills such as focusing, listening, working well with others, or practicing empathy.  Verbal praise is one of the most powerful ways you can build students’ self-confidence and self-esteem.

When we teach yoga to teens, we have an opportunity to not only give them access to a transformative life practice, but to also help them build a healthier relationship with themselves and their communities.

Best of luck in your journey teaching yoga to teens!

Blessings,

Erin Lila Singh

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5 Keys to Starting the School Year Off Right!

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5 Keys to Starting the School Year Off Right!

Fall is in the air!  As the school year starts to ramp up again, it is important to think about your first yoga class of the year.  First impressions are lasting--especially with teens--and the first class will set the tone for the entire year (no pressure!). Whether you are teaching yoga to teens in a school setting, studio setting, after school, or any other setting, these five tips will set you up for success for the whole year:

1. Break the Ice: Do you remember the first day of school when you were a teen? Most teens are nervous, self-conscious, sometimes excited, and usually a bit apprehensive of what lies ahead in the new school year. You can help take the edge off with an ice breaker activity. It can be as simple as having each student introduce themselves, share something they know or think about yoga, and share something they like to do. This also helps you as the teacher get to know your students and how excited (or not excited) they are to be in a yoga class. Take note of what they say they like to do, because you can tie it back in to help hook them into the practice. For example, if a student says they like football, you can casually mention that several professional football teams practice yoga to help improve their game. The more you can make yoga relevant to their lives, the more quickly they will connect to the practice.

2. Define Yoga: Students have a lot of ideas of what they think yoga is, and it may or may not be on target. Share your own definition of yoga, and especially if you are in a public school setting, make it very clear that yoga is not a religion, and that it is a universal practice that anyone of any religion or no religion can practice. You can also share that yoga is more than just a physical exercise--it is a practice of getting to know who we are, connecting to our inherent goodness and worth, and developing the courage to share who we really are with the world.

3. Share Your Story and How Yoga Has Changed Your Life: Students are always curious about you as the teacher. They want to know who you are just as much as you want to get to know your students. Share some information about yourself and how you got into yoga. Why do you practice yoga? Telling students about the impact yoga has had on your life, and challenges yoga helped you overcome will help students start to connect to the benefits of the practice and why it might be worth their while to give it a try. The more transparent and vulnerable you can allow yourself to be, the more students will respect you and see you as a real person. Setting this example of honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity also creates a safe space for students to show up in a real and authentic way themselves.

4. Set Expectations and Class Norms: Having a consistent class structure creates a sense of safety and predictability for students. From the first day, establish a routine students can expect for each class. How should students enter the space? Do they set up their own mats or are mats already set up for them? Do they need to enter quietly? Where do they put their shoes and belongings? Getting clear about these routines and communicating them to students will help create structure for a successful class.  

It's also important to clearly lay out expectations for behavior and other class norms. You can create a class contract that outlines all of the expectations and have students sign the contract to show that they agree to following these expectations. Or, if you want to take a more democratic approach, you can come up with class expectations as a group and have students share what expectations should be in place to have a successful class. Either way, make sure students understand what is expected of them--and remember to hold students accountable to those expectations throughout the year.

5. Give Them a Taste of the Sweetness: It might take most of the class period to do ice breakers, introductions, and to go over class norms and expectations. It is nice though to end the class with at least a little a taste of an actual yoga practice. If you have time, you could do a few simple yoga poses. You can also lead a guided relaxation practice with the students. Relaxation is often the favorite part of class for teens, so if you can give them a taste of feeling calm, relaxed, and peaceful, they will likely want to come back for more. :)

Feel free to email if you have additional thoughts or questions about how to make the first class of the year a success.

Good luck and have fun!!

Blessings,
Erin Lila Singh
Founder, Yoga for Teens

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