If you’ve taught a teen yoga class in a school environment or another setting where attendance may not be on an “opt-in” basis, you’ve likely encountered students who do not want to participate. Some may be outspoken and disruptive about why they don’t want to do yoga while others may be reserved and non-communicative.
These circumstances are often challenging to navigate. It can be easy to assume success for our class requires full participation. As the authority figure in the room, we may also feel compelled to make all students participate for consistency and to maintain order. A non-participating student can be disruptive and distracting for other students. And when we ourselves have reaped so many benefits from yoga, it can also be natural to assume our students will realize those same benefits too as long as we get them to participate in the class.
In these settings, however, it is critical that we recognize the most important thing we’re doing with our students is building a positive relationship with them. Trying to force a student to participate in the class is often only going to damage your relationship with them and increase their resistance to yoga. Instead, we must respectfully engage with the student, focus on building trust, and allow them to feel seen. When you inquire as to why a student does not want to participate, it is best to do this privately, before or after class.
Additionally, we must find ways to adapt and mold the yoga class to meet them where they are. That might mean the student is sitting on the side of class, lying on their mat in savasana, or relaxing in a restorative pose for part or all of the class. Over time, we continue to invite them to participate while also respecting where they are. More often than not, the student will ultimately join in; and when they do, it will be much more empowering because it’s their own choice to participate.
There are many ways teens learn and assimilate the practices, teachings and benefits of yoga. For many, this is through active participation. But some teens simply aren’t able to participate from a place of genuine willingness. As teen yoga teachers, we sometimes have the unique opportunity of being a rare or singular figure in a teen’s life as a person who truly seems them, honors their needs and allows them to feel unconditionally accepted and loved. I have been amazed by some of the feedback I have received in end-of-year surveys from students who spent the entire year lying under a blanket in savasana or in restorative poses. Some have taken the teachings of our yoga classes to inhabit their bodies, get in touch with and regulate their emotions and improve charged relationships with family members.
Being a “good” teen yoga teacher requires a lot of faith that each student is going to get what they need, and that this will look different for each student. We need to let go of needing external evidence that something is happening. It’s important to see our students as already whole and to serve them in this manner, with no expectation of how the yoga practice is received. Sometimes the results will astonish us.