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!
Erin Lila Singh