Although it may seem like a hot new trend, yoga is an ancient system of exercise and relaxation with origins in Indian philosophy. It is described in The Yoga Sutras, written more than 2,000 years ago as “the union of mind, body, and spirit.” And for modern teens looking to bring some balance and relaxation to an often overstressed and overscheduled day, yoga may be just the ticket.
Yoga is especially good for teens because it can help reduce growing pains, increase flexibility, create good posture and support the maturation of the internal organs, says Katarina Wen, director of Yogi Way in Seattle. “Practicing yoga gives teens something they don’t get from sports,” she says. “With sports, they may be getting a good physical workout, but their energy and attention is focused outward. In yoga, we train them to focus their energy internally.”
The gift of yoga
Wen believes being taught how to focus inward gives teens a “gift” they can use in other areas of their life. Laila Heid, 15, of Bellevue couldn’t agree more. She’s been taking yoga classes for a year and says that learning how to destress with yoga has helped her handle her schoolwork. “There’s a lot of pressure with taking AP classes and having a lot of homework. Parents and teachers all want you to get A’s. It’s on my mind a lot. But when I go to my yoga class, it’s the only way I can stop thinking about all of that. It’s good to be able to turn off the computer, turn off all the stresses of school and clear my mind.
“I feel really happy when I leave there, and when I get home I can focus on my homework better, and I’m a lot more relaxed.”
Laila’s yoga instructor, Sara Harris, at Yoga Barn in Issaquah, says she concentrates her teen class on body awareness and stress reduction. She takes the first 10 minutes of each class to let her students voice what’s on their mind and talk about what’s going on in their day. “I like to let them have a social aspect to the first 10 minutes of class so they can take the rest of the class to tune out of what’s happening in their day, and to tune in to who they really are as a teenager,” she says.
The teen difference
Not all yoga studios offer classes just for teens, and although there are some kids who are happy going to yoga with mom and dad, instructors of teen yoga say that a class just for teens is different from a yoga class for adults. Louise Zamparutti, health and wellness director at the Meredith Mathews East Madison YMCA on Capitol Hill is a long-time yoga teacher who has instructed both teens and adults. She says the biggest difference in a yoga class for teens is that they are not quiet in class like adults are. They are much more likely to groan, laugh, complain about body aches, raise their hand to ask questions or scrutinize their appearance in the mirror.
“I always teach teen classes in a big circle,” Zamparutti says. “Nobody wants to be doing a downward dog in front of somebody else. And in the circle, they can all see me, and they can’t see themselves in the mirror. I don’t want them to, because when they look in the mirror they start to focus on their clothes, their hair, their shape, and they begin to judge themselves and loose focus. That’s not what yoga is about,” Zamparutti says.
Instead of focusing their attention outward, yoga helps teens hone their concentration and notice a sense of spirituality that gives them a connection to a larger meaning in the world, says Christy Brock, a teen yoga instructor and co-author of the book, Yoga 4 Teens, an Instructor’s Guide to Teaching Yoga to Teenagers.
“When teens develop more self-awareness with yoga, they are better able to know what’s happening on the inside. Many times, teens don’t realize that they are angry or depressed, but by slowing down and paying attention to themselves, they will notice more. And the noticing itself invites an emotional release.
“There’s something very profound about watching a group of teenagers relax completely and restfully in final relaxation pose for a full five to 10 minutes at the end of each class,” Brock says. “Across different segments of teenagers, when they rise, it’s with a sense of peace and happiness.”
Katie Amodei is a Lynnwood-based freelance reporter and mother who enjoys practicing yoga with her 16-year-old stepdaughter.
Orginally published in the June, 2007 print edition of ParentMap.