If you’ve tried everything to help your teen manage her mood swings and had no luck, you might consider yoga.
This ancient practice of mind-body-spirit focus and movement has gained popularity in the last decade, and it’s not just for adults anymore. Teen yoga classes are popping up around the nation, including a number in the Chicago area.
“A lot of the students come in feeling stressed and tired,” says Oak Park yoga instructor Jackie Huxel, “and they come away feeling more peaceful and balanced.”
“Balance” is a word that most parents would love to have associated with their teen, and, for many kids, learning yoga can help. The exercises, or “postures,” that are learned in the practice of yoga are designed to help the student do just that: Regain balance in mind, body and spirit. This makes yoga especially helpful for the average teen, whose hormones seem to take over and send their emotions soaring in one direction or another.
Jenny Samano, 13, has been practicing yoga for four years. She says certain postures can “help you control how you’re feeling if you’re all riled up.” Jenny uses “Breathing Into the Stomach,” or “Child’s Pose,” to help her if she’s really angry or upset and is having a hard time calming down. She likes to do a headstand posture to help re-energize herself after a long day at school.
According her mom, Oak Park yoga instructor, Mary Samano, each of the different types of postures brings relief in a particular way.
Those that incorporate forward bends are calming and cooling. Back bends are energizing and, when done properly, can also be calming.
Postures that bring the head below the heart, or “inversions,” serve to flush the brain with reoxygenated blood, refreshing and energizing it.
Standing poses are the fundamental yoga poses, and can bring an increased feeling of grounding and stability. Balancing poses increase focus and concentration.
And, finally, “twists,” or those that have a “wringing” effect, help to squeeze out stagnant blood and aid in digestion, as well as helping the spine and the back.
Since most teens need help with coping skills such as calming, energizing, grounding and concentration, yoga offers a viable solution.
Samano says both of her daughters like yoga because it meets another teen need: relaxation.
“When you’re teaching teens, it’s amazing because you can feel the stillness... They appreciate it because they’re so on the go and there’s so much sensory input all of the time.”
Huxel agrees: “They love the restorative things I do at the end of class—I might use soothing music, have them scan the body for tension and release tension in the body... There are blankets and bolsters and eye pillows so they can get very comfortable and really relax. I really feel a sense of that happening.”
Both instructors also cite the non-competitive quality of yoga as another benefit to teens. Whether in academics, athletics or appearance, today’s teens are faced with much more competition than ever before. They often feel they are never good enough.
“Yoga is not about competition,” says Huxel. “It’s about where you are. I stress that.”
Jenny Samano, who also plays basketball, says that while the competition is fun sometimes, she likes to be able to let go of that with yoga. “With yoga you get to relax. It’s more individual; you help yourself.”
Parents or counselors may recommend a teen take a yoga class to help with behavioral problems, improve body image, raise self-esteem, manage stress or help with focusing. Yoga can help teens feel good about and gain confidence in their body, and accept themselves exactly as they are. This raises self-esteem—and that benefits every other area of their life as well.
Physical injuries can also be helped by yoga practice. If your teen has a sports injury, chronic pain, or muscular strain of any kind, particular yoga postures may help. Samano claims it was severe pain from rheumatoid arthritis that brought her to yoga initially. She was looking for alternatives to steroids for pain management. After three years of practicing yoga she became both medication and pain-free.
When seeking yoga instruction, she stresses the importance of finding a qualified teacher. A certified yoga instructor will have a minimum of 200 hours training.
You may find classes at your health club, park district, local medical center or yoga center. Or contact the Yoga Alliance at 122 W. Lancaster Ave., Suite 204, Reading, Penn., 19607-1874; (877) 964-2255; www.yogaalliance.com.
Teachers with knowledge of basic yoga exercises can help students to re-energize and pay attention during that sleepy after-lunch history class, or to calm down and focus for first-hour chemistry.
Educators interested in learning these simple techniques can contact Samano at (708) 445-0392.
Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 20 and 24. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.