More energy and focus for school work touted as benefits
BY JANE MARSHALL
Competition, pressure, school, hormones – teen life can be pretty intense. No quick solutions or easy answers have so far been able to wave a magic wand over the painful zits of adolescence
Enter yoga. Teens looking for a soothing, centred environment where physical movement and mental training merge are liking what they find in yoga.
“If I’m really sad or feeling sick, after yoga I feel better. Calmer. I let the day go,” says Kylee Olson, 20, who’s been taking yoga for three years. “I’m very high-strung and put a lot of stress on myself. But yoga makes you not think about that.”
Having offered teen classes for years, Prana Yoga Studio, 18332 Lessard Rd., has become a beacon for many young people. Owner and yogini Leala Enfield has been dedicated to providing a healthy focus for this tricky time of life since the studio’s inception more than five years ago.
She’s happy that teens have benefited from classes at her studio. “When I was 14, I dropped out of skiing and dance and other activities,” she recalls. “If yoga had been there, I think I would have been very drawn to it. So teen yoga is something we’ve always provided for the community here.
Some of the benefits teens report to Enfield are feeling relaxed yet energetic, more focused and efficient doing their homework after class, sleeping better, feeling calmer during exams, more at ease with peer pressure and tensions in home life, more confident, and less likely to eat junk food.
“Yoga provides a chance to calm the busyness of the mind and emotions, and teens gain a direct experience that they are more than just their thoughts and perceptions, that at their core they are whole and complete as they are. In the turbulent teenage years, that is priceless.”
Two teen classes run weekly at Prana: Teen Yoga flow, a gentle, calming class, and Teen Power Yoga, which is more rigorous.
“Teen yoga can be great crosstraining for teens who play sports, ice skate or participate in other physical activities, keeping them flexible and strong while protecting their joints from strain and injury. Teen yoga also offers a well-rounded and dynamic fitness alternative for teens who aren’t drawn to playing sports and aren’t into dance or gymnastics,” says Enfield.
“Because the classes are both active and introspective, the context is noncompetitive. This fosters an environment of trust and safety where teens feel free to be themselves.”
She notes that classes sometimes incorporate themes such as compassion for peers with bullying behaviours, the real impact of gossip, and healthy boundaries and discernment, all of which build character and self-esteem.
During research for this article, I met a 15-year-old teen who has practised yoga for three years. She had been hospitalized for anorexia. Yoga was a practice that helped her move through this difficult time and gave her space and awareness around her body misconceptions.
“I have a lot of body image issues,” the young woman conceded. “But at yoga, you come into the room and forget about everything else – and you feel so good.
“After you do it for awhile, it is in your everyday life. It’s not just in class. Yoga is everywhere. I found it really, really helped with my mindset. Yoga teaches you to be self-aware and not worry about what others are doing. It brings a determination and motivation to finish things.”
A handful of teens arrive at the studio and set up their mats. School is just out and they’ve likely come directly from class to participate in yoga.
Jaya Amy teaches this Teen Power Yoga class and she unrolls her mat as her students settle. The girls – no boys in this class, though boys do participate – seem relaxed and ready to start.
Kristi Olson, 17, has been attending teen yoga for three years. “Yoga is a real stress reliever. And it helps with digestion,” says the Grade 12 student.
“I’m planning on going into nutrition and I see a connection there. I’m a natural girl – I like the idea of healing without pills.”
Kristi’s favourite poses are twists and pigeon pose, a hip opener. She and her sister took dance training for years.
“I’m more non-competitive, and that’s what I like about yoga,” Kristi says. “You do what’s best for you. At a dance show people watch and judge, but in yoga that’s not the case.”
Sister Kylee says there’s something about the yoga classes that’s comforting. “Jaya is really friendly – she’s a great teacher. At yoga, as opposed to dance, there’s no one saying, ‘I’m better than you.’ ” When Emily Schutz, 20, tells me her story, it’s clear she is an example of how yoga can change a teen’s life. Schutz’s family coped with alcoholism and, from a young age, she was cared for by her older brother. She was only eight years old when she became aware of the alcoholism in her family.
“We both ended up quitting school, unfortunately,” Emily recalls. “I started yoga when I was 11 at the city arts centre, but then I quit school and yoga because of family problems and the tough teenage years.”
After working full time for a few years, Emily started teaching the teen class at Prana Yoga Studio. She took teacher training a year ago and is now Prana’s assistant manager and a yoga teacher.
“I made the choice so I could do yoga as a job,” she says. “Other sports really strained me; yoga felt kind to me.”
As I watch the class, I sense a relaxing of these teens. Jaya weaves them through a series of flowing poses and the teens appear to be focused, relaxed and calm.
I can’t help but think how much I would have appreciated a teen yoga class in my youth as I watch these beautiful, sometimes struggling, dedicated youths engaged in a positive and mindful dance.
Enfield points out that starting yoga as a young person has untold benefits. “Teens can build lifelong flexibility, core strength, and postural awareness as well as learning deep-breathing techniques that will always be there as a resource in stressful times. This helps shape the way they live, and is easier to maintain as they age, rather than starting yoga later in life.”
Thoughts on yoga
The teens did a free-write exercise at the end of yoga class. Here are some of their thoughts:
I was inspired to start taking yoga because –
– I wanted to become more flexible and had done a session at school as part of gym. It was the best gym activity all year.
– It seemed like an interesting new way to become balanced in my life, and seemed peaceful and calming.
– I wanted to connect with inner self, become flexible, escape society, expectations, judgments.
Some challenges I face as a teen are –
– Peer pressure
– Body image
– Self confidence
– Beckoning schedules
– The pressure to look a certain way and be fit and thin even though through yoga I have become very accepting of myself and body
– Being embarrassed
– Not being smart enough
– Wanting to fit in and be different at the same time.
To learn more about the teen classes, go to pranayogastudio.ca.