When I was a teenager, I felt like I couldn’t tell my parents anything. They lost my friendship because I felt that they were judging my decisions and telling me what to do. I felt that I was old enough to make my own decisions and to learn from my own mistakes.
I vowed never to forget this, and I put the lessons I learnt at this age as well as my experience as a yoga teacher into practice while teaching yoga to teenagers.
1. Mutual Respect
Young people want to be treated with respect as equals. They deserve that. Try see their perspective and to gain their respect and trust.
2. Open Communication
Be their friend. Many teenagers don’t have anyone to talk to. The adults in their life treat them as inferior and their peers are as inexperienced as they are. By befriending them, you might be able to help them in many ways, even guiding them through major life events beyond yoga.
Spend time just talking about stuff that bothers them. Usually, they don’t need any advice, just someone who will listen. Listen a lot, talk a little, and give advice only when asked. Guide them like a good psychologist with questions that help them come up with the answers themselves.
In a teens yoga class, being a yoga teacher in the 21st century means being much more than a yoga teacher.~Gopala Amir-Yaffe
If you choose to be open and accepting of these young adults, you become the wise grandparent, the healer, the shaman, the priest, the psychologist, the doctor, and more.
Try to remember that the class is not about what you planned to teach them, but about them and what they need from you. This is a hard time for them where self-esteem is concerned, so teach them to love, respect, and enjoy their bodies.
Create a special time and space for discussion and self-expression with High/Low: each person in the group shares something high and something low from their week. If you don’t have a high, you can share two lows. If you don’t have a low, you can share two highs.
3. Going Within
Teenage life is full of challenges. Finding who you are and going against the current is hard work and can create conflict with parents and with peers. Life is very busy and very noisy for most teens, so they really appreciate being quiet for a bit and going within.
Start class with relaxation and even a short guided imagery; teens undergo a lot of stress and need a moment to quiet down and be present. This sets a better tone for the class. At the end, provide some quiet time for them to go within. They need this moment to wind down and relax immensely.
4. Challenging Them
As opposed to other age groups, teenagers can be difficult to instruct to get moving. Challenge them with progressively more difficult poses or practices that require concentration and teamwork. Keep them working physically, and give them lots of positive feedback.
Being physically active will help teens release pent up aggression and frustration, while increasing their ability to focus. Remember to keep the class interactive and fun, full of cool yoga poses, acrobatics, and human pyramids that they can later use as party tricks!
Include a yoga game or a social game in every class; teenagers still need and like to be silly! Incorporate lots of partner and group work. Make the class engaging, immersive, and creative!
5. Giving Them More than Poses
Teenagers are often curious about meditation, Sanskrit, the history and philosophy of yoga, veganism, and even mysticism. It is rare that I’ll have a direct discussion around these topics; rather, I try to incorporate these themes through movement (doing a class with a concept).
I also like to send them home with an inspiring quote, poem, or question: something they can carry with them into their lives and think about until we meet again, something that they can think about later or ask me about during the next class if they want.
I do not give planned talks about these things, but will gladly answer their questions and open the topic for discussion if they approach me.
6. Making It Beautiful
We are being nourished not only with food, but also with what we absorb through our other senses. When we make a particular yoga pose beautiful, we move with more awareness, and this makes it more yoga!
Creating beautiful group sequences will engage your students in the poses for an extended period of time and give them a sense of achievement. Always allow time for them to be creative and add their own elements; they find this very empowering!
Try Yoga Choreography:
- Sitting in a circle, divide the group into Mermaids and Dolphins. Go around the circle and touch their heads saying Mermaids and Dolphins alternately.
- All Mermaids will start in the Folded Forward Bend with their feet making a circle at the center. Each Dolphin stands between two Mermaids in Warrior III, hands on each other’s shoulders in the circle.
- From here, start choreographing the two groups through different yoga poses. Use BIG movements.
- While the Mermaids are doing one pose, the Dolphins intertwine into it with a different pose. Beautiful flower-like Mandalas or shifting kaleidoscope poses can be created in this way!
- After demonstrating about 10 to 20 poses for the two groups, you can let each student in their turn choose a pose for their group to come into. Another option is to have each student choose a pose to instruct the other group to do; a bit more challenging with verbal instructions, but also lots of fun because the two groups can choose difficult poses for each other, or lots of massage! Ask your students if they would all feel comfortable with you filming it and putting it on Facebook so that your students can share their yoga creation with their friends!