Have you ever tried to get a teen or even a pre-teen to do something that wasn’t their idea? Yes, I know, the eye rolls, the stare that says you are crazy, and the humph that accompanies such suggestion is hard to take day after day.

As a strong believer in the benefits that yoga provides at any age, I have encouraged my daughters to join me in my yoga practice both at home and in the studio and can confidently say that at least one of them has adopted the practice. My hope is that the other two will eventually seize the opportunity. According to a 2014 American Psychological Association survey the pressure of homework, getting good grades, gaining acceptance into elite colleges, and participating in sports and other activities all make teenagers the most stressed group of people in America when school is in session. And consider some teens have to work, worry about family issues, or take summer classes to keep up.

Yoga practice builds strength, and increases flexibility, coordination, and balance. It helps posture rebound from a day hunched over a desk (or a smartphone!), certainly important for teens going from class to a desk at home and using handheld technology.

We live in a world that is full of distractions, and for teens this can be overwhelming. By being on their mat, they can learn to focus on one thing for a period of time which will hopefully translate into their daily lives. Plus, practicing living in the present moment on the mat may help teens get in touch with their emotions. According to Marilyn Wei, MD, in an article for Psychology Today, yoga during this crucial time of mental development can help teens cultivate “executive functions” or the important skills of creativity, flexibility, self-control, and discipline.

Yoga, through breath and awareness, essentially provides space to step back and regulate your response to stress in a calm and thoughtful manner.

In addition to connecting with emotions, yoga encourages self-love and self-acceptance. This benefit is especially powerful for teens struggling with body image. It’s a beautiful way to learn to love yourself and appreciate the body for what it is and what it can do, rather than what it looks like. It builds compassion for the self which then radiates to compassion for others. In Wei’s article, she also writes that the timing of yoga for teens is also particularly important for the mind because the brain continues to develop throughout early to late teenage years. The prefrontal cortex is the area behind the forehead and is known as the “CEO of the brain” for its ability to plan, organize, and regulate mood. The prefrontal cortex gives you the ability to concentrate and think, rather than act on impulse, and is critical to being successful whether in academics, career, or relationships. In addition, a 2012 study by researcher Jessica Noggle, PhD, concluded that yoga may serve a preventive role in adolescent mental health. The study went on to say that it provides teens with beneficial ways to deal with stress and trauma, instead of falling into the dangerous and destructive behavioral patterns so prevalent in high schools across the country.

Finally, another benefit to getting your teen involved in yoga is the bond the two of you can form by participating in a shared activity. Although there won’t be much sharing during the class, it allows for unstructured time to and from class as well as a common activity. Priceless! Namaste!

— Kelly Lang

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