When it comes to sharing yoga, teens can be the toughest audience of all. They may be invested in coolness, not wanting to show too much interest in anything they don’t discover on their own or that’s dissed by peers they look up to. Some may resist yoga as too trendy or touchy-feely. Some may be just naturally skeptical.
As a group, they can also be highly distracted and distractible. After all, they’re dealing with a lot: the pressures of school, looming college anxiety, raging adolescent hormones, the demands of 24/7 Internet culture (i.e., being always “on,” always performing and constantly trying to keep up with online happenings), identity concerns, family conflicts…. The list could go on and on.
Those who regularly work with teens understand that much success comes from just accepting the natural chaos that arises when introducing new activities. Being mindfully in the present lets us respond to any given situation flexibly and creatively. And teens respect this. They appreciate your awareness of their reality and responding to it directly rather than trying to force-feed them something “for their own good.”
It’s a basic yogic principle, really: Meet them where they are.
Here are a few more tips for working with teens:
- Use students to model activities.
For instance, while they’re in Mountain pose, gently push them while asking about times when they have to stay strong while someone is messing with them. Or have a student demonstrate Warrior 1 while you try to distract them – or ask a few of them to try to distract you while you’re in Tree pose, then pair up students to challenge each other in the same way. All these are great ways to make the yoga “real” to them.
- Interpret, translate and ask them why certain activities are good for them.
For example, you could teach some yoga while in the computer lab: demonstrate what happens to our lungs and breath when we slump over computers, phones and other electronic gadgets – and then show how yoga corrects this. Or after an activity such as Progressive Relaxation, ask your students how it feels to relax or about times when they might need to take a relaxation break on their own.
- Self-disclose with strategic storytelling.
Share appropriate stories of times when you needed yoga in your life or how you used yoga to overcome a challenge. Even a simple anecdote about using your focus skills while driving in a scary situation can be illuminating – and again, shows how real and relevant the yoga is to their lives. Once your class has practiced together for a while, you can ask your students to share their own appropriate stories of how they’ve noticed yoga helping them. This can help keep motivation and student investment high.
- Get moving sooner.
Instead of explaining and then doing, get your class moving right away: Explain and do together. Your instructions are apt to make more sense to the students as they act them out in real time. It will keep the tempo and rhythm of the class moving – and remove opportunities for the mind to wander or walls of resistance to go up. You’ll also be able to fit more activities into a shorter time frame.
- Speak to their culture.
In your teaching and relaxation activities alike, try to incorporate imagery and other references that resonate with their culture. While “extend your arms and fingers like lasers” can be a great cue for younger students, teens often need a more relevant and motivating image. So, for Star pose, you might say something like, “Think of a time when you did something great and show it through your body.”
- Use their music.
Find a popular but appropriate song with a good, steady beat to do some poses with. A fair number of songs covered on Glee may be adaptable, as well as songs from theatre and other live performances popular with teens – things like Blue Man Group, Wicked, Rock of Ages, Billy Elliot and Cirque du Soleil. One of our Minnesota instructors used music from the Blue Man Group to accompany a Star, Side Angle, Warrior 1 flow, and the students absolutely loved it.
- Adapt the relaxations.
Teens like Progressive Relaxations and respond well to things that are common in an adult class. Use guided relaxations that allow them to go where they want to go – having their own car with their name on the license plate, taking a trip to the beach with a friend, thinking about what hobbies and pastimes.
Again, teens are often the hardest ones to teach, but when you connect, the rewards are that much greater.
Image by Andrew Feinberg, via Flickr