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Teen Yoga Can Help Heal Us All

Yesterday I met with a young woman who has been struggling with the ability to manage her anxiety & stress after a series of traumatic events several years ago, compounded by the trauma she is facing in this moment. We met at the studio & walked together to the back lawn where we found a quiet seat in the shade.  After chatting for a few minutes about where & when she might be able to fit these practices into her daily routine, I taught her a few simple mindfulness exercises and then held space as we practiced together.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” she told me.

 “How do you feel?” I asked.

“Good.” She replied. “Calm.”

As a personal trainer & yoga instructor who is open about coming into this line of work after my own struggles/trauma during my teens, I am approached by this particular demographic (…or their parents) regularly for help & guidance. After Covid-19 forced us to close our doors (along with our schools) to in-person classes in March 2020, we launched our weekly virtual “Free Yoga for Teens” program to meet kids at home during this time of extended global trauma. For teens who need more support, I often opened my schedule up to meet one-on-one, in a physically distant space, to listen to their needs and answer questions as best I can. I am happy to report that our efforts seem to be having a positive effect on our students and with the support of our community, we hope to continue this program for many, many years to come. After all, our youth are our future, right?

In today’s post, I want to share with you a few of the practical tools/exercises I share with my students in order to help them build internal resiliency. I hope you will share these with your loved ones, or practice them yourself, when the world feels overwhelming & hard to manage. Remember, it’s often the simplest things, done consistently over time that have the greatest capacity to help us weather the storms of life, change & grow.

  1. Find a quiet space to sit everyday in silence & observe your breath
      • There is no minimum or maximum time requirement, frequency & consistency is key (think of it like a daily multivitamin for your mental health)
      • Ideally, this space is cleared of clutter and your hips will be higher than your knees
      • Ideally, you will be elevated slightly so that your spine is tall & not rounded
      • For those with very little personal space, this may need to be on the corner of a bed/car
      • A car is also a great place to practice if you are busy- be sure to put some towels or a cushion into the wedge of the seat so you can sit tall
  1. Breath Deeply & fully, consider gently lengthening your exhales
      • Place your hands down on your knees/thighs OR place your hands on your low belly OR place one hand on your heart & one hand on your belly. After a few breaths, the hands can rest naturally where ever feels comfortable.
      • Notice the belly & body expanding three-dimensionally as you inhale & retract on the exhale
      • Observe the length of your inhales and gently exhale a little longer than your inhales
      • After a few breaths, consider taking a few breaths with a very gentle hold at the top of the inhale & at the bottom of the exhale (Note: It shouldn’t feel super comfortable to hold the breath, but it shouldn’t create a lot of stress or anxiety either. If it does, please resume normal breathing.)
  1. Scan the physical body, scan your emotions, scan your thoughts
    • The key to this next practice is curiosity & non-judgement (Sooo hard! But with practice, it’s do-able- it’s like being a scientist! You can do it. Remember to have patience & compassion with yourself. )
    • With eyes closed or softly open, start from the crown of the head and bring your awareness into the physical body. As you go from the head all the way down to the toes, notice how various parts of the body “feel”. Take note, without judgement
    • Next notice any emotions you are feeling. Take your time. Breathe
    • Remember that your emotions come from a thought that you are thinking…. See if you can observe the thought. Take your time. Breathe.
    • Remember that the thoughts you are thinking don’t have to be true/real in order for you to feel an emotion. Don’t beat yourself up for thinking something that is mean, untrue, or unhelpful. Say to yourself “Given my experiences, it is understandable that my brain is thinking these things.”

4. Actively choose a thought that will produce a positive feeling

    • Before going on with your day, actively choose to think about something that will produce a positive feeling in the body
    • Positive affirmations can be great to use here. A few examples might be:
          • I am safe/ This too shall pass
          • I am lovable, I am loved
          • I am beautiful inside & out, just as I am
          • I embrace my flaws because I know that no one is perfect
          • I can do whatever I focus my mind on
          • No one can make me feel inferior without my permission
          • It’s okay to say no or ask for what I need because those who matter don’t mind and those who mind, don’t matter
          • I control my emotions, they do not control me
          • I see the beauty in others and in the world around me

I hope you enjoy sharing & practicing these grounding & empowering yoga and mindfulness techniques. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or just want to get in touch. Thank you for being here. Thank you for doing your best, everyday. We see you & we are here for you. You got this & we love you.

P.s. I was inspired to write this post after reading an article titled “Thoughts Of Suicide, Other Mental Health Struggles Still High For LGBTQ Youth” by NPR news on July 24, 2020. In this article, the journalists report, “Forty percent of young LGBTQ people have considered suicide in the last year; that rises to more than half for trans and non-binary youth.” This was heartbreaking to read, but given my own experience as a “troubled youth” and my work now, it not surprising. I love what I do because I know it works and these tools can be incorporated into your life, at any stage, just as you are- regardless of your lifestyle, religion/faith, sexual orientation, physical abilities or skin color.  I’ve made it to the other side of what was a very dark inner space and I know that with community support & continuing education, we can do better and help reduce the trauma our youth (and ourselves) are experiencing everyday.

Cheers to your health!

Xo

Lesley Anderson

Co-Founder Boho Yoga & Owner/Trainer PCT Fitness