The Health Benefits of Yoga for Teens: An In-Depth Look
Yoga for Kids and Teens is growing in popularity all over the world; adults are realizing how beneficial a yoga practice is to the children in their lives. School teachers and parents alike are learning how to teach simple yoga and mindfulness sessions before class or before bedtime and qualified kids and teens yoga teachers are highly sort after and some yoga seniors are pioneering to put yoga onto the school curriculum because there is strong evidence from psychological and neurobiological reports that suggest yoga and meditation are deeply beneficial practices both in short term and long term in your children’s lives as they grow into adults.
So lets break down the reasons why Yoga is beneficial for Teens as we explore their colorful and turbulent world.
The adolescent years can roughly be divided into three stages:
1: Early adolescence- 11-13 years
2: Middle adolescence- 14-16 years
3: Late adolescence- 17-25 years
Between the age of 11 to 25, Teens put on an amazing growth spurt to help them reach their final adult height, boys and girls alike grow tall very quickly and it is no wonder teenagers become clumsy, their body is growing at such a fast rate that their brains can not keep up with its speed! Their sudden surge in growth is triggered by increased levels of the sex hormone testosterone, which also enables the sexual organs to develop- this is a sign that your teen is experiencing puberty. The change in shape for girls’ means oestrogen is triggering the laying down of fat, periods begin and the pelvis widens to become smooth in preparation for childbirth.
For boys, bones become denser and heavier, the chest and shoulders broaden as the muscle fibers lengthen and widen. As you can see there is a lot going on and during this time, teens can feel physical discomfort from growing pains (as bones grow), acne, sweating more, period pains (for girls), a crack in the vocal cords (for boys), and hair growing in places where there wasn’t hair before! A lot of teens feel uncomfortable and insecure about their bodies-even their feet!
Yoga and mindfulness is a wonderful form of physical fitness for teens, it helps them keep fit in which ever style they might prefer, as with everyone, some teens might like some gentle restorative yoga and others may already be ‘athletic’ and opt for some Ashtanga. Either way, yoga is great for getting the heart pumping, the body moving, blood flowing and muscles twisting, especially after days being hunched over a desk or computer at school or lounging around their bedrooms.
- Keeping teens active helps with weight management, especially with the hormonal changes in their bodies causing potential weight fluctuations.
- Yoga is also great at building strength, even though it is seen as a passive activity there are many asanas that can build muscle and even bone strength!
- Yoga is particularly great for budding dancers, gymnasts and soccer players because it helps stretch and warm up the body in a safe way in prep for the high energy activity- so hopefully your ‘sporty’ kid won’t come home with a damaged knee, sciatic nerve or back problems.
- For the ‘academic’ kids who spend a lot of time hunched over desks, computers, books and carry heavy backpacks, yoga helps improve posture that will prevent back issues later in life. Yoga encourages the maintenance of an upright posture and strengthens the spine and neighboring back muscles that support the spine.
- Yogic breathing, either whilst in an asana flow or practicing yogic breath strengthens lung capacity, enabling the circularity and lymphatic systems to send more oxygenated blood through the body thus nourishing and cleansing every organ, muscle, nerve and cell. According to Chinese medicine, blood stagnation can lead to dis-ease (unease) in the body, which in turn can lead to physical ailments later in life. Yogic breathing allows blood and oxygen to move freely around the body, clearing out unwanted debris.
- Yoga is for every body and is very inclusive. Yoga is also great for kids who have physical disabilities too. Gentle chair yoga, adaptive yoga or aerial yoga are just some types teachers can use to assist children and teens with specific needs.
So knowing your adolescent is going through lots of physical changes, they are also attempting to adjust to these bodily changes and this can be a very emotional, confusing thing and they could feel embarrassed and self-conscious about these changes. Some young adults may even feel frustrated that their development seems to be taking a longer time compared with friends or vice versa. The adolescent years are also a time where teens are figuring out who they are in wider circles other than the home and family, this is a time where they’ll sometimes emotionally withdraw, seek solitude away from parents or guardians and may appear moody as they’re trying to sort out their problems and responsibilities on their own as they transition to Independence.
Teenagers; like babies, need more sleep than the average adult as it is a time the brain goes through lots of development, lack of sleep may cause moods to fluctuate, so parents do let your teen sleep-in at the weekends or take naps after school, its actually doing them good!
Teenagers’ brains carry on developing into their early 20s. The prefrontal cortex is the section of the brain that’s the last to develop and is closely connected to the areas responsible for regulating and controlling emotions.
This means adolescents can find it difficult to control or regulate some of their more powerful emotions, and can react more emotionally to situations than they’re used to. They’re also still learning to process and express those emotions in a mature way.
- Yoga helps teens practice being in the present moment. Taking a calming, deep inhale and exhale during challenging asanas and flows shows Teens this skill can be utilized in emotionally challenging situations.
- The stillness a teen can feel from the fluidity of yoga enables them to self reflect, help them regulate emotions, develop emotional intelligence and learn about self inquiry-checking in with themselves on how they feel and knowing its OK to feel angry and frustrated, rather than repressing those emotions-to acknowledge them and gently let them go.
- A regular yoga practice improves the mood and changes how stress, anxiety, and fatigue are perceived.
- Yoga helps teens build compassion for themselves and others; it also encourages self-love and self-acceptance, it is especially powerful for teens struggling with body image. It is a beautiful form of expression that teaches young adults to love their bodies for what it is and what it can do, rather than what it looks like and who to compare it to.
This is a really broad topic so I’m merely scratching the surface here to avoid writing an essay! The brain undergoes three major developmental spurts in a lifetime, the first takes place in the womb, the second takes place in childhood and the third during adolescence. The brain develops from the back to the front, beginning with the Cerebellum (Supports Physical Coordination, Higher learning like mathematics and advanced social skills), then the amygdala (The emotional center), the Basal Ganglia (helps prioritize information), the Corpus Callosum (Supports problem solving and creativity) and lastly the Prefrontal Cortex (responsible for cognitive analysis and abstract thought).
0-3 years and 10-13 years are critical phases of brain growth where there is an overproduction of neurons and synapses, giving the brain enormous potential! This is quickly followed by a phase of “pruning” in which the brain discards unused synapses and keeps the strongest to flourish. This means at this time introducing your child to a variety of healthy activities like reading, sports, music, learning a language and yoga for example, are the neural synapses that will be retained. How children/teens spend their time is crucial to brain development since it is their activities that guide the structure of the brain. If they spend the majority of their time playing online games, you can imagine how that activity can make a negative impact on their brain and in turn their social skills later in life.
The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to mature in teens (It matures by the age of 25) and it is the area associated with ‘good judgment’, organizing thought and impulse control. This explains why your teen may appear reckless, impulsive, unable to consider the future, weigh out consequences and behavior or even make plans. The underdevelopment of the prefrontal cortex makes adolescents more prone to behave emotionally and with gut reactions. Teens use an alternative part of the brain called the amygdala which is the emotional center of the brain as oppose to the prefrontal cortex- the reasoning center that processes information.
Teens are not yet skilled in learning how to assess risk and consequences, their brains are not yet fully developed- The amygdala and limbic system (reptilian brain) dominate the prefrontal cortex’s reasoned thinking which leads to increased impulsivity, instinctual urges and an inability to handle social pressure- hence why keeping them involved in safe ‘risky’ situations like surfing or horse riding (with a mature adult) are wonderful activities for a teen as oppose to exposing them to alcohol, drugs, GUNS, sex, war, credit cards and other risky, dangerous environments.
Negative life experiences and trauma can alter the fine-tuning of a teens brain development. Basically our interaction with the world at this time ‘organizes our brain’s development’. If a young adult suffers from domestic abuse and discovers alcohol, as a coping strategy there is a high chance that child will become an alcoholic later in life as an adult. If a child grows up in a safe environment with access to safe activities like dance, gardening or yoga there is a high chance they will grow into a stable, confident adult with a variety of healthy interests.
Chronic stress, neglect or abuse sensitize neural pathways and over-develop other regions of the brain like the limbic region associated with anxiety and fear. Often this results in under-development of the prefrontal cortex. Chronic stress from violence, abuse, hunger, pain etc focuses the brains resources on SURVIVAL, meaning other areas of the brain are not available for learning social and cognitive skills. How can Yoga help?
- It has been found that the practice of yoga & meditation triggers neurotransmitters that modulate psychological disorders such as anxiety.
- A yoga class can be a safe, secure place for teens (it could be the only safe place for some).
- It is a great practice to introduce to them early in their lives so it becomes a retained, positive neural synapses in their daily adult lives. Essentially part of their daily/weekly routine.
- Yoga can help soothe chronic stress, feelings of neglect and low confidence. It can encourage teens to self soothe and better regulate emotions (amygdala).
- Introducing yoga to teens struggling with trauma could prevent them from reaching for negative forms of stimulation or activities and thus prevent them from succumbing to addictions later in life.
- Yoga can help teens relax, clear their mind and not have to think about everything both good and bad that is happening in their lives.
- Focusing on yoga asana and yogic breathing is a positive influence on the developing prefrontal cortex associated with focusing, organization and reasoning.
- Yoga can act as a time out for the survival mode in teens (specifically those dealing with trauma) and soothes over-developed areas of the brain that increases anxiety and fear, thus encouraging other areas of the brain to surface- like positive thinking as well as strengthening social and cognitive skills.
The adolescent years are an extremely stressful time with academia. Coursework deadlines, essays, presentation preparations, final exhibitions, exams, work placements, dissertations, practical assessments and more. For those in High School and College, teens are juggling all of the above for many subjects, for those in University the demands are higher as you prepare for your career and life in the adult world whilst teachers and parents alike push and pressure these kids to achieve, succeed, get the highest grade, don’t fail, grow up, be the best, do this, do that and so on. How daunting is this on top of part time jobs? A lot of young adults also struggle with learning difficulties like dyslexia too. For adults to pressure Teens so much, I will say, I didn’t know who I was and the direction I wanted to go in until my late 20’s and that didn’t start being put into action until I hit 30.
It is important to get a decent education, whatever that might be to your teen but it’s OK not have everything figured out in your adolescence and it is paramount that adults take a step back and ease off a little, guide them yes but don’t further fuel the fire by adding more stress and pressure to them, your teen could develop anxiety, feelings of inadequacy because they’re not living up to high standards placed upon them and physical dis-ease related to panic attacks such as heart palpitations, breathlessness, IBS and stomach complaints due to the build up of nervous and anxious energy and being constantly stressed out. There are also heaps of distractions around for teens that could prevent them from focusing on their academia- such as house parties, clubbing, soccer games, the latest social media trend, shopping and the dramas surrounding their friendships and relationships.
- Yoga can help teens mentally refocus important tasks. By practicing living in the moment on the mat, teenagers can more fully concentrate on the present moment off the mat.
- Yoga also helps improve cognitive functioning, especially the individual’s memory, and performance. A 20-minute yoga session every day can improve an adolescent’s performance in tests, in terms of accuracy and speed.
- Regular yoga practice improves the mood and changes how stress, anxiety, and fatigue are perceived. Calming the mind, the breath and heart rate brings clarity and encourages them to focus with a more positive outlook. The physical mind-body practice of challenging yoga asana and/or sequences teaches your teen to mindfully apply a positive “can do” attitude to challenges in life.
- Yoga is beneficial for children with dyslexia; improvements in verbal and spatial memory of dyslexic children are shown after a regular practice. Yogic breathing through a particular nostril increased spatial memory scores in children as well as an improvement in visual perceptual sensitivity and dexterity.
Socially Teens deal with a lot at this time in their life as they transition from root chakra energy of family, tribal and survival instincts related to food and shelter. They now begin to utilize the energies of the sacral (sexual, external friendships and relationships) and the solar plexus (learning Independence and ‘who am I in this world?). Your adolescent will begin to push away from family dynamics to seek new relationships to help them gain social skills to survive in the adult world. This is why they’ll prefer to stay out late at night or spend a lot of time texting on their phones, why feeling accepted by their peers is highly important and absolutely heartbreaking to be rejected and bullied.
Teens gain much of their identity from those they spend time with; they need to feel a sense of belonging to feel good about who they are. Those who do not have at least a few close friends are shown to suffer from isolation, insecurity and a poor self-image.
Being a part of a group with good values can empower a teen throughout their lives and encourages positive self-respect and self-confidence.
Teens who form a positive group bonding and a strong sense of belonging learn valuable lessons from social interaction within the group. Members of peer groups act as mirrors that encourage your teen to self reflect on their behavior in relation to every one else, a group with positive goals and influences can help your teen gain confidence in social settings by learning the value of cooperation for the good of the group which is a great skill to learn for adulthood!
And whilst a teen may prefer to spend time with their peers, it is still an important time in their lives to be able to come home to a safe and secure family environment. A teen’s sense of family is their foundation for belonging, knowing there is always a place of ultimate acceptance and love gives them confidence.
preteens or teens who do not feel connected or safe at home may look for satisfaction in other places like drugs, alcohol, gang activity and sexual activity.
- Yoga encourages connection for yoga means “Union” in Sanskrit. A union with your mind, body and spirit, union with others and union with our planet. By understanding that each and every single living thing is one and made of the same spiritual matter, teens learn to accept one another more fully, no matter their clique, social interests, race or popularity.
- Yoga encourages teens to become more compassionate towards one another and of their family members. Yoga is non-judgmental, and the more teens practice, they become more accepting and be less judgmental in their daily lives. We are all imperfectly perfect.
- Yoga is a non-competitive activity and will encourage teens to bond in a peaceful way. Nobody is better or worse, each have an individual practice and it encourages a strong yet harmonious social environment to help promote long-lasting and healthy friendships.
This article is a more in-depth look into the teenage world and how Yoga is a great tool to help your young adult navigate around their world. But it still merely scratches the surface of the complex and vast subject of adolescence.
I don’t pretend to know everything, I am not a doctor, psychologist or neurobiologist, these are some insights I’ve learned from years of studying mental health, anatomy & physiology and attending an amazing Teen yoga teacher training. The aim of this article is to give you more information to explore rather than quick-fire factoids.
Bringing Yoga and Mindfulness into the lives of Kids, Teens and Young Adults is providing them tools in which to carry on into the next generation and thus we raise more peaceful, less damaged, resilient adults who could bring about great change for the future in this turbulent world.
“Young people are the lightning rod for the zeitgeist of our time.”
–Charlotta Martinus, Founder of Teen Yoga Foundation.
Research came from a book called “Brainstorm” by Daniel Seigel and my Teen yoga training manual.
If you are interested in Teen Yoga Teacher Training click here: Teen Yoga
Yoga Model: Cherie, age 20, Fine Art student, Loves Yoga!