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I am nearly done leading an 8 week program for middle school aged girls in self-empowerment and yoga. It has been an incredible experience. The Girl Power program teaches so many important lessons in a very short time.

1. Just as hunger pains tell us to eat and thirst tells us we need a drink, feelings tells us information about our authentic self that we need to address.

2. Our thoughts alone do not give us enough information to make good choices. We must align our feelings with our thoughts to get the most accurate signals to make the choices that are best for our true self.

3. Self care has to do with how we treat our self. Do we pay enough attention to how we are treating our self on a regular basis? Not paying attention to self care hurts our ability to handle stress.

4. Yoga. It helps to bring our attention to our bodies, feelings and thoughts. First we find this connection on our mats through asana practice then we take it off our mats into our daily life to live more authentically.

5. Media is very influential in how we see ourselves. It is meant to make us feel lacking. The way media portrays women is harmful to our self.

6. The path to happiness starts with being authentic.

Yesterday I read the girl’s journal entries that were in the format of a letter to their bodies. I got goose bumps. I felt such a thrill seeing that the messages that we’ve been working on were sinking in and that they have the tools to treat their true self with more kindness and understanding.

It was an honor to lead this program and teach this material, but the real honor is being able to be a part of these girl’s life path and to have given them real tools and skills to leave them with so that their life’s journey doesn’t get cluttered with baggage from bad choices. They have the tools to live authentically.

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I saw the movie Bully this weekend. It was very tough to watch. I left the movie feeling frustrated as I didn’t feel the movie’s conclusion left the audience with a great deal of  hope.

The next day I got onto my mat and practiced and I didn’t think about the movie. I moved and breathed and I listened to the messages of tuning in and being present shared by my teacher. Soon after, I realized that yoga is part of the solution. The yogic principle of Ahimsa, compassion or doing no harm, teaches us that we must first find compassion for ourselves before we spread that compassion to those around us. As I am about to embark on teaching middle school aged girls to find their power and to find their voice, it occurred to me that underneath all of that is teaching them how to treat themselves with compassion.  At a certain age self-judgement begins to increase as fitting in with the group begins to take priority. Judging oneself becomes judging others. Being untrue to our authentic self becomes not respecting differences in others. Talking about our different bodies and our different strengths and weaknesses, demonstrating that we practice yoga to accept how our bodies and minds are different every time we get on the mat and sharing that these differences are OK, that these differences are what make us unique and special and powerful happen so naturally on the mat. I don’t know where else this message of self-acceptance occurs in a child’s life. When is the message that you are perfect just the way you are taught outside of the home? Even within the home most of us expect our children to get great grades, excel in sports and have many friends—we expect our kids to fit in a box of “the typical child”.

Until kids accept their differences, they won’t accept others. Until kids realize that happiness lies not with fitting in but with tuning in and self-love, there will always be judgement and cruelty.

The blog Pigtail Pals reminds us that we start life believing that we are awesome. We need to find ways to keep that belief alive. And for those who sadly start life with a different message, through the practice of yoga they too can find peace, self-acceptance and self-compassion. Spreading compassion will remove the problem of bullying. I believe that yoga is key.

It occurred to me while I was participating in my Baron Baptiste Level 1 Teacher Training that everyone there arrived with baggage and not just the obvious duffle bags and suitcases. We all came with stories from our past that we’ve taken for truths that create limiting thoughts and don’t serve us on our life’s journey. In truth, this may just be part of life and growing up. But what if there was a way to prevent some of that baggage? Instead of seeking therapy, hiding in destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, drugs and alcohol use or risky sexual behavior to flee from our feelings, what if we learned to tune in and understand our feelings and our inner voice? If given the skills at an early age to help us tune in to our true self instead of tuning out by escaping through texting, music, tv, Facebook and video games, might we avoid the adult versions of feeling avoidance?

Thankfully I don’t have to recreate the wheel. A friend and fellow yogi, Dr. Catherine Cook-Cottone,  that I met during my teacher training developed a program for 5th-7th grade girls to teach them skills to help them navigate through life’s ups and downs. I am fortunate to be able to bring the program to life this spring in my home town. Dr. Cook-Cottone tested her program through the University of Buffalo where she teaches psychology for effectiveness in preventing destructive behavior in this population (specifically eating disorders). The program never focuses on a specific destructive behavior as it uses positive psychology and active learning techniques. The results were positive. By teaching teens awareness of their feelings and how they create thoughts and actions, the girls learn that they have opportunities to make good choices. Using yoga, discussion, journal writing and art, the girls explore who they are, what they feel and what their inner voice has to say. They leave empowered and with real skills and tools to help them through their life’s journey. Maybe these girls will avoid some of the pitfalls that my generation fell into or maybe they will fall too but with a greater understanding of themselves to be able to pick themselves, dust themselves off and leave the baggage behind.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruit

I recently came across a blog post from pigtailpails.com that I shared on Facebook that struck a cord with many parents. The title of the post is Waking Up Full of Awesome. If you haven’t read it, please check out the link as it is short but poignant.

Being the first week of school, most parents have fingers crossed that their children are heading into a year of success both academically and socially. So many self perceptions evolve during those hours away at school.

A friend of mine whos daughter entered 7th grade this week shared that she had heard a principal say that he wished girls would stay how they are in 6th grade – confident, excited, loving life and themselves because in 7th grade self-esteem and confidence drop and peer pressures become more demanding. These girls change.

Many people are still working through traumatic childhood moments in their adult life stemming from messages they picked up from others back in elementary and middle school.

It is heartbreaking to see confident girls lose their authentic awesomeness in order to belong.

I strongly believe that yoga is a pathway for young people to access and proudly display their true selves. Through yoga kids find internal and physical strength, see themselves grow and change and see their life’s path more clearly.

As an adult or child, finding your center allows you to navigate through the challenging moments in life with an internal compass that will not steer you astray.

Whether your child is struggling or not, introducing yoga into their lives will benefit them as they find themselves and head into adulthood.

When will I figure out how to just coast on this ride of parenting instead of traveling all of the highs and lows with each childhood moment? Don’t misunderstand. Nothing is wrong. It is all in the name of parenting. But, I’ve already gone through adolescence and I don’t want to go there again! How does a parent step away from the drama, sleep without worry and parent effectively. We are expected to give support without lecturing too much or helping too much, discipline when needed even when it causes temporary discomfort for all, step in when there is trouble but not until the child has tried to take care of things solo. Where is that handy manual—telling us how and when to say the perfect thing, showing us when to expect the perfect teachable moment, and explaining in detail how not to be embarrassing to your child when they reach a certain age?

I know that I don’t have as much control or effect as I think. I know that I can lead, teach and advise but my children still need to act and make their own decisions.

So I take 5 minutes to meditate when the desire to fix takes over but the possibility of fixing doesn’t really exist anymore.

An easy meditation:

  • Set your watch for 5 minutes.
  • Turn off your phone. Close your door.
  • Sit comfortably either on the floor with a straight back, gaze slightly down, hands on your knees or in a chair with feet flat on the floor.
  • Say to yourself “Breathe-in one, breathe-out two” while breathing in and out.
  • Let any thought float in but then go back to your breath. Breath in one, breath out two.
  • Simply breathe. It’s that easy.
Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Teens are busy people. They are stretched in a million directions between school, sports, extra-curricular activities and their social lives. It is a hard age group to attract to yoga as their demanding schedules leave little time. However, this is an age group that could benefit tremendously from a weekly class.

• Yoga gives teens the mental break that they so need. Yoga helps connect breath with asanas. This link creates little room for non-yoga thoughts. After taking a vinyasa yoga class, I often feel like a towel that has been twisted, letting all the unwanted “stuff” (thoughts, stress and tension) drip away with each droplet of sweat.

• Savasana allows teens to squeeze in some deep rest. Teens are a sleep deprived group. School hours do not coincide with a teens natural sleep pattern. Top that with late nights doing homework or socializing with friends—no wonder teens can be so moody! Teen classes often encorporate a long savasana or work on restful poses to help compensate for teen’s lack of nightly Zs.

• For the teen athlete, yoga boosts core strength while also balancing muscle groups and aids in flexibility. Yoga helps to decrease injury and increases an athletes potential. The YogaDork website posted a great article about teenage football players using yoga as part of their pre-season conditioning and here is an article about the LA Dodgers using yoga in their Spring training.

• Yoga helps teens feel comfortable in their own bodies at a time when their bodies are changing. Yoga gives teens tools to guide them through these years of uncertainty and transformation. Yoga classes focus on self-acceptance, self-awareness, personal strength and positive attitudes—all necessary in creating a successful and happy life post high school.

Current Classes:

MIDTOWN ATHLETIC CLUB

Mondays:
6-7:15am Power Vinyasa (H)

Thursdays:
6-7am Power Vinyasa

Story Time Yoga
1-1:45pm

Sundays:
5-7 year olds
9:45-10:30am
8-11 year olds
10:45-11:30am

STUDIO MOVE!

Wednesdays:
10:30-11:30 Power Vinyasa

Fridays:
Yoga for Athletes
9-10am

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