In our accelerated society, it has become the norm to be activated through sensationalist shocks. When we do this, we immediately feel the need to “fix” something that is broken. When we are told how many teens are depressed, in states of anxiety or suicidal, it grabs our interest and we listen. We feel good, when we then feel we can do something to “help”.
I am the first to recognise the awful situation many young people are in today, having worked closely with teens for the last 30 years. There is a lot of talk about the “mental health crisis” of our young. How do we get a proper handle on this and some real perspective?
As our patron and faculty member Dr Dan Siegel so eloquently explains, the teenage years is a natural time for risk taking and dangerous behaviours. Of course things go wrong then, sometimes they go very wrong. But in essence, for the vast majority of teens, it is how we learn about responsibility, boundaries and self care.
We could simply state that – as adults who care about teens, it is our duty and responsibility to guide our youngsters towards a better future. Within the paradigms that we have, what would that look like and how can we help them counter problems that may come along the way?
I was heartened, a little surprised and excited to hear Edward Timpson MP Minister for Vulnerable Children advocate for yoga and meditation in schools this week. He is not the only one, Nic Dakin MP, former Shadow Schools Minister spoke in favour of yoga at the Instill conference in London in July. When invited to the House of Commons in June, I was encouraged by MP Bob Blackman who sponsored the Early Day Motion for urging the introduction of yoga into schools and the NHS.
It seems there is a veritable surge of interest for yoga in the House of Commons.
This trend has been creeping up on us for years, with Mindfulness initiatives and research splashed across the papers for the last 5 years or so and the £7million pound MYRIAD project now fully underway. With this exposure, we have also become aware not only of the many benefits of mindfulness but of course, of the shortcomings of this aspect of Buddhist practise, when taken alone and apart from its entirety. The jury is out as to how effective this intervention can be. When MPs, psychologists, medics and teachers turn to yoga, it may be as a response and reaction to the issues and limitations of mindfulness practises and a premature introduction of meditation in schools.
Research on yoga in schools is still very limited∞. However, it may be that MPs are now being offered yoga sessions just round the corner from the House of Commons (I met the teacher, a former aide to Tony Blair) or the general trend in uptake of yoga within the UK (now 25% of the population have had some exposure to yoga) that lies behind this interest.
Who knows? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we have an interest, all eyes are on the schools who in fact have implemented yoga over the past ten years or more (my colleague and I were teaching yoga as part of the curriculum in 2004 and its still going and my dear friend has been teaching yoga at St Paul’s boys school, London for as long as I can remember) and the results are filtering through.
Teen Yoga Foundation patron, Sir Anthony Seldon (MBE from the Queen for his service to education, starter of the Happiness project at Wellington College and political biographer) mentions recently on Desert Island discs (BBC Radio 4) that the one thing he would take to his island is in fact a yoga mat and in an interview with the Teen Yoga Foundation, he mentions the benefits of yoga to learning and wellbeing for young people at school.
We wake up and respond to shocks and statistics. But just this time, instead of reeling off these statistics, let’s act in the spirit of yoga and look towards a growth mind set of how, as adults, can we help and support our children towards a positive and collaborative future?
How does yoga work and why, to the uninitiated, would it help to promote a healthy youth?
I have gone into the benefits of yoga for teens in many of my previous blogs and will continue to do so.
In short, yoga is a holistic science, which encourages a positive mind set, through physical activity, positive thinking, healthy eating, proper breathing and proper relaxation (to misquote a famous yogic master Swami Vishnudevananda).
As anyone who has engaged in yoga over a short period of time will have experienced, the combination of breathing well, moving well (minimising injury and maximising strength and flexibility in equal measure) in a collaborative atmosphere, encourages safety and resilience both mentally and physically.
It is a cheap*, well documented and ancient holistic system that would be a wonderful addition to any timetable and would see students listening up and getting ready to learn more effectively**. A fabulous tool indeed. No wonder MPs are interested.
∞ Teen Yoga Foundation patron Sat Bir Khalsa Professor of Medicine at Harvard, has developed a body of research in this topic since the late 70s, a summary of which can be found on www.teenyogafoundation.com.
*As proven in a recent doctoral thesis from Bangor university on the cost savings of yoga within the NHS
**As proven by the wonderful “Get Ready to Learn” programme in New York State, now rolled out in several high schools across the state and beyond, a yoga based intervention delivered in schools experiencing difficulties over the past 10 years.[:]