As practitioners ourselves, we know only all to well, how yoga can assuage feelings of anxiety, calm our nerves and generally uplift us. Why would it be any different for young people?
This was my thought as I calmly and confidently strode into my first yoga class for teens ten years ago and was met by a battlefield of flying mats and falling trees!
The precious gift that I had discovered and was desperate to share with others, was being denigrated and thrown out before even being discovered. I had a choice – walk out and never come back or persevere. I chose the latter. I wonder why? Because somewhere deep inside me I knew these kids really needed it. They were stressed out, anxious, hyper and unable to cope, let alone focus or concentrate. How to apply yoga to these guys?
This became my focus and my sole purpose in the following months and years, to create a way to apply yoga to 13-16 year olds specifically, as this seemed to present a veritable “dark night of the soul”. The input and insights of fellow yogis, psychologists, educators, doctors, osteopaths and physiotherapists developed the present course, which is presented worldwide.
So, the main benefits of yoga for this age group, when applied specifically and therapeutically, seem not to vary greatly from those we experience on a daily basis.
At the cutting edge of some medical degrees in the UK, is a first year programme of mindfulness. In a research programme executed recently, it was found that doctors coped better in the profession and stayed working as doctors for longer, when and if they were exposed to a self-reflective practise, which allowed for humility and mindfulness. This is one of thousands of research papers in the field of mindfulness.
What, I hear you say, has that got to do with yoga? Well, if you look at the eight fold path, you will quickly see that Dharana, coming after asana and pranayama equals mindfulness, the concept, of after going inwards, one reflects on the nature of the mind and the nature of thought, this naturally leads to Dhyana and eventually Samadhi, our highest state of consciousness.
So too, in our humble studies, lead by Leeds Psychology Department,UK in 2014, did we find that the self-reflective element of yoga, improved concentration, emotional regulation, self healing and pain management in a small group of 11-13 year olds over a six month period.
So, in short the main results are found in this chart:
What do these terms mean and how do we interpret them?
The term shifting states refers to the ability to consciously (with the help of yoga) shift from one mood (considered negative) to another, say from anger to joy. Personal achievement refers to the feeling of achieved something for oneself, whether it was a posture or school work as a direct result of their practise. With autonomy, this is an interesting look at how adolescents begin to make their own decisions and feel empowered to do this safely and well. The yoga also showed raised commitment in everything the students undertook, they had the ability to stick at a task for longer. Socially, they stuck together more, there was one boy who remarked that a girl he didn’t like much, he had got to know in yoga and now he didn’t mind her so much. Many of the boys particularly noticed a marked rise in their performance in sports such as rugby. (Amy Morgan 2014)
So, there it is, in black and white! There had already been a lot of research in the States done on the impact of yoga on education, particularly among ADHD and ADD sufferers, where their concentration levels had raised and also the class-room atmosphere had improved with yoga. (Slovacek 2003)
For me, the most important and joyful aspect of teaching yoga to this group, is that they find a way to take some distance from their anxieties, to mindfully reflect on their situation and find a small piece of calm in their life, on command! This seems to me to be a life skill that would improve many peoples lives, but especially at this precious and hugely influential time.