I physically cringe when I think back to Jr. High and High School. Yes, it was fun and if you asked my classmates, they would probably say I was one of the 'popular kids' (whatever that means). But inside I really never felt like I truly fit in. I felt I was on the outside, different than everyone else in a way that I didn't understand. I desperately wanted to feel accepted. Everyone else seemed (and that's the key word, isn't it?) to be so together, have lots of friends, and be comfortable in their own skin. I worried a lot about getting good grades to be able to get into a good school later on - as good a one as my friends, as there was a lot of competition in that area. I felt is was important to have the right clothes and 'keep up with the Joneses'. I felt I was misunderstood by my parents. And then there were the boy dramas...
If any of the above sounds familiar, it's probably because these are typical thoughts of the typical preteen and teen. And, I'm sure I'm not the only one who, as an adult yogi, has often thought back to those times and wondered how different things might have been had I been introduced to yoga THEN. So many of us involved in teaching yoga to kids understand the importance of introducing yoga at a young age. Of any age however, I feel it's the preteen and teenage years that can benefit the most from learning yoga, mindfulness, pranayama and relaxation techniques. Our friends at KarmaSpot recently posted a nice list of the benefits of yoga for teens. Check it out.
If you've ever tried to set up a class for teens, you know that they can be tough to fill! Teens are super busy - and they don't want to be involved in anything that may be perceived as 'weird'. If you're going to attract teens to participate in a yoga program, it's important to make it both accessible and acceptable.
Here are some suggestions:
1) The class description should be inviting and utilize teen-friendly language. Unlike with younger kids classes, it's the teens that will most likely be making the decision about whether or not to participate, not the parents.
2) Be sure to mention benefits of teen yoga and their participation as it relates to THEM, the TEENS - not just yoga in general. Tying in what yoga might help them with in their chaotic life as a teen is the key. Mentioning some of the hundreds of athletes and celebrities doing yoga these days can also help gain buy-in from this age group. Everyone knows Madonna does yoga, but did you know the Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, Jennifer Anniston, Halle Berry, and even that hot guy, Peter Facinelli, of Twilight fame (thanks to YogaDork.com for the great article and photo about Peter and his yoga practice!) does yoga daily?! That is super important news to a teen.
3) Use non-threatening images in your marketing materials and flyers. Showing an unattainable perfect body doing a difficult yoga position, ie, a Yoga Journal cover image, is not recommended! Instead, either use graphics or fun, friendly image of a real teen with a real body doing a simple position or maybe even just holding a yoga mat. HINT: A most wonderful place to find FREE IMAGES is www.bing.com.
4) Consider holding separate classes for preteen and teen girls and guys. The distraction and anxiety caused by the presence of the opposite sex is removed and possible feeling of modesty or embarrassment becomes less of an issue. I find that in separate classes, preteens and teens of both sexes are better able to enjoy, and gain the most benefit from, their respective yoga class. If you have a female instructor for teen girls class and a male instructor for a teen guys class, all the better for this particular age group.
5) Talk to your local Middle, Jr. High or High School health or physical education teachers. They will most likely jump up and kiss you if you offer to you come in to introduce some yoga to their students. I recommend doing a series of classes, the first of which can focus on the myths of yoga to get that out of the way. You know, the ones about having to be a vegetarian, having to be able to put your foot behind your head, having to Ommmm for hours in a quiet room. It's amazing to me the misperceptions that are still prevalent out there, especially with the teen set. Shed the myths, talk about what yoga is and isn't, and make the connection for the kids through analogies and personal stories of how yoga has made a difference in YOUR life. You'll be on your way to gaining their trust and buy-in to try it out for themselves.
Need some ideas? ChildLight Yoga is offering Stress Less Yoga for Teen Girls this fall. Take a peek at the image and class description to get your creative juices flowing. If you live in or around Kittery, ME / Portsmouth, NH, we hope to see you there. Bring Peter Facinelli with you and your class is free! ;)