Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Yoga Therapy Ireland seminar with Charlotta Martinus on Teen Yoga.
It was a wonderful day of discussing how yoga can help people at that stage of life and how to bring it to them in a way that is most accessible and helpful to them. Charlotta is a wonderful teacher who has worked with teenagers for her entire working life. She’s done the study both in practice and in theory and is a font of knowledge and understanding about yoga and the condition of being a teenager in today’s world. Luckily for me, I remember my teen years vividly and I got a lot out of it by being able to get into the head space I was at at that time in my life.
The unfortunate fact is, for a lot of people, being a teenager can be quite a sad experience, full of uncertainty, pressure and frustration. It certainly was for me! Sometimes as adults we look at teenagers and think how great it is to be young and have no responsibilities, for your biggest worries to be as simple as schoolwork and friends, that youth is wasted on the young bla, bla, bla – but this is so wrong! With the wisdom of experience and the knowlege that our lives worked out fine and those problems we had were not the end of the world, we can look back with rose-tinted glasses. But without that experience it is impossible to see beyond the intensity of teenage years. Everything is new and everything that once was sure is now under question. It’s my experience (from being an unhappy teenager once myself) that no amount of talking, no amount of being told anything can help if you have troubles as a teenager. It’s an outlet, most importantly, a self-initiated physical one that will help.
This is where yoga comes in. Yoga has so much to offer young people – fitness, relaxation, non-medical management of physical problems, self understanding, mindfulness and a connection to something greater than yourself.
Something I found really interesting from the day with Charlotta was that yoga as a bridge between the secular and the religious can be of comfort to young people. What I’ve always found appealing about yoga is the spiritual aspect of it, but it is separate from a prescribed religion and faith system and can be practiced by any and all faiths. My simple understanding is that yoga brings you closer to your personal experience of divinity and life outside yourself. Whether its a God, the universe, karma, nature or science you believe in, when practicing yoga you can get outside of yourself as an individual and understand you are part of a far greater life beyond that. The effect of this is your problems seem smaller, your trust increases and your wonder and appreciation of it all expands.
At the beginning of your teen years a few things take place… Often the change of school means a change in your religious education or your connection to a ritual based practice. As peer interaction becomes more important, spiritual belief is often not part of the dialogue or not accepted at all in the peer group. As independence increases, the connection to the family and parents is strained, rules are questioned, love is measured, small failings become big issues. The icing on the cake is the very body the person lives in begins to change, become alien and come under scrutiny from the self and others. So the typical young person is bereft of contentment in their relation to a spiritual life, a family life and comfort in their own body – how can they possibly feel settled or at peace? Well, what I believe after hearing Charlotta discuss this is; if yoga is practised in a way that acknowledges the deep philosophical tradition it descends from while also being made accessible it can reconnect young people to what they have lost in a new, empowering way.
You can find out more about the amazing work Charlotta is doing and find out about her other Irish courses at http://www.teenyoga.co.uk/