For three years, I have taught a weekly yoga class to under-resourced teens. It is the happiest hour of my workweek. Both male and female students ranging in age from 13 to 18 participate. Like most teens, my students are navigating foreign and awkward territory. They experience hormonal changes, school stress, peer pressure and trying to become comfortable in their skin. However, my youth also encounter violence, hunger, and unstable home environments. As a result, they can checkout, have low self-esteem, difficulty focusing, act up or be in a constant state of fight or flight. Due to the trauma they face, some suffer from high levels of stress and depression. This all has a long term impact on physical and mental health, academic performance, forming stable and secure relationships, positive goal setting and accomplishment.
Class participants start in a circle. Each youth says a word or phrase that captures how they are feeling in the moment. It’s common to hear a mix of words like, happy, mellow, neutral, stressed, tired and sad. The students complete a reflection exercise and then move to a Hatha or Restorative yoga practice. Each week, the yoga and reflection activities are designed to build upon one another. Through yoga, participants learn to be healthy, engaged, relaxed and empowered; tools which enable them to pursue their dreams and live as leaders. They become comfortable and connected to their bodies and emotions, learn how to self-regulate through deep breathing, practice mindfulness, focus and connect to their hearts. Class ends with students sitting in a closing circle to share their moods. A shift often occurs, and words like relaxed, happy, great and flexible flow out of the teens’ mouths. What are the long-term impacts? One of my students said it best, “When life is stressful, relax. Yoga has taught me that if I stay focused, I can do anything.”
Shannon LeCompte has her M.Ed in Higher Education and is a Director at a national non-profit that empowers youth to attend and graduate from college. She is also a certified yoga instructor and teaches Restorative and Vinyasa yoga to adults and teens in the San Francisco Bay Area. She can be reached at email@example.com