Six years ago, I began teaching teens in the public schools of New York City through Integral Yoga’s Yoga at School program. My own yoga journey began at age fourteen, and my personal transformation as an adolescent inspired me to share the practice with youth. Initially, I was intimidated to work with teens, but the moment I began teaching, something magical was born.
Most of the students came into the yoga class like any other teenager: angry, anxious, depressed, reactive, and insecure. Slowly, though, I began to see changes over the course of the semester. They weren’t as reactive. They weren’t as fidgety. The tension in their bodies started to soften. They smiled more. They sat up a little straighter, and their voices became stronger. Kind words replace expletives. Windows opened where there were once walls. And by the end of the semester, the 20 students I sent off into the world were not the 20 students who sulked into the door the first day. What an incredible gift to share with young people—a gift they can carry with them the rest of their lives. After witnessing the transformative power of yoga in my students, my life’s work has been devoted to This particular game does not feature 8s, 9s and 10s, but it is similar to Blackjack in most other ways. making this ancient practice accessible to modern teens.
At the end of the semester when I ask students how they benefited from the program, they say things like “It has helped me grow into a stronger and more peaceful version of myself.” “Yoga has helped me to heal myself and forgive others.” “I learned how to breathe to control my anger.” “I am finally able to just be myself around others.” “My relationship with my mother is better.” “I am more kind.”
Yoga not only has an immediate effect on teens, but also makes an indelible imprint in their lives, long after the semester long course is over. One student, after having taken a semester of yoga her senior year in high school, decided to go to a holistic health college instead of culinary school. She is now about to complete her yoga teaching certification. Other students stay connected to the Integral Yoga Institute after their yoga course is completed and take classes and do karma yoga there. Others bring yoga to their own communities, teaching their friends and siblings, and even inviting their parents to start taking yoga classes. Teens living their yoga in their daily lives and sharing it with their communities is one of the greatest fruits of their practice. After all, the world ultimately needs them to be ambassadors of peace in the chaotic world we live in today.
I teach yoga to teens because I believe that if we can open the hearts and minds of our youth, we can open the heart of the world. It is my hope that more and more yoga teachers will be inspired to bring this practice to a population that so desperately needs it. Investing in the hearts and minds of teens is also an investment in the future of our planet. Yoga is one of the greatest gifts we can give to the next generation.