Yoga for Tweens
We’ve known what powerful tools yoga and mindfulness are for a long time. In an increasingly busy world where there is always a phone ringing or a notification binging we don’t take the same opportunities to reset and restore ourselves in a holistic way. Even when we aren’t directly communicating with someone else, we still spend a huge amount of our time glued to our mobile phones. We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram browsing through the profiles of our friends, celebrities we admire and even complete strangers. It can quickly spiral from just looking and admiring to excessive interest and even obsession. These snapshots into the lives of others can be catalysts for jealousy, envy, self-criticism, low self-esteem, obsession with the aesthetic world or isolating of one’s self from the real world in favour of the life created online. Of course not all social media is bad, but it is one example of the sort of complexity we experience in modern society, making it unchartered territory compared to the tech-free upbringing of most of today’s adults. We have been told how important it is to be able to disconnect, retreat from the constant stimulation and bombardment of technology, escape from the stress of your life and take time to get in touch with yourself, to reconnect with your authentic self and assess what in life is actually of value to you. As adults, we still find this really hard (like, really, really hard) and if we find it hard, imagine how it feels for a pre-teen or teenager.
Pre-teens or ‘tweens’, kids between, roughly, the ages of nine and twelve, are facing a much more complex transition from childhood into teenage years than anything we, as adults now, experienced. They are going through a huge growth spurt, both mentally and physically. A lot of kids this age are experiencing early signs of adolescence and wrestling with the hormonal changes that entails. As an older child there is more expected of you, not only with regard to your own performance in school, behaviour at home or extra-curricular activities, but also to be a role model for younger children coming up behind you. Tweens are finding their voices, getting to grips with more subtle aspects of language like sarcasm and irony, developing their own personality and sense of humour as well as beginning to think about what they believe in and what they stand for. They want to share this information and they want to connect with people of similar interests. Something critical that happens when moving into the adult world, is that reality becomes more important than the imaginary and children are moving rapidly from the realm of playing pretend and using their imaginations to being suddenly being handed a mobile phone and having all the good and all the evil of the world at their fingertips. Entering puberty, it’s suddenly way more important than it was before to be accepted amongst your peers and far less important to comply with the rules and limitations put in place by the adults that previously manipulated your experience of the world. Being ‘’in’ often comes down to the sort of online presence you have; how many followers you have, who’s following you, whether or not you have seen the latest hit YouTube video or celebrity update. When we were kids the transition from child to tween was rocky territory; now it’s a minefield.
With this drastic culture change, we need to educate ourselves on all of the new difficulties and obstacles facing our kids. We want to help them to have a healthy balance between school, extra-curriculars, time with friends, socialising, family time and personal interests. Balance is the key word here. It’s hard to get statistics on social media usage amongst tweens and teens because most sites have a sign-up clause stating that you must be over eighteen (not that this is in any way verifiable, you just tick a box saying ‘I am over 18’) and so their stats are skewed by this. According to research done by hootsuite.com, 63% of 13 to 27 year-olds use Instagram daily and they are spending at least 35 minutes a day on the app. Instagram is probably the most popular app used amongst these younger users, alongside Snapchat. Netflix documentary Follow This recently conducted an experiment that featured journalist Charlie Warzel, a professional in his mid thirties, having his phone taken from him while he performed his normal job at his desk. He was hooked up to a machine to track his heart rate and blood-pressure and those conducting the experiment proceeded to send him text messages, social-media notifications and even phone calls, none of which he was allowed to check, as they held onto his phone. They found that his heart rate and blood-pressure increased significantly over the duration of the experiment, suggesting that merely being without his phone was a source of anxiety. On top of that, social-media notifications and text (or WhatsApp) notifications induced a huge spike in Charlie’s stats, while hearing his phone ring and being unable to even check who it was led to a huge spike in his stress-levels. He reported feeling anxious, stressed, upset, frustrated and unable to concentrate on his work while the experiment took place. These symptoms are mirroring those of serious addiction and in this new form we are only now learning how to combat the effects of this potentially addictive tool we are putting in the hands of our children.
Yoga and mindfulness are practises that are being utilised more than ever before and amongst a wide and dynamic range of participants. Mindfulness helps us to step aside and take more of a helicopter view of a situation. Yoga helps us to connect with our physical selves and, on a deeper level, our spiritual selves. It takes us out of our heads and the swirling outer world around us and roots us back in our bodies in the here and now.
Benefits of a Yoga and Mindfulness practice for kids and pre-teens;
1. Soothing of the Central Nervous System:
Just knowing that for the next hour, or whatever length of time it is, it’s going to be just you and your mat. You’re immediately tapping into the central nervous system (CNS) just by experiencing the texture of the mat and the feel of it beneath your skin. Anything that soothes the CNS is a good thing!
2. Parking all other expectations:
Between school, sports, hobbies, socialising and other extra-curriculars, it can be hard to to switch off. Knowing that for the next hour or so, you are exactly where you are supposed to be and you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing creates a space for you to slow down and just be. There are no expectations other than for you and your body to engage with instructions from their teacher.
3. It is a mobile phone free zone!
You get a break from your phone and being constantly plugged-in in a way that isn’t too distracting (or even distressing) because you know that you can have your phone back again once the practise is over.
4. Adapting to new bodies:
As our tweens are going through this period of transition where their bodies are growing and changing, yoga helps them to feel comfortable and empowered in their changing physique, as well as helping to soothe concerns or worries they may be carrying internally with regard to their shape or size.
5. Body Positivity:
As we practise yoga we start to experience some of the amazing things our bodies can do. On top of that, we can feel ourselves getting stronger, which builds confidence and self-esteem as well as helping to offset any negative body image issues that can creep up while looking at the photoshop perfection of size 0 Instagram models.
Young minds are growing so quickly their thoughts are constantly jumping around and they may find it hard to focus. Mindfulness is about teaching us how to still our minds and focus solely on the here and now.
7. Controlling our breathing:
Pranayama, or breathing practise, is another thing that soothes our CNS and helps to calm our minds. Soothing rhythm breathing can be brought from the yoga mat into everyday life, helping to manage racing thoughts and emotions throughout our normal day..
8. Growing pains:
Deep stretching can help to offset growing pains.
9. Period pains:
Menstrual pain can often be upsetting and painful for younger people. Yoga can help young women to feel empowered in their bodies even during their period. There are also lots of poses to help ease pain in achey tummies and backs.
10. Physical relief from a busy schedule:
Yoga is a great way to get a sense of relief throughout the body, particular when someone is into sports, dance or other physical activities where there might not be a lot of time dedicated to stretching, either before or after the session.
In soothing the CNS, yoga helps to promote sleep, as does mindfulness through the slowing and regulation of thought processes.
12. Promotes emotional intelligence:
It creates a safe space in which both boys and girls can connect with and acknowledge their emotions and feelings, thereby building emotional resilience and confidence that they can handle whatever emotional obstacles come their way.
Yoga is about community. It is a place where new friends can be made, possibly outside of our normal circle, which can be a good thing for rapidly expanding young minds.
14. Attention span:
The mindfulness practise of bringing our focus back over and over helps to build attention spans.
15. Clear mind:
Mindfulness helps with critical thinking and executive function. These skills helps our tweens to learn how to make good decisions and think for themselves and to do so with as little stress as possible.
If you have a pre-teen or teenager in your life that you think could benefit from yoga but you don’t know where to start, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0860747694 to book into a class. Please do leave a comment and let us know if you have an experience you would like to share!