On teaching teens

For four weeks last spring, I taught Iyengar yoga to 40 teenagers. All were academically gifted students enrolled in an early-admission university program. While a couple had done yoga in elementary school or with Wii Fit, most had never attended a single yoga class.

Thank goodness they were split into two groups of 20. Teens, no matter how advanced academically, behave nothing like adults in class! While I taught a particular subset of teenagers, here are my observation on teaching teens versus adults:

  • Teens can’t stop talking I mistakenly assumed that because these kids were stellar students, they would immediately shut their traps and listen silently (as do adult students). No way! They are chatterboxes before, during, and after class. They exclaim when doing a balance pose and they fall out. They giggle with their friends. They make fun of one another. I had to balance being strict and letting them have release tension in their teenage way.
  • Teens might know nothing about yoga When adults attend yoga classes, they have chosen, for one reason or another, to be there. For whatever reason (physical, mental, spiritual), they are interested in yoga. Here, my yoga series was a mandatory course (as were courses on soccer and hip-hop dancing), whether they were enthusiastic or apathetic about yoga. I had to start from scratch with them: What is yoga? Who is Iyengar? How can yoga affect their bodies and minds?
  • Asana ability is extremely wide ranging In my two groups, asana ability ran the gamut. Some couldn’t bend forward 45º with straight legs and concave upper back. Raising the arms into Urdhva Hastasana was a major event! At the other extreme was a wisp of a girl whom I could’ve led into full Natarajasana right then and there. Adults are also physically diverse, of course, but I found the level of ability more wide ranging in teens.
  • Teens can be very disconnected with their bodies If I tell an adult, “Press the inner edges of your shoulder blades into your back,” most understand what to do. Especially in outdoorsy, sporty Vancouver, adults generally have learned basic anatomy from their activities, injuries, or a few decades of life. Teens might not know anatomical terms and, if not physically active, might have little kinesthetic awareness.
  • Strength and flexibility might mean nothing to teens Most adults, regardless of fitness level, want to improve their strength, flexibility, and overall health. Teens? Those who play sports or who are active might care. But some might not care at all. So the teacher must find other ways to generate motivation.
  • Teens want to try everything Even if a teen has no interest in yoga (or limited range of motion), if I introduced tricky, fun-looking poses (like Padmasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana), they wanted to try it. Immediately. More than once I had to yell at them to simmer down and pay attention or they could injure themselves. (Fortunately their bodies, whether agile or not, are resilient.)
  • Savasana is conducive to stillness While some could barely contain themselves during the active asana practice, most were absolutely quiet in Savasana. A couple of students couldn’t keep their eyes closed or jostled each other during Savasana, which is clearly an indicator of maturity in teens and in adults. But most readily, willingly, settled down.


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