Middle school is hard.
Stop anyone in the street and ask them about their middle school / junior school / junior high experience, and you will undoubtedly be rewarded with some variety of grimace. It’s just a tumultuous time in so many ways—socially, physically, emotionally, psychologically, hormonally—it’s hard to count them all. And the atmosphere laid by the fog of the last fifteen months only serves to hone that sharp point even more. During this period of life, any means an adolescent has at their disposal to help soften that edge should be celebrated and amplified, right?
I didn’t truly discover my own practice until I was well into my twenties, but oh gosh how it would have helped me to navigate my adolescent and teen years. It could have been an anchor, a safe space and also a way to develop a deeper friendship with a body that was changing seemingly by the day. Just like my two best friends, who I met between the ages of 12 and 15 and who remain my two besties to this day, my yoga practice could have held a role of real gravitas from my adolescence onward.
Science is in agreement on this point. Studies continue to show that elements across the eight limbs of yoga hold important benefits to kids. Let’s take meditation (dhyana) for example. Some schools now implementing daily meditation breaks are seeing a rise in attentiveness, a decrease in acting out, and a boost in test scores. Studies on meditation / mindfulness like this one corroborate that theory, revealing positive results not only in students’ actions but in their amygdalas too.
Similarly, gentle movement and yoga postures (asana) have been demonstrated to not only boost flexibility, muscle tone and bone health, but also to support balance from youth through seniority. This is not a small benefit for kids during puberty—balance can be quite a tricky business when you’re growing a couple of inches per year (just ask my 12-year-old). And let’s face it—many kids are not getting the same level of physical exercise that their peers did two decades ago. The fact that the rate of childhood obesity in 2017-18 was 19.3% according to the CDC speaks loudly enough that I need not continue along this thread any longer.
These are all compelling benefits, if you ask me. But as both a student of yoga and a person who has benefited importantly from the mind-body -spirit gifts of the practice, it is the personalized, unique partnership of yoga and yogi that may be most important of all. Each person’s practice is unique to him or her, changing according to the practitioner’s needs day after day and from one decade to the next. To begin that friendship at ten years old can only add years of wonderful experiences to a young person’s lifetime. And not for nothing, fond yoga memories fit in brilliantly with photos of girls’ weekends and stories from years ago that make us laugh until we can’t breathe. And once that happens, back to the pranayama. See? Full circle. 🙂
Sunny Street Yoga is a community shala in Peachtree Corners, GA featuring live and virtual group classes, including a weekly in-studio Youth Yoga offering. sunnystreetyoga.com