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It's Cool to Be Grounded

More and more teens are finding out that the calming, centering practice of yoga can help them find self-acceptance and confidence.

By Colleen Morton Busch

Mixed messages about drugs, as well as the fact that they are illicit, make them incredibly alluring to the teenage sensibility, in which experimentation and exploration are highly valued. What drives kids to abuse drugs is no different from what motivates adults with addictions: When life is too painful or intense, a high can take the edge off. While Gordhamer doesn't condone drug use, he doesn't condemn the users. "When kids talk about what it is like to be on drugs," he notes, "they often say, 'My body is relaxed, and my mind is not worried about anything.' When I tell them that this is what spiritual seekers through the ages have sought, they can't believe it. They no longer have to think they are bad or problematic just because they have this desire. In fact, they are expressing a desire for something very profound."

Most teens who get into one type of trouble or another are reacting to thwarted desires--for money, respect, safety, or love. "They sense something greater than themselves that is not being acknowledged," says Krishna Kaur, founder of Yoga for Youth, an L.A.-based national juvenile outreach program. Indeed, Jamie (not her real name), a 17-year-old resident of the same San Francisco halfway house as Tonya, says she did drugs "because I didn't care about myself. I didn't believe anybody cared about me."

Gonzales is living proof that yoga and mindfulness can reach deeply into the hearts of disenchanted youths and help them find a freedom greater than they had dreamed possible. "I had a lot of problems, and they diminished when I was practicing," he says. "Of course they still existed, but I didn't feel like I had to cling to them." Jamie acknowledges that a tendency toward addiction may be a permanent part of her character, "but if addiction is how you live, you can at least be addicted to something positive, like yoga. When I do yoga, I don't have the need to use. My body tells me what I need, and I am learning how to listen."

Positive Risks

The term "at risk" usually refers to disadvantaged children, who are prone to dropping into delinquency, but it might well apply to all teenagers, fundamentally unstable, vulnerable, and impressionable. And yet, where there is risk, there is possibility. Knowing that adolescence is a time when kids form the attitudes and habits that will shape their adulthood, we can endeavor to reach out to teens with yoga--not to eliminate all risk (an impossible task), but rather to cultivate the positive risks that define a conscious life, like loving and trusting one another.

This can be hard to do. Teenagers don't easily trust adults, and for adults, "teens are often hard to read--they can appear aloof and dramatic and be pierced all over," as Mary Lynn Fitton says. "However, we need to remember how scary it was to be a teen. They are even more confused and afraid than those of us working with them." Like Fitton, Kane believes that we, as adults, should look to our own youth, "in all its glorious awkwardness, to begin to understand where young adults are coming from."

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