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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


When Corn initially started teaching yoga at Children of the Night, she was forbidden from touching the students for fear of triggering traumatic body memories. Eventually, Corn got the organization's leadership to agree that she could touch her students if she first asked for and received their permission to do so. Now the students line up to get hugged before and after class. Given the choice, they choose love.

One 13-year-old girl Corn worked with created her own self-soothing meditation as part of her healing process. First, she imagines a hollow purple tree decorated with her favorite things. Then, one by one, she invites those she loves into the tree. Only when her first guest leaves does she invite the next loved one in. "In her imagination," marvels Corn, "she's arranged it so that she has the power to invite them in and ask them to leave. She initiates everything."

Acting Out

When Miguel Gonzales was 15 years old, he was sent to juvenile hall in New York state for armed robbery, joining the ranks of more than 100,000 delinquent American teens. Gonzales spent the next five years doing time for various offenses ranging from robbery to assault. Now 21 years old and a proud father of a son, Elijah, he is a youth advocate at the Lineage Project, a New York-based organization that brings meditation and yoga to incarcerated and at-risk youth.

Any parent of a teenager can tell you that adolescents test the boundaries of authority; it's just part of the process of growing up. Teens who lack supervision, who have been neglected by their parents, or who are disadvantaged due to societal and racial prejudices are often at special risk for having trouble with the rules of society and thus running afoul of the law. "Mr. Extravagant was my nickname," Gonzales recalls. "Since I wanted everyone to respect and know me, I would rob people and spend my money on pot or alcohol to share. It made me feel big and rich, but I was chasing something."

Tawanna Kane, executive director of the Lineage Project, observes that many of the children she works with "are filled with so much suffering that it overwhelms their ability to make clear choices or connect with the consequences of their choices." But Soren Gordhamer, the project's creator and author of a book about meditation for teens, Just Say Om! (Adams Media, 2001), detects a silver lining: "In many ways, youth in more challenging situations are more receptive to the possibility and power of awakening."

When faced with disciplinary problems in teens, adults often react punitively, by clamping down to control behavior and claiming to be the final arbiter of right and wrong. But Gordhamer takes a more yogic approach: "So much of the effort with teens seems to be focused on changing or correcting them. What comes across is that there's something wrong with them, an idea they will usually fiercely resist." Rather than correcting and critiquing, the teachers at the Lineage Project aim to help teens look more deeply at "what is true for them." Explains Gonzales, who co-teaches Lineage's yoga and meditation classes, "Kids may seem hostile, but responding by just getting firmer is a big mistake."

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