The Power of Youth

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At the tender age of nine, Alayne Trinko of Palos Heights, Illinois, is officially a "tween." She's no longer a child, but not yet a teenager. She's also a budding yogini who practices four days per week. Trinko draws on the techniques she learns in yoga class to help her navigate the daily self-identity issues and hormonal fluctuations that are a natural part of preadolescence. In particular, she relies on meditation and breathwork. "In the morning sometimes I just don't want to wake up. Centering gets me up and going. It makes me feel really soothed," she says.

Recently, more and more yoga teachers are signing up to teach tweens, and they're finding that the work is rewarding. "It's a really important and challenging time. It's the beginning of physiological changes and societal pressure, " says Marsha Wenig, founder of YogaKids International and author of Educating the Whole Child Through Yoga. The quandary for kids, their parents, and their yoga teachers is to build a more sophisticated self-image that's also age-appropriate.

If you'd like to try teaching tweens, you can best serve them if you understand their needs and tailor classes to suit their unique situations.

Build Trust and Credibility

To effectively introduce yoga to this rather judgmental audience, try to connect at their level. Take an interest in their likes and appeal to their preferences. Music is seen as the universal language of tweens, so encourage them to bring in their own songs. Be curious and listen. By creating flows to music that resonates with their tastes, yoga will become more relevant. (See below for sample playlist by Marsha Wenig.)

Wenig recommends teaching girls and boys separately at this age, because their interests often vary as they form their gender identities. Because their world is usually all about fitting in, classes for tweens of either gender should be fun and noncompetitive. "Yoga can level the playing field. It's a time for them to form a bond and help each other," Wenig says. "And it is not so much about the poses. asana is simply a springboard into the brain and body." By teaching young students self-awareness, tweens build mindful habits and confidence that make self-acceptance easier to access.

Sequence for Balance

Asana can provide relief from a number of issues plaguing tweens. Tara Guber, president and founder of Yoga Ed, suggests Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) to balance the endocrine system and relieve hormonal imbalance. These inversions also improve oxygen flow through better circulation.

Forward bends can soothe the nervous system and help with disrupted sleep. Wenig suggests Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), and Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend) to provide a sense of relaxation.

Given tweens' propensity to daydream, be sure to include a mix of balancing poses such as Garudasana (Eagle Pose), Vrksasana (Tree), Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon), and even Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance). "Any balancing pose brings on focus," says Guber, "but Dancer is the most profound."

For irritability and mood swings, Gruber says Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) stimulates serotonin production that balances the mind and body. Sun Salutation, in all its permutations, also teaches students individual asanas so they can create their own flows at home.

Incorporate Meditation and Pranayama

Wenig suggests Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate-nostril breathing) as a powerful pranayama technique for tweens since it helps them come to center. An even simpler technique—breathe in for five and out for five—is something that these kids can do throughout their day to bring them back to the present moment.

Finally, creative meditation helps tweens focus inward, reducing the urge to peek at their friends. Help students cultivate compassion within themselves by reminding them that it's not about the external pose. Instead, have students visualize themselves as confident and strong in the face of someone who makes them nervous. Or let them imagine taking a test and feeling the information come forward with ease and grace.

"Meditation is the most powerful tool we have to change the state we're in," says Guber. "We have to teach tweens that they have choices and that happiness resides within. It helps for everyone to close their eyes and feel the energy in the room. This creates safety, acceptance, and belonging."

Playlist by Marsha Wenig

Wenig starts her classes with centering and meditation, so the first song is fairly mellow and should be played as the tweens are coming into class.

  1. Sammasati, Deva Premal
  2. Bubble Toes, Jack Johnson
  3. Beautiful, Christina Aguilera
  4. Strength, Courage and Wisdom, India Arie
  5. Where Is the Love (CDS), Black Eyed Peas/Justin Timberlake
  6. Slide, The Goo Goo Dolls
  7. Roll If Ya Fall, Barefoot Truth
  8. Mr. Jones, Counting Crows
  9. Black and Gold, Sam Sparro
  10. Party in the USA, Miley Cyrus
  11. ABC, Michael Jackson
  12. Hey, Soul Sister, Train
  13. California Girls, Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg
  14. All She Wants to Do Is Dance, Don Henley
  15. I'm Yours, James Blunt
  16. Where My Girls At, 702
  17. Bubbly, Colbie Caillat
  18. Three Little Birds, Bob Marley
  19. Waiting on the World to Change, John Mayer
  20. You're Beautiful, James Blunt

Liz Yokubison is a freelance writer, yogi, and mother of twin tweens.