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The first stage of massive hormonal changes takes place during the turbulent years of adolescence, when the brain’s neurochemical circuitry is getting established and both brain and body go through the undulating levels of estrogen and progesterone that make adolescent girls fertile. The fluctuating hormones of puberty can result in impulsive behavior, as the amygdala, a part of the limbic system involved with emotions, is infused with hormonal fuel. And the general hormonal flux can bring on buzzing energy, mood swings, and troubled skin as well as a new focus on communication, social connections, and sexuality. Girls are increasingly sensitive during this time and often unsure of how to deal with sexual attention from others. Yoga can help teens be more at peace with their bodies, according to Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. “The practice of postures, breathing, and meditation helps achieve emotional equilibrium,” she says, “allowing teens to truly hear the messages of their own heart and make choices that resonate with their personal values.”
Starting a Practice as a Teenager
Christiane Northrup, a physician and the author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, thinks adolescence “lends itself to a strenuous yoga practice”—a vigorous sequence of Sun Salutations and vinyasa flow to allow teens to channel their intense energy. But yoga for teens shouldn’t be all jumping around, cautions Krucoff, who has seen firsthand how difficult it is for teens to be still in Savasana (Corpse Pose). “They’ve grown up texting while watching TV, IM’ing while listening to CDs,” Krucoff says. “They are so wound up and stressed out, they don’t know how to just be.” Start off with a dynamic sequence to release energy, then quiet the body and mind with seated poses and forward bends.
As Lindsey Jean Smith, who was 19 when she modeled the poses on these pages, can attest, learning to watch the breath and stay in the moment can improve concentration, help teen girls interact with others more mindfully, and empower them with the tools to ride the emotional wave of their monthly cycle more smoothly. Difficult poses can build self-esteem, and restorative poses can help with PMS. Smith says yoga saved her during the “traumatic, emotional roller coaster” of her senior year of high school. The stress of applying to college was isolating. “I felt so alone. I was a mess,” she recalls. Then she signed up for yoga classes offered through the PE program. “With the first pose, my body thanked me. I built strength. My body and mind became more flexible, and stress melted off,” says Smith, who was then a freshman at Stanford University.
3 Yoga Poses Will Help You Get Through Your Teenage Years
Upward Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Benefits: Increases confidence and teaches surrender during turbulent times.
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Bring your hands on the floor next to your ears, elbows facing up, fingers pointing toward your toes, and hands spread wide. On an exhalation, lift your tailbone toward the ceiling and bring your buttocks off the floor. Take 3 deep breaths. From here, press into your hands, firm your shoulder blades onto your back, and come onto the crown of your head. Your arms should still be parallel to each other. Take 3 deep breaths. Next, press your hands and feet firmly into the floor, and on an exhalation lift your head off the floor and straighten your arms, coming into the full backbend. Lengthen the tailbone toward the back of the knees and turn the upper thighs slightly in. Once again firm your shoulder blades onto your back. Stay for 3–10 breaths and slowly lower down.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Benefits: Quiets an active mind and balances out mood swings common during adolescence.
Come onto your hands and knees with your knees directly below your hips and your hands underneath your shoulders. Spread your hands and press into your index fingers and thumbs. Turn your toes under, and, on an exhalation, lift your knees off the floor, lengthen your tailbone away from your pelvis, lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling, and begin to slowly straighten your legs. As you push the top of your thighs back and press into the floor with your hands, allow your heels to move toward the floor. Bring your head between your arms. Let your shoulder blades move away from your ears, and roll the upper thighs slightly inward. Stay here for 2–5 minutes. To come out, bend your knees and sit back onto your heels and move into Balasana (Child’s Pose).
Plank Pose with Uddiyana Bandha Upward Abdominal Lock
Benefits: Builds a strong core, essential throughout life.
From Down Dog, bring your torso forward and down so it makes a straight line from the crown of your head to your feet. Make sure your hands are on the ground directly below your shoulders. Spread your weight equally into all fingers. Straighten your legs and make sure that the middle of your body doesn’t sag toward the floor. Press strongly into the floor with your hands, let your shoulder blades move down your back, press the front of your thighs toward the ceiling, and imagine the energy moving out through the crown of your head. Smile softly as you look down at the floor to keep your jaw relaxed. Stay here for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. To increase the intensity, engage Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock). Inhale deeply for 7 counts, hold the breath for 4 counts, and then exhale until the lungs are completely empty. Hold the breath out as you pull your navel toward your spine. After a count of 4, inhale gently and repeat the cycle two more times. To come out, press back into Child’s Pose.
See also Upward Abdominal Lock
About the Author
Nora Isaacs, a former editor at Yoga Journal, is the author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age. Learn more about her writing and editing work at noraisaacs.com.