To Be or Not To Be? Supporting Teens in Managing Stress through Yoga

In William Shakespeare's play, “Hamlet,” the famous question is posed, "to be, or not to be, that is the question: whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer". “Hamlet” was first performed in 1600 and dramatized a quest for peace of mind. That timeless quest remains relevant today, especially for teenagers.


Having raised two children through adolescence, I have seen firsthand how critical it is to prioritize and promote a "peaceful mind" with teens, versus one where "tis nobler for the mind to suffer". When demands for their time and attention increased over the years including school and academic pressures, sports schedules, peer relationships or lack thereof, technology, etc, it was easy to see the strain that was created…and the resulting challenges experienced and expressed, sometimes not so constructively.

A recent report by the American Psychological Association (APA) highlighted that stress with teens follows a similar pattern as in adults, and during the school year, teens' report even higher stress levels than do adults. Further, teens reported stress levels exceed what is considered healthy (5.8 during school versus 3.9 while not in school, on a 10-point scale). In fact, according to the APA's 2013 Stress In America Survey, teenagers are now considered the most stressed age group in the U.S.

Following are some interesting statistics:

  • Nearly half (49%) of all students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis and 31 percent reported feeling somewhat stressed according to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology in July 2015, a team of NYUCN researchers led by Leonard assessed the coping skills, academic.

  • At least 52 percent of teens have been bullied online according to the iSafe Foundation (2014).

  • 24% of teens go online “almost constantly,” facilitated by the widespread availability of smartphones.according to a new study from Pew Research Center.

  • 95% of teens have felt inferior at some point of their lives according to a study by stagelife.com.

Beyond the obvious emotional and psychological effects of stress, stress also affects physical behavior, including exercise, sleep and eating.  More than one-third of teens report fatigue or feeling tired and nearly one-quarter of teens report skipping a meal because they are stressed and anxious.

As an experienced yoga teacher, I began training with ChildLight Yoga and its founder, Lisa Flynn, in 2010 which helped me thrive in my work with children.   As I became more involved teaching yoga to adolescents, I craved more training resources specific to teens, their unique stressors and developmental considerations. The ChildLight Yoga for Teens Teacher Trainingbrought me to a level of understanding that has strengthened my skills and supported me in numerous ways when teaching teens.

I learned how to best support youth as they navigate through the tween and teen years by providing opportunities to build self-esteem and promote healthy body image while teaching tools for coping with stress and peer pressure in a fun, non-competitive, non-judgmental environment. The training went into great depth on topics including:

  • Neuroscience of the teenage brain: why tweens and teens feel and act as they do

  • Engaging mindfulness practices to support self-awareness and self-regulation

  • Partner & group poses for building community and confidence

  • Yoga games: learning and connecting vs. competing

  • Breathing techniques for reducing stress and anxiety

  • Yoga philosophy relevant for the modern tween & teen

  • Visualizations & relaxation techniques to support emotional resilience

  • Introduction to mudras: yoga poses for your hands, whaaat?

  • Introduction to chakras: what’s energy got to do with it?

  • “Mat chats” for class and beyond

  • Lesson planning for successful, engaging classes

  • Teaching tips and tools: ensuring buy-in, creating a safe space, and more

  • Marketing and business strategies

  • Resources for continued growth and education

The training was transformative for me personally as well. I gained a new understanding of and compassion for my own inner teen. As well, I learned tools and discussions that are just as relevant for my adult classes as they are for youth.

I am blessed with the opportunity to teach teens yoga and mindfulness strategies for stress management and navigating through the unique stage of adolescence. Since my yoga teaching journey began in 2007, I have witnessed the highs and lows of teen life. I have further witnessed the impact yoga, and its countless lessons, has on helping move youth toward optimism and an improved sense of self-awareness, and thus more skillful living.

"To be or not to be?” My weekly class of teens enthusiastically reply, "to be present and stress free." And then we begin. I hope you’ll join me in learning more about yoga as a beneficial framework for cultivating resilience and compassion in our teens. Shakespeare integration is optional!

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