Yoga and Teen Angst

two teens doing yoga

I recently finished an article about the mental benefits that yoga can have for people suffering from mental illnesses- specifically depression, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD.

After finishing this post, I started reflecting on my past blog posts and comparing the different scenarios where yoga proved to be incredibly beneficial for frustrating days, calming yourself down and centering your thoughts… In other words, mentally centering yourself.

One of my favorite blog posts that I’ve written is about how beneficial yoga can be for young children to practice.  Before that article, I hadn’t realized the stresses that children go through (we might scoff, comparing their seemingly simple lives to our adult responsibilities and stresses, but children truly are going through many mental anxieties.)

To quote my past article, “Three year olds crave stability and predictability, four year olds begin to develop feelings of insecurity, five year olds begin school, six year olds face meeting expectations of parents and competition from peers. Seven year olds can be moody, pensive and unhappy. Eight year olds become insecure about their appearances and ability to perform, the nine year old starts to become rebellious and finally, the 10-18 gap begins to experience puberty, the stresses related to school, growing up, and peer pressures.”

I then focused my article on the benefits of yoga for the 3-10 year old age groups, those benefits being: improved self-esteem, a stress-free way to stay active (some parents are anti-competitive sports for their young children) and a setting that promotes respect, kindness and creativity.

I thought back to my yoga and mental health article, and started to think about all aspects of mood changes and times of depression in people’s lives- not just clinically diagnosed ones requiring them to seek medical help. I quickly realized I had been missing an obvious connection.

I completely skipped the 10-18 age group, and I shouldn’t have, because while young children are at a very impressionable age and have unique stresses that come from entering the world for the first time, figuring out how to manage brand new experiences and learning how to healthily express and channel their emotions, teenagers are going through a completely different, yet equally stressful, set of radical changes.

Patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or depression, are prone to mood swings, outbursts, inability to complete tasks and irritability… you’ll have to forgive me if I offend you or your child, but when I read those symptoms I can’t help but to imagine myself and other friends as angst-y 14 year olds.

Yoga has the potential to dramatically shift unhealthy, negative and damaging emotions and replace them instead with happy, helpful constructive ones. According to the American Psychological Association, “several recent studies suggest that yoga may help strengthen social attachments, reduce stress and relieve anxiety, depression and insomnia.” 

Those studies and their results involved adults with clinically diagnosed mental illnesses- but social attachment issues, stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia are all emotions that teenagers also experience.

painting of depressed person

When searching “yoga and teen angst,” a few blogs came up, one I found particularly interesting. Andrea Lee appeared as a guest blogger on the website, Be You Out Loud, and wrote an article entitled, “Om-azing Grace.” 

In her article she describes how helpful yoga has been for her the past fourteen years of her life, specifically during the “emotional turmoil of [her] teen years.” She describes developing a resistance to things that were good for her and even though she felt a special connection to yoga, she wasn’t ready to let go of her unhealthy habits- it felt like a sacrifice.

In 2009 however, it occurred to her that she wanted to teach yoga to teenagers. In her words, “[Teen years] are the years during which so much of our programming gets locked in, and many adults seem never to transcend it. I want to help kids find the strength and balance- in body, mind and spirit- to navigate the while squalls of high school life with their dignity and identity intact.”

I loved this, because I feel the potential is high for a teen’s behavior to be written off and ignored as a spout of “difficult angst,” rather than us actually taking the time to reflect on what their emotions and minds are experiencing.

Mental illnesses are taken seriously- hospitals and treatment programs treat mental illnesses seriously. Treatment programs have begun to turn to and explore the mental power of yoga, integrating the practice as a recovery platform (along with psychotherapy) for diagnosed patients.

If teens express and show the same emotion and symptoms as some diagnosed mental illnesses, why wouldn’t we take that just as seriously and try to help teens by teaching them to work through their struggles with the use of healthy mental techniques, or, yoga? I would assume a teen would experience the same beneficial outcomes that diagnosed patients have already shown to. 

Have you had a similar experience where yoga helped you to overcome a mentally challenging stage in your life? 

Share in the comments below!

authorSky Andersen holds down the role of blog writer at Yoga Accessories. Currently studying Public Relations at Virginia Commonwealth University, she writes for many different publications and is passionate about all things photography, travel and of course- yoga.