Helping Teens With Anxiety Through Yoga Practice

Teens Learn Yoga to Cope with Anxiety

Regular yoga practice can help teens relieve chronic stress patterns and relax the mind

Helping Teens With Anxiety Through Yoga Practice

January 25, 2021

Many of us remember puberty and adolescence as the realization of what little control we had over our changing bodies. This is also the time that many children begin to experience elevated levels of anxiety, fueled by social awkwardness, family dysfunction and loss - all areas beyond our control.

Prolonged anxiety and stress are known to have devastating effects on the body and mind - especially the adolescent mind that is continuing to mature. Aside from the physical benefits, yoga helps an individual manage stress through the practice of meditation and breathing.

“Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration,” said Natalie Nevins, DO, a board-certified osteopathic family physician and certified Kundalini Yoga instructor in Hollywood, CA.

Adolescents at Elk River Treatment Program often arrive to the residential program with out-of-control behaviors such as substance use, depression and self-harm that are often symptoms of unaddressed childhood trauma. Children learn to cope with painful emotions the best way they can and unfortunately many use risky and unsafe behaviors.

That is one of the reasons Elk River Treatment Program has long provided a holistic approach to therapeutic treatment including professional yoga instruction. For the past year, clients have enjoyed the always pleasant, gentle mannered Jane Ringbloom who leads yoga practice twice a week. Already trained as a group fitness certified instructor through the American Counsel of Exercise (ACE), Jane turned her focus to yoga about three years ago. She began building her knowledge in all areas of yoga philosophy and earned her 500-hour certificate in 2020. She is now working on her 900-hour yoga therapy training registered with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Early in 2021, Jane completed 140 hours of Trauma Sensitive Teacher Training which no doubt helps guide her practices with clients at Elk River Treatment Program for adolescents.

The following is a Q & A with Jane about her experience teaching clients at Elk River in a residential setting.

Q. When you were approached to teach yoga at Elk River Treatment Program, what were your thoughts or expectations?

A. My initial thought was, "What and where is Elk River Treatment Center?" I have lived in north Alabama since 2007 and I had never heard of Elk River. It is very nicely tucked away in the amazing Elkmont countryside. My main concern about teaching there was that I might not be equipped to offer the clients the peace they need to experience in a therapeutic yoga practice. I had no expectations for them, but I set very high expectations of myself, and I try to improve myself and our sessions every time I walk into our shared space.

Q. Did you encounter any surprises about the clients or how they respond to yoga?

A. Nothing surprising, but it is always interesting to see how the clients progress through their treatment. Upon our first session together, most clients don't engage with me and choose a yoga mat that's in the back of our class space. I can usually see when they start to have breakthroughs in their treatment, because they set up their mats closer to me and talk with me about how different postures and stretches feel in the body. They will also talk with me about how they feel after our session. It is a joy to see that transition to being comfortable with turning their awareness within.

Q. What are the benefits of yoga in general and how does it benefit teenagers specifically?

A. There are so many benefits of starting and maintaining a yoga practice as a teenager. It teaches one to not only breathe, but also the importance of the quality of breath. It teaches one to listen to his/her body and honor the body's needs. Yoga is a constant practice of letting go of judgement of ourselves and others, and letting go of expectations of how each moment should unfold. The yogic breathing techniques bring the mind and body into homeostasis, which can help a person dealing with trauma to reset nervous system function and be able to process a past experience in a safe and healthy way. One can learn to be a witness to the emotions he/she feels without being carried away by them and possibly reacting in a manner that may cause harm to themselves and others. Practicing yoga regularly has shown to reduce stress, anxiety and anger, help gain better mental focus, and reduce symptoms of depression by moving one out of the sympathetic nervous system function (fight/flight response) and into parasympathetic nervous system function (rest/digest state).