When you hear the word yoga, do you think of a person with his legs twisted up like a pretzel? If so, it may seem like yoga is very complicated or just for adults. Not true!
Kids and teens can do yoga for the same reasons grown-ups do: because it feels good to stretch out your body, slow down your breathing, and relax your mind. Yoga can help you feel calmer when life is busy and stressful. Aaahh...
What You Need
Anytime you start a new exercise routine, it's a good idea to check with a parent. A yoga class can be a great way to get started because the instructor can teach you how to get into the poses.
Find a large-enough space with few distractions. No TV or people, if possible. Wear comfortable workout clothes and no shoes or socks. A yoga mat can be helpful because it cushions a bit and keeps your feet from slipping. Yoga should not hurt, so go slow and ease into position. Go only as far as you comfortably can.
Why Yoga for Stress?
When you get stressed or nervous, many things can help you feel better. Talking with someone — a parent, friend, or school counselor — is a great idea because they can help you figure out what's wrong and start coming up with solutions.
In addition, you can ease stress through exercise. You probably know exercise is good for your health, but it's also a proven way to put you in a better mood. So it makes sense that yoga is a favorite activity among people who want to feel stronger and more relaxed.
Yoga includes a lot of stretching, but that's not all. Yoga also focuses on breathing and meditation, which means thinking calm thoughts. Practicing yoga is a chance to learn stretching/breathing/thinking skills that you can use to calm yourself down the next time you feel worried or overwhelmed. In other words, yoga can help your body stay loose and relaxed when things heat up!
Meditation is the first part of a stress-relieving yoga practice. Meditation means being calm, quiet, and focused. Some people call this "feeling centered." When you are feeling centered, you can do your best in stressful situations such as taking a test or working through a disagreement with a friend.
Try these meditation exercises:
Take a yoga vacation: Find a quiet, private place, like your bedroom. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Imagine a place where you feel safe and relaxed. Is it your best friend's backyard? Your grandma's house? Camping in the woods? Imagine yourself in this place for 3-5 minutes. You'll feel much calmer after your "yoga vacation."
Positive pictures: When you're feeling stressed about a big test, game, or performance, it can help to imagine it going really well. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Picture yourself feeling prepared for your test, kicking the winning goal in soccer, or reading your lines and getting a laugh from the audience. Of course, positive pictures can't take the place of actual preparation, but can help you feel confident!
If you meditate for just 5 minutes a day, it will help you feel good even when you're not meditating. The more you do it, the more it becomes part of your routine, like brushing your teeth or lacing up your cleats before a soccer game.
On one hand, you already know how to breathe. You're doing it right now! But learning how to breathe in yoga practice can help you notice how your breathing changes when you're anxious or upset. Often, when you start to feel nervous or uncomfortable, your breathing may get faster and you might not breathe as deeply. Once you tune in to your breath, you can try belly breathing.
There are many different yoga poses. Some can help you stretch the neck, shoulders and back, which are most likely to get tense when you are nervous or stressed.
Try these two yoga poses when you want to de-stress yourself:
Surprise/Sourpuss: Open your mouth wide and bug out your eyes, then scrunch your face up into a little ball and pucker your lips. Alternate back and forth between "surprise" and "sourpuss." Do this while you're studying at home to help loosen up your face and jaw, which can get really tense while you're studying. If you have a study partner, make a game of it! Who can make the silliest face?
Shoulder gymnastics: Do a few gentle shoulder and neck rolls right before a test to keep your shoulders nice and loose while you work. You can even do them during a test if you need a refreshing break.
Have Fun With Yoga
Yoga can help you in serious ways, but it also can be a lot of fun. You can smile during yoga, and even laugh, which is a great stress reliever too. Yoga can be done alone or with friends. And you can do it at home, at a yoga studio, or in the park.
We'll end with a special Sanskrit greeting — namaste (say: NAH-mus-tay). It's traditionally said at the end of a yoga practice and it means the light inside of me bows to the light inside of you. Namaste.