Meditation – Caring for the Teenage Minds
Stepping into the adolescent years is like venturing into a new territory. Growing teens are constantly subjected to increased physical, mental and emotional demands.
The increase of social networking outside the family has quickly become a test for them to prioritise their time between studies and social relationships. They are starting to get a taste of responsibility for their own decisions and judgements, their ability to discern good from bad, and the self-control to refrain from destructive peer pressures. All these seem like a whirlpool of responsibilities which have suddenly landed on their shoulders out of nowhere.
The academic standards which have become increasingly stringent add further stress onto teens who are in the midst of managing the evolving physical, mental and emotional development. There is no denying that the education system plays an important role in the development of humanity. Yet, it is the education of the mind and heart that sustains humanity. Many of us find it challenging to discipline the mind and to manage our emotions. The world offers plenty of good things which nurture us. However, the existence of these good things will all be in vain if we are not aware of them and/or are unable to assimilate them. The constant bombardment of external stimuli have somewhat gotten us habituated to gearing our awareness to the external surrounding and cause a depletion in inner awareness. But it is only with an aware mind that the knowledge and wisdom gained from our interaction with the society and the surrounding can in turn be developed and utilised for a greater purpose.
Sports activities are unavoidable for all school-going teens. The schools’ curriculum requires all students to participate in some sort of sports throughout their school year and this can become challenging to teens whose muscles are not well developed to meet the physical demands of competitive or recreational sports, or whose minds are constantly dissipated and unable to focus on the sports and tasks at hand. The awkwardness of their performance due to uncoordinated mind and body movements may lead to embarrassment and low self-esteem.
All the issues mentioned above can be managed through the practices of Yoga. Apart from the well-known yoga asana practices, the yogic practice of mindfulness is highly important for the growing teen. Mindfulness is the ability to attend to the present moment in a calm and peaceful manner, without being judgemental of the self or the situation.
As parents and educators, it is important for us to understand that teens too are exposed to the damaging effects of stress. Teaching mindfulness to teenagers is equivalent to giving them the tool that helps them sharpen their awareness and manage their moods and emotions. Teens are learning to cope with the challenges amidst the confusion set forth by the rapid changes of physical and physiological developments and adults cannot be by their sides, constantly breathing down their necks telling them what to do or how to behave. Such actions will only lead to turning off of interest to interact and confide in adults in things that matter to them.
As puberty sets in, teens are naturally thrown into a diverse range of fluctuating emotions. They may not even be able to understand their emotions and reactions to certain situations, and are equally frustrated as their parents and mentors who need to communicate with them. Here, adults need to understand the reason to teens’ sudden outburst or seemingly irrational behaviours which are often, at this stage, labelled as being immature – understand that their brains are still growing and developing and this yet-to-be complete physical development of the brain’s development is chiefly responsible for much of the cognitive and emotional immaturity displayed.
Teaching mindfulness through meditation is the most effective way for teens to regain their calm and composure to deal with everyday stresses and to make sense of their own physical, mental and emotional development. The great sense of self awareness is most crucial for them to positively understand the self and to interact with the society. It’s essential for teens to nurture good qualities from within themselves in order for these to be carried on to adulthood where they are required to make comprehensive and sound decisions daily.
The practice of meditation has been reportedly shown to increase grey matter in the portion of the brain responsible for self-awareness and compassion, and researchers have found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain in such a way that it heightens learning and memory, and decreases the brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety and stress – the conditions that teens are facing incessantly. In short, meditation improves the overall psychological well-being. With this, apart from the apparent benefits for the teens, we can surely imagine that even the family dynamics would improve as the communication and relationship between the members improve.
Introducing mindfulness and meditation practices to teens demands adult’s participation as well (particularly parents and educators/mentors). It is more than enrolling teens into meditation classes and waiting for the benefits to manifest. Surely, teens who do the practices will display significant positive changes. Yet, for a long-lasting and optimal result, adults must also lead by example. If we so much as demand an ounce of calmness from our teenagers, we must first display a tonne of it. We need not paint a smile on our faces like of that on a clown’s. But we should surely demonstrate our ability to manage stress by responding and managing it appropriately where it’s due, rather than reacting to it. This applies more so when we are interacting with them. By doing so, we are showing them that emotions, stresses and anxieties ARE indeed manageable, and that we respect them as a growing adolescent who can portray their individuality in a well-mannered way.
Teens who undergo mindfulness trainings and meditation practices gradually become more attuned to themselves and society, and are more able to manage their emotions and communicate. This group of teens are like the first tile of the dominoes, which passes on this amazing aura to their peers.
Just as exercise transforms our bodies, meditation transforms our brains and mind. Ensure that your teenager gets the wholesome yoga practices!
This article was featured in YogaMail Jul-Sept 2015 issue.