- Rachel Krueger
A Yoga Prescription for This Generation: Empowering Girls Through Yoga Practice
Photo courtesy of Kevin Sutton
It’s a Tuesday night, and youth ages 13 to 17 are flooding into the community center with nervous looks on their faces. They all look fairly put together, as if they had spent the previous hour fussing with their hair and arranging an outfit that would look effortlessly “not put together”. I used to be like them. I used to be that self-conscious, tall and lanky, eyelids covered with sparkly purple eyeshadow person I saw on the cover of Seventeen magazine that month.
Oh, how I wish I had a yoga practice when I was their age.
As a youth leader and a certified yoga teacher, I am increasingly aware that yoga truly is for everybody. And I believe that young girls in particular could benefit from a practice that provides them with self-confidence, acceptance, and ease in their daily life. With a more widely accepted yoga program integrated in schools and youth groups, young girls would be able to grow into more self-aware, confident, and self-loving versions of themselves.
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With media constantly telling teens they are not good enough, smart enough or pretty enough, yoga teachers can enter into their lives and offer an alternative narrative to the one they are bombarded with by the media. Teen Health and the Media reports that, “One in every three articles in leading teen girl magazines include a focus on appearance, and most of the advertisements used an appeal to beauty to sell their products.” These magazines teach them concepts of greed, over consumption, and self-deprecation. There is always something a girl could buy or wear that could make them look more like a supermodel, yet magazines subtly insinuate that she will never achieve this goal. It becomes a negative cycle of suffering that feels impossible to get out of.
No wonder girls are struggling with concepts of the Yamas and Niyamas — ethical guidelines for living. As yoga teachers for young women, we are coming in at a crucial time in a young girl’s development. Aparigraha, the fifth yama, teaches us about letting go of the maelstrom of these images to practice acceptance of self. Donna Farhi explains, “We’re told that even if these identities and roles are a part of our everyday life, they need not encumber us, and they can never be a true reflection of our absolute nature” (Farhi, 31). Through understanding the Yamas, women and girls can flip through the pages of a magazine, but not be consumed or affected by them.
It is also important to teach young girls about the second Niyama, Santosha. Santosha means being at peace within one’s life and finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties. With time, incorporating principles of santosha will allow girls to move past judgment of their own and each others’ bodies, and move into a place of acceptance and celebration.
A Yoga Prescription for This Generation
How do we provide young girls with the tools they need for integrating the eight limbs and a yoga practice into their life? Instead of girls seeking yoga in studios, I suggest that the most efficient way for success is to bring it to their doorstep. Bring yoga into schools, youth programs, and make it accessible for girls to feel empowered on and off the mat.
This idea is not yet commonplace. Although the yoga industry in North America has been booming over the past five years, yoga in schools and specifically yoga for teenage girls is a relatively new idea. In fact, the strides that have been made in yoga programs in schools have been met with skepticism. Recently, parents sued a school in San Diego for creating a 60 minute ashtanga based program as a part of their physical education. They claimed the concepts of the eight limbs encourages students to worship hindu deities. That being said, there are successful examples of schools adopting yoga programs, and to great benefit; teachers report increased physical ability, growth in academic achievement, and more positive classroom environments.
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There are (more and more) programs that are successfully integrating yoga programs in schools, including Yoga Foster and Little Flower Yoga. To date, Yoga Foster has given over 400 elementary school teachers the training to bring movement & mindfulness into the classroom and it's 100% free for teachers at underserved schools. Little Flower Yoga is another organization that provides yoga programming to over 3,500 students each week from kindergarten to grade 12. Programs such as these are on the rise, exposing more kids to yoga along with its physical, mental, and emotional benefits.
With magazines, TV shows and images of celebrities at their fingertips, girls need yoga to be just as accessible for them. By tearing down these destructive images and messages, we can begin to replace them with a new voice that empowers and encourages girls to be content with their bodies and at peace in their minds.
Rachel Krueger recently completed her Yoga Teacher Training through Pranalife Yoga and is now a freelance instructor in Waterloo, Ontario. Rachel also works as a content writer at The Ripple Effect Education which develops resources to create peace-literate youth with an awareness of justice issues both locally and globally. Through these experiences and her involvement with a weekly youth program, she has grown passionate about girl’s development and concerned about girl’s sense of self-worth. She believes that yoga and collective movement empower women of all shapes and sizes and can help free them from their own self-deprecating narratives. She is excited about beginning her journey as a yoga instructor and creating spaces that are safe, warm, and welcoming.
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