Part of the teenage experience is discovering who you are and what makes you different from your peers. This experience can involve feeling different, isolated, and perhaps even bullied. While we might think that the calm environment of a yoga class is exempt from these feelings, the truth is that bullying in the yoga classroom can happen in both subtle and obvious ways.
As a yoga teacher working with teens it is important to be mindful about what shapes bullying can take in the yoga class. Here are some examples of cues that we’ve picked up on and our thoughts on what you can do to help.
A simple gesture like a group of girls placing their mats close together and excluding other classmates can be interpreted as bullying. While yoga is an individual practice, it can still be extremely cliquey and dominated by social groups. If you notice students feeling isolated or left out, try using a new set up, like a circle rather than rows. Or, ask the students to sit in rows according to height or what colour they’re wearing. Make it fun and a group activity without drawing the attention to the left out students.
Some students have a limited range of motion, struggle with balance, fear more challenging poses, or lack the endurance to achieve poses. Whilst it can be helpful to approach challenges playfully and with a sense of humour, we have to be careful about the delicate balance between laughing with or laughing at someone. Being laughed at or made fun of can feel a lot like bullying.
This is an opportunity to appreciate everybody for what they can do and acknowledge that sometimes coming to terms with limitations is just as hard as a physical achievement. Make it a point to remind students of what yoga aims us to teach. We find it helpful to use personal stories about challenges to remind them that no one is perfect. Be honest with them, and express how it would make you feel if someone made you feel bad about your shortcomings. Perhaps you can offer them an example of when this happened in your life. Be sure not to blame or call out individuals, instead make general comments a a part of your teaching technique.
While girls may sometimes have a more indirect way of bullying, we have found boys to be more obvious. (This is not to say that it can’t be the other way round too!) Whether it is through physical pushing and shoving, or vocal teasing, the aim is to make the other person feel bad.
It is important to remember that not all students will be friends with each other, and that doesn’t need to be the aim. Instead, you can try to give your students ideas about how to treat everyone with kindness and respect, and most importantly, help them find confidence in themselves to build on their strengths and thrive in their uniqueness.
It get’s more difficult when you notice violent or aggressive behaviour. It might be necessary to physically separate the students from each other, perhaps just by stepping between them and continuing to teach from this place without engaging in the argument. Sometimes this is enough for the energy to dissipate for the duration of the class. Sometimes this behaviour needs to be addressed after class. You could say something like this: “When you hit him, I found that a little frightening and not appropriate for the yoga room. I wonder what made you hit him?” Of course, this depends on your relationship with the student, and your ability to stay with them non-judgmentally in exploring what was going on for them. It will also depend on the environment that you teach in; schools usually have a procedure in place how to deal with situations like that.
Website and support regarding bullying:
[blockquote align=”right”]Yoga is not about an ideal or a norm that is to be achieved.[/blockquote] Our society trains us to achieve and compete. Many people across the ages approach yoga in this way too. New students often say: “I’m really not good at yoga”, and “I’m rubbish, I can’t even reach my toes”. As teen yoga teacher a big tasks lies in conveying that yoga is not about an ideal or a norm that is to be achieved, but rather about getting to know and increase the individual range of motion. We encourage each teen to find what works for them, and to try out new things.
CAMILLE is a Masters Student at King’s College London pursuing a degree in international child studies. Her interest lies in the work with teenage girls, specifically in matters relating to self-esteem and body image.
VERONIKA is the founder of Teen Yoga & Mindfulness. She is an experienced RT500 Yoga teacher, Mindfulness teacher and teacher trainer for adults and young people. She also works as a counsellor and training integrative psychotherapist.