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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Teaching Mindfulness, Meditation, and Yoga to Teens

last updated September 1, 2020

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

by Catharine Hannay

I've discovered a pretty wide range of perspectives on issues like what should and shouldn't be included in a mindfulness class and how much training teachers should have.  

However, there appears to be consensus among experienced mindfulness teachers on the following points:
  • It's essential to practice what you teach. 
    • The presence and authenticity of the instructor are far more important than finding the right 'mindfulness script' for a particular student population. 
  • Given the level of hype and misinformation about mindfulness, it's not unusual to get some pushback from students or their parents. 
    • They may be skeptical about whether it really works or worried it might conflict with their religious beliefs. Be prepared to calmly discuss these types of concerns.
  • It's important to show compassion and flexibility with resistant youth.
    • We don't always know the trauma histories of our students or what might be stressful or triggering for them. They might have good reasons for not wanting to close their eyes, discuss personal information, or engage in some other part of the lesson.

Best Practices in Teaching Mindfulness to Teens

Amy Edelstein of The Inner Strength Foundation explains their trauma-informed, culturally-responsive mindfulness program, which is integrated with academic content:

Tips for Teaching Adolescents

The following articles have good suggestions for introducing mindfulness to adolescents and engaging those who might be reluctant to participate.

The Benefits of Mindfulness for Teens

As I mentioned in a post on Three Challenging Questions about the Benefits of Mindfulness
One issue with the research is trying to compare results when there are there are so many different understandings of what is being measured and how. Are we talking about a brain scan of a Buddhist monk with decades of different types of meditation experiences, or are we talking about a survey of teens enrolled in a mindfulness program at their school? 

Shanti Generation has Research Links specifically about the benefits of yoga and mindfulness for youth.

Peace in Schools has a moving series of videos with teens from different backgrounds explaining in their own words how they've benefited from their Mindful Studies classes. 

Do keep in mind that this is in the context of an established program with culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed instructors. Peace in Schools director Caverly Morgan discusses their approach in an interview on Teaching For-Credit Mindfulness Classes.

If you'd like to know how your own students are benefiting from mindfulness, you might want to try this research-based self-assessment:

Yoga for Teens

In 5 Things to Remember When Teaching Yoga to Teens Kate Reil writes that: 
"The practice of yoga offers adolescents a discipline for discovering who they truly are... If you have experience teaching yoga to adults and are interested in learning how to teach teens, I would encourage you to let go of what you think you know. Yoga for teens is quite a different experience." 
In an interview on Calming Young Minds, psychotherapist Sherri Snyder-Roche discusses how yoga can be integrated with mindfulness, art, and other approaches to help youth recover from anxiety and self-criticism.

My Goal in Heart, Mind, and Body: How Yoga and Mindfulness Can Support Life Goals is a lesson plan by Abby Wills of Shanti Generation to 

1) help students set positive, conscious goals for their lives; and 
2) help them discover how their yoga and mindfulness practice can support them through the inevitable obstacles life will present.

Integrating Mindfulness with Academic Content

Ira Rabois, author of Compassionate Critical Thinking, shares the strategies he used while teaching English, Philosophy, Drama, History, and Psychology:

The following posts have discussion questions that might be appropriate for your students:

Trauma-Informed Teaching

Fortunately this has been changing in recent years, but when I got my MA in teaching there wasn't the slightest mention of trauma. After listening to heart-breaking stories from my students and colleagues over the years, I believe that being trauma-informed is one of the most important qualifications for teaching any subject.

The following articles are a good place to start: 

For more detailed information on the nature and effects of trauma, Dr. Himelstein has an online course on 'Trauma-Informed Care for Professionals Working with Youth.' (It's my policy not to review or endorse courses... but I would like to mention that I took this course last year and found it quite useful.)

Dr. Himelstein also has a book on Trauma-Informed Mindfulness with Teens: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals

Additional Resources

And there are many more resources and activities for teaching mindfulness at

About the Author

Catharine Hannay is the founder of and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance.