Sunday, July 1, 2018

Teaching Mindfulness, Meditation, and Yoga to Teens

by Catharine Hannay

[Update October 2019: I've just published a book on mindfulness for teens--Being You: A Girl's Guide to Mindfulness.]

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.

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

Shanti Generation has Research Links on 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. I've also done several other interviews with experts on teaching adolescents.

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.

Shanti Generation has Teen Yoga Videos, available on DVD or for school streaming. There are several sample clips on youtube. On July 29, I'll post an interview with Shanti Generation co-founder Abby Wills on 'Best Practices in Teaching Yoga to Teens.' 

Measuring Mindfulness

It can be challenging to measure the effects of mindfulness training. You might want to try one of these research-based self-assessments:

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 an upcoming book and course on Trauma-Informed Mindfulness with TeensYou can read an excerpt at The Center for Adolescent Studies blog: 9 Guidelines for Teaching Trauma-Informed Mindfulness To Teens 

Additional Resources

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash


related posts:

A Very Brief Introduction to Mindfulness

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