The Case for Teaching Meditation to Teen Boys (or Girls).
Cory Allen, author of a new book on modern mindfulness, makes the pitch to teens directly
Personal challenges show up early in our lives, much sooner than we often expect them to. When we hit our teen years, and our hormones kick into full gear, so do our feelings of angst. I remember being a teenage boy and feeling almost paralyzed by anxiousness; like I was incompatible with the rest of humanity. This created a tremendous amount of emotional discomfort and frustration.
One day, I stumbled upon an immensely transformative tool: meditation. As a teen, I started meditating every day, quietly in my bedroom. Little by little, I was able to create the space I needed to breathe, gaining awareness of how I was operating in the world. I’m forever grateful that I chanced upon the tools of mindfulness and yoga, because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to work through my pain and point my life in a new direction.
Almost anyone you ask will have a few good stories about how traumatic their teen years were. It’s a pretty universal human experience: Both teen boys and teen girls obsess over their position in the pecking order, trying to discover each other’s vulnerabilities through relentless verbal jabs, and using sports and the occasional schoolyard scuffle to test each other’s physical strength. It’s tough no matter your gender, but teen boys in particular can find it hard to talk through this emotionally turbulent phase with their peers, due to the pressure society puts on them to act tough and keep their feelings in check.
It’s not possible to avoid the stress entirely — it’s a formative part of life. But wellness practices like meditation and yoga can go a long way in soothing and centering teens through these difficult years.
If you’re a teenager, wondering how mindfulness could help you process some of what you’re feeling, there’s no need to sign up for a yoga class right away (or even tell anyone you’re practicing mindfulness). You can start by finding a few minutes of alone time every day to engage in a basic breathing exercise. I’ve included an easy one below that anyone can begin with. Remember, consistency is the key, so, it’s good to get into a habit of doing this every morning or evening. Keep it simple, making sure to sit down in a quiet place, without distractions (like a phone or computer) then:
• Close your eyes. Take a slow breath in.
• Calmly exhale and relax the muscles in your body as the air moves out.
• Repeat breathing like this for five minutes, relaxing the body more with each exhalation.
This simple breathing practice will soothe anxiety, relax the body, and allow you to make decisions with more intention. You may feel a little fidgety the first few go-rounds, but that feeling will melt away in no time. Then, the life-changing benefits will start to appear.
The perks of this simple practice will slowly begin to show up in your daily life. You might notice that you feel cool and collected when someone says something that would usually make you feel flustered. Gradually, you’ll find yourself speaking with more clarity and precision. The anxiety that comes from going to new places and being around unfamiliar people will soften, replaced with calm curiosity. You’ll find yourself more tuned-in to how you’re feeling, and able to understand what you need to be happy.
As you (and your peers) get older, you’ll find that self-development isn’t an act of weakness. It’s an act of strength.
Eventually, you might consider studying meditation or yoga more formally. During this phase, finding the right books, or a teacher with lots of experience under their belt, will be incredibly useful to you. These resources can fill in information gaps, showing you all kinds of new ways to deepen your practice. Doing so is well worth your time too, because as your practice becomes stronger, so do the benefits that begin to show up in your life.
One barrier for teens to integrate mindfulness into their lives is negative social pressure. From my own experience, teen boys often treat each other in very harsh ways. You might worry that by introducing wellness practices into your life, others might see it as an admission of being unwell. You might be hesitant about pursuing self-care out of fear that it will make you a target for ridicule.
But as you (and your peers) get older, you’ll find that self-development isn’t an act of weakness: It’s an act of strength. The ones who judge and dismantle others are the ones who are fearful and insecure. They do this because they’re suffering in some way, and making others feel small is an attempt to make them feel stronger, or bigger in some way. People who are truly strong are secure and seek less validation, leading with kindness instead of ridicule. This is the strength of the heart and the security of the soul.
Doing yoga, meditating, exercising, and eating well will completely transform the way you experience the world. You’ll begin to feel less stressed and more patient. Your mental clarity will increase, allowing you to choose how to act, rather than simply reacting to your often turbulent environment. This means you will begin treating yourself with more kindness, along with all the people in your life.
By picking up tools of mindfulness from a young age, we learn to handle suffering gracefully, redefining what it means to be strong along the way. Strength does indeed live in the muscle. But it is not the muscles of the arms or legs. It is the muscle of the heart.