When she trained in Bath with Charlotta Martinus in Sivananda Hatha yoga, Robin Watkins Davis became the UK’s youngest qualified yoga instructor aged 16, as she wanted to share this hugely beneficial practice with other young people her own age. Yoga had been such a support for her with home and school life, helping her find healing whilst going through common teen experiences like bullying, body image insecurity and divorced parents.
Robin is also an artist, recently finishing an art foundation where she made ‘shift’, an exciting contemporary art installation, using her body to print, make art and explore movement practices like yoga and in so doing, to document the transformative effects of movement in her art. You can find out more on her Instagram and Facebook.
In conversation with Yogamatters, Robin shared from experience her observations about teen yoga in the UK.
How important do you think it is for teens to practise yoga? Tell us about your experience as a teen starting yoga and how it helped you.
As someone who has practised yoga and meditation throughout all of my teens from 12 years old where I first started meditating to now just turned 20, the practice has been a stable anchor in my life. I found this so important as a teen where everything else around me was changing: my body, my interests, friendships, relationships with my parents…Moving from childhood to teen and then to adulthood is not the easiest of transitions – for many, full of awkwardness, peer pressure and insecurity, but these are all wonderful years full of fun and exploration and I think the practice of yoga has made my teen years more enjoyable. I have found it highly comforting to know I can turn to my mat and connect to myself and move through whatever had presented itself that day and whatever emotion. No matter if I was happy or angry, yoga always held a safe space for me to connect and find some stillness and truth.
Have you noticed a rise in teens practising yoga over the past few years?
Yes, I teach lots of teens all around Gloucestershire, where I live, but on a bigger scale, I think yoga is becoming more popular with young people. Companies like TeenYoga, which I am an ambassador for, play a huge part in that with their training courses, making yoga more easily available in schools.
There are also amazing programs like Teen Yoga Summit which starts on 14th January 2019, providing free meditations and yoga philosophy for teens and I was honoured to be part of that and do an episode on body image and healing through yoga.
I think there is still work to do in terms of marketing yoga, my team of other young yogis and I did a survey and the results showed that some young people still think yoga is for their parents, but social media is also helping more people access yoga and it’s changing how yoga is perceived. I think this helps make yoga more popular for young people. Because of this, I think it’s also important as yoga teachers to be posting content which exposes all aspects of yoga as so much of yoga on Instagram is handstands and stunning body work and I’d love to see more of the gentle yoga which will help attract a wider audience of teens.
I think in order for yoga to continue to appeal to teens, it just needs to be light-hearted and simple, mainly focusing on the physical practice and relaxation and then gradually introducing pranayama and the more spiritual side of yoga if and when the young person is ready. I think lots of people my age and younger find even bare feet odd, so sometimes yoga can be a bit awkward at first. Making it as simple and mainstream as possible at first is the key to getting young people to the mat and then of course, they start to love the magic of the practice in its entirety.
What do you think are the barriers for teens practising yoga?
I suppose it’s about making it as easily accessible as possible as teens often don’t have much money and aren’t fully independent to always turn up to a class and often I find people my age don’t want to ask their parents for money so may not ask for support in paying for yoga classes etc.
I think the main barrier is often that teens don’t know they like yoga until they try it, so school assemblies etc are so important to get teens thinking about yoga especially if it can be relevant to assisting with exam stress and other common teen concerns.
Another barrier is time: schools puts a huge workload on young people and so it’s balancing social life, school and time for yoga – I think that’s why the relaxation and meditation side is so beneficial as everyone can do it and it doesn’t have to take up that long. Just 5 – 10 minutes can make such a difference.
Spirituality is another barrier. I find lots of young people think yoga is all about OMing and sitting cross legged! Yoga needs to be taught in a way which makes teens feel comfortable. As a teen just feeling and being in the body alone can be quite a strange and uncomfortable experience, so I think it’s important to go gentle and start with emotional and physical awareness first and then teens will naturally go into the spiritual work if they are interested.
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