High school is supposed to be a carefree time of growing into adulthood and maturing, but it often snowballs into a void of stress and doom. Teenagers have a lot of confusion and angst because of classes, societal pressures, and sometimes just good old-fashioned teenage drama. Clubs such as Yoga Club are extremely important in helping students formulate a healthy mental and physical state during the rollercoaster of never-ending change that is high school.
“Students, especially at South, have so many pressures coming from parents and teachers, and I know so many students feel confused and worried,” said sophomore Connor Gabor, Yoga Club organizer. “I wanted to create an environment where people could come and relax and spend time to look inside themselves to find answers instead of looking to others.”
Students join and participate in Yoga Club for a number of reasons, including the improvement of mental health, physical strength, and relaxation.
“I joined Yoga Club because I needed to get into a calmer state of mind,” said sophomore Cela Whitman. “I’m a very energetic person and sometimes that can be really overwhelming. Yoga Club really helps me release a lot of that energy in a very positive way.”
“What’s really important to me is being in touch with my body, and I believe that in order to be centered in your mind you have to have a strong body that yoga helps build. I also felt like I was doing too much physical work and not enough relaxation, and yoga helps me channel that relaxation,” said senior Elliot Blackwell on why he joined.
A survey from the American Psychological Association showed that 37 percent of high schoolers feel stressed and 31 percent have no good tools to deal with it. Everyone gets stressed sometimes, but the kind of chronic anxiety many teenagers experience during high school takes a tremendous toll on the body, draining energy, creating tension in the muscles, constricting breathing, and leaving the mind with no rest from the whirling thoughts and feelings that feed the anxiety. This cycle can quickly lead to deeper anxiety if nothing is done, and yoga is an easy way to quiet your mind and become more in touch with yourself and your needs.
“The best thing about yoga for high schoolers is that it creates balance and it also allows them to really focus on themselves and understand their body’s and mind’s limitations better so that in the future they know when to push themselves and when they need to hold back,” Yoga Club instructor Nate Guadagni said.
The South Eugene Yoga Club is led through various postures and meditations every Wednesday after school by former South Eugene student Guadagni. He started learning yoga from a book in his senior year of high school during an exchange program to New Zealand. There, he started to realize how important yoga was.
“I started to feel a personal shift, and I noticed one day I just started to feel more confident, more energized, more clear-minded,” Guadagni said. “And I just knew that there was something magical about yoga.”
Many people who do yoga believe it has almost mystical effects on the body’s performance and health, especially for dedicated athletes who push their body and mind regularly.
Jay Martin, a former high school track coach and owner of the Lifeforce Fitness Project yoga studio in downtown Eugene, has been doing yoga for 12 years. Martin also believes that yoga is imperative to the well-being of teenagers and teenage athletes.
“As a former athlete and track coach, I had never really put together how your breath leads to your athletic success until doing yoga,” Martin said. “I think it’s extremely important for high schoolers and young athletes to be able to find that state of awareness that yoga facilitates, instead of this anxiety or anxiousness that surrounds teenagers these days.”
The word yoga comes from Sanskrit, the primary language spoken in India thousands of years ago when the practice originated. In Sanskrit, yoga means union because yoga is meant to unite your mind, body, and breath.
“I think there are four primary components to health,” Martin said. “The first is taking care of our body, the second is taking care of our mind, the third is taking care of our emotional selfs, and the fourth is taking care of our energetic self which is what surrounds our interior being but is still us. Those four pieces are all addressed in yoga, and yoga helps us identify how we can put all those pieces in alignment so we can move forward and be really healthy and whole.”
Yoga is also extremely helpful during the teenage years as the brain is still developing, and it has been proven that the high stress levels during schooling can hurt development of the prefrontal cortex, which helps with critical thinking and concentration. Practicing yoga regularly can stimulate brain function and growth to combat this issue. Studies have also shown that high school students who took psychological tests before and after taking a 12-week yoga course showed drastic improvement in mood problems, anxiety, mindfulness, resilience, and anger expression. And yoga is not just for 45-year-old women and pervy men anymore; there are 36.7 million people in the U.S. who do yoga at least once a week, and 13.6 million of those people are under the age of 18.
If high school has you pulling out your hair in stress or carrying all your textbooks is starting to permanently damage your back, come down to the Science Hall on Wednesdays after school to meet other high schoolers and improve your overall health.