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Partner Blog – Teen Yoga Ambassadors

Teen Yoga Ambassadors

The Teen Yoga charity has existed since 2003, starting as a local activity in Somerset, bringing yoga to young people in schools across the county. Here the founder, Charlotta tells the story of how the charity came about and how it has grown.

Teen yoga - mental health

Photo of Charlotta Martinus

When Charlotta Martinus, founder of Teen Yoga, walked into a class of unruly year 10 boys back in 2003, the notion of Teen Yoga did not exist. Though she had experience of teaching in schools, the initial transition to teaching yoga was hard, despite the clear benefits it brought to the students. At that time, none of us had the vocabulary to describe the mental health challenges young people faced: anxiety, panic attacks, sleeping problems and other mental health issues were not recognised and most non-academic issues were lumped under the heading of “bad behaviour”.

Over the last twenty years Teen Yoga has evolved into an increasingly sophisticated approach to the prevention of mental health problems among adolescents. During this period teachers and staff in schools across the UK have slowly become aware of the ways in which mental health affects their work and the wellbeing of their pupils, and the related terminology, which before had belonged in CAMHS territory has become part and parcel of staff room conversations. Most teachers today will have witnessed self-harm, panic attacks, as well as the effects of isolation and sleep disorders in the classroom.

Unfortunately, the PGCE curriculum has not caught up with the changing role of the teacher as the CAMHS waiting lists simply grow longer. Between 15 and 20% of young people need referral but few are seen, so the classroom becomes a waiting room. This substantially affects what learning objectives can be achieved in each classroom. Though PHSE curricula and Mental Health leads to support mental health in schools are useful beginnings, they are swamped by the scale of the problem, and a lack of appropriate training or techniques.

The Teen Yoga approach has been built up and refined over years of conversations and listening to young people from a wide variety of backgrounds across the country. Over time it has become clear to us that the most effective support they experience is often from peers. In some instances, it is simply the empathy of a friend. In other instances, young people share what has worked for them such as prescription drugs for ADHD, anxiety, sleeplessness or even illegal drugs. In order to make the most of this dynamic we have worked with a group of young people, the College of Medicine and a team of experts in eating disorders, suicide and anxiety to develop the Teen Yoga Ambassador programme, in which young people share yoga-based techniques with each other.

The Ambassador programme builds on young people’s natural tendency to support and listen to each other. On the programme, young people experience the benefit of yoga themselves and learn specific techniques to help with specific issues, such as anxiety, sleeplessness, isolation or low mood. Then they are trained to deliver yoga-based techniques to each other informally at first and eventually formally in short classes with their peers. They are continuously supported by their mentor and are offered continued training and support throughout.

The programme is highly successful. There are substantial benefits for the young people themselves, both to improvements in their own self-care but also as an improvement in their well-being through helping others. The peer-to-peer effect is also working well and the Ambassadors are providing supportive, compassionate and effective support for others in their schools. In some cases, their teachers are even identifying changes in the atmosphere of the school, and there is evidence that parents are benefiting too.

The initiative has been strongly supported by the College of Medicine, and has also been recognised by the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme who have accredited the Teen Yoga charity as a skills provider of the Teen Yoga Ambassador programme across the country.

To find out more please head over to www.teenyogaambassadors.co.uk or contact robyn@uk-sas.co.uk to find out how SAS can help you establish a Teen Yoga Ambassador in your school.