Most people are aware how challenging the teenage years can be. The adolescent in today's society is inundated with images of sex, violence, drugs, distorted ideas of the perfect body, stories of troubled teens, academic and peer pressure, and high school shootings--not to mention raging hormones and their changing physical bodies. The self-esteem, confidence and safety of our youth are at risk. Caught between childhood and adulthood, the teen years are a highly impressionable and vulnerable age, therefore this is an especially important time to develop and encourage healthy, lifelong habits.
To aid and support the teen in these turbulent years, the ancient healing practice of yoga can be a profound and effective tool to help balance mind, body and spirit. Thia Luby's book "Yoga for Teens" is a clear and "easy to understand" introductory book about the practice of yoga. As the author so eloquently states, "Yoga can improve your overall fitness and health. It allows the teen to develop greater poise, grace and confidence, as well as a more accepting relationship to their body and a positive image of who they are in the world."
Thia Luby begins by offering the reader an informative and concise overview of yoga and its specific benefits to the teen years. She describes how to get started with important guidelines for practice sessions. Fortunately, in the beginning of the book she states, "never to force yourself in the posture to where it hurts." In addition, I believe it would be helpful if she reminded the new yoga student to let go of any pushing and striving in the postures throughout the book. Furthermore, there could be a more thorough explanation on the proper technique for deep breathing, since proper breathing is essential to the foundation of yoga.
The postures are depicted with beautiful, glossy photographs demonstrated by teens of all different levels of fitness. They exhibit a relaxed, enjoyable and playful attitude. To help teens visualize the postures, Ms. Luby includes photos of the animals they are named after. The author gives step-by-step instructions on how to enter, hold and release each posture. Although the instructions are clear and uncomplicated, certain postures lack full detail. Still, in all fairness, it is a difficult task to give every physical cue that brings the body into proper alignment without a lengthy explanation. However, Ms. Luby does clearly indicate which postures are basic and which are more advanced.
While she mentions the benefits of each pose, she could also mention general precautions and or contraindications as well. For instance, during a young woman's menstrual period, it is important not to invert the body, i.e., to bring the legs and pelvis higher than the chest, in order to keep the blood flow downward. Also, if a child or teen has any high blood pressure conditions, it is important not to bring the head below the heart, to keep the blood pressure stabilized. Lastly, in more advanced postures such as the camel, which is considered a very deep backbend, clear instructions on how to support the back in this posture are essential. The emphasis on safety, especially when dealing with a growing body, should be of the utmost importance at all times.
Since school sports are important for teens and a great deal of sports injuries can occur though them, Thia Luby offers very sound and informative advice and routines for the teenage athlete. The book includes a helpful chart describing the type of pose and its primary benefits to balance out the lack of flexibility and strength in all areas of the body.
The introduction to the chakra system in "Yoga for Teens" is very good. This is a powerful and complicated system that Thia breaks down into fundamentals and makes interesting. It is also valuable how she explains which chakra becomes energized in each pose.
The visual layout of Thia's book is so well organized that it allows the reader to access her information easily and effectively. What is particularly useful are the reference guides in the appendix, especially the charts that illustrate which postures stretch and strengthen specific areas, along with postures that alleviate emotional and mental difficulties. Also included are sample workouts from basic to advanced.
It is important to have a teenage perspective on this book. Jesse Vilinsky, a 15-year-old high school student who read the book, says, "Overall I felt the book was very good. Most teens play sports, so having the section devoted to sports was really great. School is very stressful for us teens, and yoga seems to be an extremely relaxing thing to do after school to unwind and prepare the mind for homework. Comparing the yoga postures to animals was interesting, but the descriptions of the animals were elementary for a teenager, and some of the group yoga races seemed childish. It was really great to be able to look up certain ailments; for instance, if you have a headache and take pain relievers it could hinder your studies. Yoga therefore could be a natural way to alleviate a headache and that's pretty cool."
Jesse also felt that certain directions were difficult to follow. She felt that without proper supervision, "you could possibly do the postures wrong and hurt yourself." I agree that a beginning student cannot truly know if they are in proper alignment in a posture without professional guidance. Although I think this book is well executed, my advice to beginners is to seek out an experienced yoga teacher and use this book as an effective reference guide for a home practice.