A therapist once asked me ‘what would you say to your teenage self now?’, if you could speak to her…with all your experience and insight, how would you comfort her? I remember my eyes welling up and my body softening. I was overcome with a great sense of compassion for that younger version of myself. For the first time, I felt like I just wanted to wrap my arms around her and tell her everything was going to be OK.
My teen years presented an incredibly challenging time and I developed a toxic relationship with my body and food, now recognised as body dysmorphia but at the time, something I experienced in silence and isolation. I now know that I wasn’t alone. As outlined by Public Health England,‘in an average class of 30, 15 year-old-pupils: 3 could have a mental disorder, 7 are likely to have been bullied and 6 may be self-harming.’
I find this staggering. Sadly too, my research and work with young people has taught me that this fact is only just scratching the surface. Mental health issues in young people have been steadily on the rise and pressures are continuing to mount. It led me to question, what preventative measures are we putting in place to support young people’s physical and emotional well-being in this key developmental phase? And as someone who has first hand experience of some of these struggles – what am I doing to make positive change? It was this that led me to create ‘the girlness project’ – an initiative that supports young girls develop a healthy relationship with body and self. Through classes, workshops and talks, I teach in schools and studios across the country, encouraging participants to develop self-awareness and emotional self-regulation. Yoga and meditation lie at the heart of my offering as life-long skills that help us to integrate this.
My own route to yoga did not involve the ‘love at first practice’ experience that some people find. My mum had practised yoga but like a lot of teens, because it was ‘mum’s thing’ I wasn’t really interested. A few years later at university I discovered it for myself but I approached it with a mind-set of using the class as a warm up or cool down session before or after a work out at the gym. Then one summer when I came home, by coincidence the most beautiful studio had opened in a grade two listed building within walking distance from my parent’s house. I still remember the smell from the first time I walked in. I started going regularly and my practice started to deepen. My obsession with ‘beauty’ and the body was still an incredibly strong force and it led me to study Fashion and start my career in the beauty industry working for one of the world’s most famous brands. Needless to say these industries amplified my internal experience – my daily struggle with my body was crippling; no matter what size or shape I was. It began to impact every aspect of my life…my relationships, my social life and my work. It was a sad existence for someone so young and full of potential. And yet, through this, quietly yoga held a nurturing presence in the back of my mind and eventually the drive to practice more got stronger – I started to find comfort in my ability to self-soothe and ‘be’ in my body.
I realised that the more I turned my awareness inwards (yoga, meditation, journaling, reading) the more I started to learn about what I need to do to look after myself and I also observed the many ways in which I don’t (being distracted by social media, controlling my food and exercise, comparing myself to others). Years later as a full time teacher, I have worked with thousands of bodies of all ages and in particular, in my work with young people, I have found it heart-breaking to learn the sad truth that many teens struggle with negative body image, anxiety, low self-esteem and social pressure to conform. I believe we have a responsibility to nurture the emotional development of young people by learning how to self-regulate and develop our awareness. By doing this, we set the foundations for confident, inspired young people to flourish. For me, yoga is absolutely fundamental to this. The best gift I believe we can offer when working with teens is our presence and our own embodiment. So often, this age group are told what they can/can’t do and physiologically they are going through significant change. I see my role as a facilitator to notice what intuitively what wants to happen in their body and then finding a way to get behind that. Do they want to move, rest, talk? So much of the time, teens are fitting into routines, positions (sitting at a desk), and doing activities that they don’t want to do. I see our time together as a beautiful opportunity to deeply listen and get behind what they need. And when we do this, we offer them a space to self-regulate and process. A lesson that serves us both on and off the mat.
I understand that sometimes, the body can be a difficult place to call home. My intention is that the girlness project and my classes help young people develop skills and resources that we can take out of the classroom and into real life situations so that we can thrive in all aspects of our personal and academic life.
Pippa teaches Teens yoga in Chelsea on Tuesdays at 4.45pm (term time only). For more information about the girlness project please click here or to contact Pippa directly please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.