Flapping Fish, Half Camel, Downward-Facing Dog, Upward-Facing Plank. Are those really dumb e-mail addresses or really cool bands that might be worth downloading to your MP3s? This music is slightly more new age. For the unenlightened, those are all names of different yoga poses. The nation has been embracing yoga as a way to escape all life's outward influences and look inward for meaning. The zillion-dollar Olsen twins, 17, are yoga addicts. And did you happen to catch Madonna doing those funky yoga poses in People magazine some months back? You go, girl!
The practice of yoga is about more than aspiring to a state of pretzel twisting. It's a way to preserve your sanity through outer strength and inner peace. And according to yoga instructors, teens are at a perfect age for a bit of stress reduction and inward passivity. "Yoga is about becoming spiritually and emotionally balanced. It's about a peaceful mind," explains Premajyoti Vezi, an instructor at Integral Yoga Institute in Fair Lawn. Vezi's son, Christopher DeLuca, 17, has been taking his mom's yoga classes since he was 14. "It's been a wonderful source of energy for him," notes Vezi, who home schools Christopher. "The teenage years don't have to be so rocky. Yoga is a great balancer for the hormones. It's a tool that works to reduce our stress levels. When your stress level is down, you can make better choices."
If you haven't noticed, most teens are faced with a multitude of choices right now: college, career, boyfriends, girlfriends, parties, families, even paper or plastic. And it's only just begun. New Jersey teens, like Ellen Fraint of Cherry Hill, are perfecting their flapping fish as a way to get healthy both mentally and physically before the responsibilities multiply. Call it preventative exercise. "The physical changes were the first thing I noticed," recalls Ellen, 17 and a senior at Akiba Hebrew Academy outside Philadelphia. Fraint practices yoga four times a week with other teens at Dream Fields, a yoga studio in Voorhees. "When I started a few summers ago it made me feel good, healthy. I read up on the yoga philosophy and now I'm hooked. You cultivate values that you transfer into everyday life—humility, self-confidence, patience. You focus inward and are not worrying so much about what other people think. You realize how much you want to be like that all the time." Some of Ellen's classmates, notes Dream Fields instructor JoAnna Carey, have included guys from the high school wrestling team who recognize that yoga "enhances anything and everything that you do." Breathing exercises alone, she adds, can help teens survive serious stress-like taking the SATs.
So why aren't teens everywhere hitting the mats to integrate body, breath, mind and emotions? "Teens need to be consistent with their yoga and that can be a problem. It has to compete with everything else social in their lives," notes Vezi of the Integral Yoga Institute. Zachary Rzetelny, an 18-year-old Englewood resident who took up yoga at 16 "to see what it was like," has also encountered a few skeptics. "You don't have to believe the full yoga philosophy to benefit from it," he says. "Everyone who does it says it makes them feel good. It puts you in a good mood." Ellen agrees that her peers need to get over the fact that yoga may seem a little "out there." "I have friends who say, `Oh, you take yoga! That's so cool! I wish I could do that,'" explains Ellen. "The more you think you don't have time to do it, the more you should be doing it." Anyone in the mood for a full locust?