Instill speakers: Shaura

Shaura Hall overcame addiction herself and now helps others to heal through yoga therapy. She will be speaking at the Instill conference about how her work could help young people with screen addiction. We asked her about her work:

Breaking the cycle of addiction

“Addiction is a very hard recovery and I could tell you many stories that
would break your heart. I experienced a painful 10-year cycle of addiction and lost much as a result of it. But this experience ultimately led me to become a yoga therapy teacher and to dedicate myself to helping others to heal. So, what I want to share with you is my experience in breaking the cycle of addiction. I also want to discuss how we can help young people with screen-age addictions by better understanding how the brain reacts to stress and – more importantly for recovery – how it responds to relaxation.

Changing the brain

The brain deals with stressful events in many different ways. One of its coping strategies is to modify certain structures that are active in the dopamine pathway, the neurotransmitter linked to reward-motivated behaviour.
This change gives rise to addiction or repetitive behavioural patterns. Recovery takes dedication and often requires the creation of a very different identity from the one that we had before. Such transformation is possible and, given the right environment, we can change our brain behaviour and overcome obstacles.

Screen time

Yoga teachers can offer this space to young people and teach them the
regulatory skills to find their way through the world. The brain goes through important changes in adolescence that have the potential to affect a young person’s mental health for life. Too much screen time, I believe, influences the adaptation of the young brain, activating stress-signaling pathways and the dopamine system.

The Araucaria Project

I have already used my training and experience to develop a CPD training for healthcare professionals on what happens when the brain adapts to substances or behavioural patterns due to stress. Now I hope to extend this by setting up a programme to support people with screen-age addictions. This will come under the Araucaria Project, a social enterprise I am setting up. The Araucaria Project will support people in recovery who have been practising yoga to learn how to teach yoga – and give it back to the community.  I am hoping that the stories that will come out of this project will lift – rather than break – your heart.


Shaura will be speaking about her work on the 11th November at the Instill conference. 
We hope you can join us. Book here!

Instill speakers: Rhian

Yoga stereotypes

When we mention yoga, many people may conjure up images of women in colourful skin-tight ‘yoga pants’ or Instagram photos of insanely challenging postures. They might even have the impression that it is an outwardly materialistic and egocentric exercise. Rhian Fox, a yoga teacher who will be speaking at Instill this year, sees it differently.

Yoga is a complex multi-layered practice. At one level it may be Lycra-clad postures and multicoloured poses, but at another it is a holistic practice that promotes optimal well-being. It can help the human mind to transcend many of the problems it creates for itself.  However, the perfectly poised beach bodies standing on their heads in my Instagram feed do not convey this message.  When we bring yoga to teenage boys, it is important to address their preconceived notions. Their understanding of yoga may enter into conflict with their emerging identities as young male adults. This is the challenge Rhian faced.

Teaching boys

At her school she was given the task of raising standards in boys education, and she chose to use yoga as a tool to engage boys. This was at a time when the media were demonising ‘hoodie’ culture. The word ASBO was more common in stories about teenage boys than health or well-being. Her principal obstacles were preconceptions about who can do yoga, and what it is to be a teenage boy.

A mother of three boys herself, Rhian has found it fascinating to observe these misconceptions of yoga. She has witnessed how parents, schools and even yoga teachers adhere to  ‘accepted’ norms and understandings of yoga practice. As a result, she has been able to apply her teachings to young boys of all backgrounds, from GCSE Dance students to young elite sports players.

She has also seen that rather than reinforcing the misconceptions portrayed by the media, yoga addresses them.  Rhian has found that through yoga young males have been able to escape social pressures and negative paradigms. “There seems to be a greater connection between body and mind [in youths], almost as if we are taught to disconnect the two as we grow up.  In truth I find teaching adults far more challenging for this reason’.  A central idea is that  yoga is a positive life skill, that takes place in a non-judgmental space where there is time for inward connection.


One aspect of yoga that seems to make it particularly appealing for young boys is its immediacy. As soon as they go into a pose, they feel the benefits. This contrasts with other forms of therapeutic or mindful exercises, where results take longer to appear. Teenage boys respond best to direct results, felt in the body, rather than talk. Rhian recalls that one piece of advice she received before her first all boy class was: “speak in sentences of no more than 5 words”.

However it is not all tranquillity and quiet in her classes. Her own advice is that ‘as a tool to calm, yoga doesn’t have to exclude moments of high energy, of almost chaos…’. This may seem counter-intutitive for those who see yoga as a quiet space.  But there are many layers to yoga. Rhian’s experience with boys brings new perspectives on yoga practice, as well as its philosophy.

Rhian will be leading a workshop about her work with boys at Instill.   The conference is in Pimlico, London, on the 11th November. Join us! You can book here.

Instill speakers: Lisa

Our series on speakers at the Instill conference in November now turns to Dr Lisa Greenspan, who is a chartered counselling psychologist. We interviewed her about her experience using yoga in her work.

Could you tell us about your experience?

I studied Imagework many years ago, using the inner image to work with people to help make changes in their lives. Following this I went on to study psychotherapy and became a counselling psychologist specialising in trauma work with adults and children/ adolescents. At UCL I studied mindfulness with children and adolescents and then following two years of yoga practice and clinical work using mindfulness, I undertook the Teen Yoga training. Since last summer I have been using therapeutic yoga in private practice and through the psychotherapy organisation LAPIS where I am clinical lead. I have run anxiety workshops in schools and chair yoga/meditation sessions in groups such as a group for parents of disabled children living in institutions and the Blind Society.

What do you enjoy most about this work?

I enjoy the feeling I have following a session using mindfulness and yoga training or therapy, one of having worked hard but also of extreme relaxation and well-being. If I am relaxed following the sessions I know I have been present for the clients and my body has calm nervous systems. This is something I keep in mind during all of my therapeutic work.

What have you learned from working in this field?

Working with children and young people has allowed me to become very aware of the prime role the body and movement have in our emotional life. What better teachers than those who live in their bodies without the interference of analysing thoughts and feelings that come into play once the neocortex is fully integrated, in adulthood. The neuroscience tells us how closely related our sense of self is to our interoceptive sense, and that this is the key to our full integration of mind body and emotions. I am grateful for the lesson from my young clients.

What do you think are the most important issues right now in this area?

I am receiving more referrals than ever from parents who are being failed by the health service. I think that entering schools the way Teen Yoga is doing, and finding other innovative ways to reach young people is fundamental to the population’s future mental health.

How would you present your work to parents and teachers who are wondering about the work you do?

In my experience there’s no replacement for getting adults to participate in order to understand the benefits of yoga and mindfulness. I encourage parents and teachers to participate by attending trainings, downloading apps and playing them out loud in the house so their children can be passive participants if they won’t engage themselves. It is great role modelling for young people to see their parents and teachers getting onto the mat and connecting with their breath, and calm parents who can approach their children with open hearts make for calm children. 

Come and hear Lisa talk more extensively about her work at Instill in November. You can book here.

Instill speakers: Alison

Yoga in the PRU

Alison Jennings first started practicing yoga at the age of 15 and was captivated by the spiritual aspects at an age when she was trying to make sense of the world. She says: ” I couldn’t really pinpoint the answers but I knew yoga offered me a deeper connection with myself. Having trained to teach yoga to teens in November 2013 I took some time to assimilate what I had learnt and gauge what I had to offer. This led me to work in Pupil Referral Units (PRU).”

Alison Jennings

Yoga for young people with behavioural or emotional difficulties.

“One April morning in South Wales I arrived at the Pupil Referral Unit filled with apprehension and determination – I had an hour to demonstrate the strength and power of this ancient practice we call yoga. The youngsters were sat outside smoking and swearing and making it perfectly clear they DID NOT want to be doing ‘yoga’. I had to find a way to dissolve their initial reticence. So rather than feeling intimidated (even though I was shaky inside) I stood my ground and invited them all to grab a mat and join me in the hall. Surprisingly they cooperated. Even more surprisingly to both their teachers and care workers, was the fact that they stayed on their mats, maintained their concentration and enthusiasm for a session of sun salutations, balancing asana, followed by a relaxation.

These were young people who had been kicked out of school for a variety of reasons, most of them relating to violence or addiction. They had never done yoga before, and resisted most structured and formal methods of education. But they got on their mats and they listened. They gained a sense of achievement when they could hold a plank or balance on one leg and grinned from ear to ear at how amazing they felt after a short yoga nidra. Surprised and elated I left the PRU that day in tears. I had reached a group of people whom most of society had washed their hands of. I had brought them back into their bodies, and grounded them for a short period.”

Classroom and Practical sessions

“I worked with some of those young people for about 8 months until they were old enough to leave education. There were days when aggression prevailed and flying chairs, overturned desks and many four-letter words were common. But my great teacher Charlotta Martinus had taught me a magical lesson – teach from a place in your heart and with consistency.”

Consistency and Aparigraha

“So, I continued to show up. I continued to offer yoga. It took me on a journey of my own self-discovery. I had to explore aparigraha (non attachment) in a completely new light. I wanted to heal these people, take them home and make them ‘better’. But I soon learned that my dharma was simply to consistently offer them tools – to understand themselves, trust themselves, respect themselves and others. I continued to overcome resilience and hostility by meeting them at their starting point. Amazingly taking yourself off your mat, diminishing your expectations about shape, form and process can take you to a much more creative view of yoga.”

Taking Yoga off the mat

“Initially we focused on naming muscles, joints or learning that simply letting go and surrendering to the ground in relaxation made body and mind clearer and calmer. We also spent some theory time in the classroom learning about yamas and niyamas – (codes of conduct and ethical practice). My most memorable and rewarding hour in the unit was sat with this group of young people listening to them shower compliments to one another embodying ahimsa (kindness to  oneself and others). For many of them giving a compliment to themselves or another person was an alien concept. We were slowly taking yoga off the mat and into their lives.”

Yoga in CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services)

“As my work at the PRU evolved I started to deliver yoga to youngsters with low self-esteem, anxiety and low mood. I am currently teaching yoga in a secure mental health unit in a hospital in South Wales. The unit is a place of hospitalisation and care for children aged between 11 and 18, who have a variety of mental health conditions. These young people might be suffering from depression, suicidal thoughts, OCD, self-harm, psychosis or schizophrenia. This is my most challenging and enriching day of the week.”

Grounding techniques

There are children in the hospital from all backgrounds and walks of life. Often they are reluctant to participate in any activity. Yoga takes place in the hall, enrichment room or outdoor space. It is important to give stability to these young people – for some of them the fear of the unknown can feed their already fragile state of mind.

A typical session of teaching yoga in a mental health ward isn’t like walking into a plush studio filled with able-bodied students. My role, however, is to help the patients leave the yoga session feeling more able, more confident and more assured than when they arrived. They might gain a sense of ease with themselves. For many of them this is a daily struggle. Grounding techniques to bring students back to the body is often the primary focus.

Using terms and asana that transfer the awareness from head to feet, sky to earth along with strength building postures offer a safe space to explore being back in the human body.”

Inclusion is key

“I have one single consistent rule when offering yoga in these settings. That everyone is in the room is in some way participating. For some this is the simple task of removing shoes and sitting on a mat. Due to the nature of their illness they are often reluctant to engage. There have been students who have taken weeks to make eye contact and lift their heavy heads from their heavy hearts. Watching them eventually flow through a sun salutation and lift their hearts in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana or Urdhva Danurasana and open their hearts is a job reward which doesn’t really have words.”

Self Acceptance

“But of course yoga can offer so much more than a set of asana (poses). Self- acceptance can be a brilliant healing tool. As the students move through a yoga session they might slowly unravel some of the awkward and uncomfortable sensations they hold. Sometimes a breakthrough takes place in their ability to accept enjoyment. I spent a lot of energy finding a way to inspire them to open up so they can start to see light where darkness has prevailed. I understand that I have to foster a method that allows the students to see me as their teacher and at the same time a human being with faults and failings. We don’t always practice our yoga in silence. We don’t stick to the rules about how the mats are laid out or if we even need to stay on them. But collectively, through this amazing and fascinating thing we call YOGA we create an environment where we can just BE our wonderful and diverse selves.”

What the therapists say…

“The feedback from both the staff and children at the hospital is fantastic. Many of the patients go on to find yoga in their community when they are discharged. This empowers them and gives them a chance to find a sense of belonging. Many of the teachers and therapists are yoga students themselves and genuinely embody the aspects of yoga needed to heal and grow.”

Would you like to know more or interested in bringing yoga into a PRU? Register NOW to reserve your place at the Instill conference on 11 th November where Alison will be presenting a workshop on this topic.


At Instill this year we will be presenting the results of the Teen Yoga Foundation survey that we have been carrying out over the summer.These results are giving us a good idea of how many young people are involved in yoga, the frequency of classes, the distribution across the country, the kinds of classes being taught, prices, organisational arrangements and so on. You can book for Instill here, and remember that registered members of the Teen yoga Foundation get a discount. You can register here, or use the JOIN NOW button on the left.

Enrich the results!

We have had a wonderful response, larger than might usually be expected for a survey of this kind, so a warm thankyou to all those of you who have already responded. We will be closing the survey on Tuesday 3rd October, to give a little more time for anyone else who hasnt heard about it, since the more response we have, the richer the insights we can share. Since the survey has been taking place over the summer, there may be some who have missed it. Please help us and share it once more with your friends and contacts. Here is a link to the survey. We look forward to seeing you, and hearing you too in the workshops at Instill!

Why do the survey?

It is now more than ten years since Teen Yoga began, and more than 600 Teen Yoga teachers have been trained. Though we are in contact with many, we don’t have information about what everyone is doing and it would be useful to have it for all of us, because:

  • It can help teachers promote the value of yoga to schools and parents by showing the number of young people already doing yoga
  • It will also be of value to the Teen Yoga Foundation in our requests for funding, for our research and other activities.
  • Having a clear idea of the activity in the Teen Yoga community will help us to better adapt the work we do to the real needs ot teen yoga teachers and the young people they work with.

In a way the survey is a kind of census of the Teen Yoga community.  It is a simple online survey, to be answered by anyone who is teaching yoga to young people. It only takes a few minutes.

Here is the link to the survey again.

All the information will be treated in the strictest confidence, in accordance with current UK data protection laws, and when presenting results all data will be anonymised.


Teen Yoga Foundation Census 2017

Teen Yoga Foundation at the World Yoga Festival

At the beginning of July, the Teen Yoga Foundation had a tent at the World Yoga Festival in Reading. This is an event that was first held in 2016, with great success, but we had been at another event at Alexandra Palace. This was only the second time we had been present at an open air event of this kind, and we were interested to see to what extent it was worthwhile to have a presence at this kind of festival.

We go every year to the OM Yoga Show in London. That has quite a commercial focus, very like a trade fair, most of the exhibitors are present to sell yoga products or services, and the atmosphere is quite rajasic. People often seem overwhelmed by the volume of activity and stalls to see and their visits to our stall are brief. We frequently only have time to hand them a leaflet, and hope that later they may read it!! This quick turnover of visitors is good for reaching a lot of people in a short time, but less effective in giving people the whole picture of what we do.

The World Yoga Festival is a more sattvic space. There is more emphasis on yoga philosophy, and longer sessions. It is more like a retreat than a trade fair and this was very welcome. We were lucky enough to get a pitch by the lake, close to the main intersection between the different spaces, the food area, and the field with most of the activities, and the campground. Everyone could see us as they walked and we were some way away from the (small) number of sales tents. This meant people visited us at their leisure, and the visits were longer and more leisurely. We had set up the tent as a space to sit down on the ground in the sun, and talk. We were able to have longer, more involved conversations. We may have met fewer people, but they were conversations rather than brief encounters.

We spoke about all the things we do, but especially about the Instill conference and Peace Day, which we hope that many who visited will take part in, and tell other yoga teachers about. It was quite a beautiful weekend, we will be going again next year and would encourage everyone to join us!!!

Instill speakers: Helen Clare

Yoga is for girls, softies and tree-hugging vegans – show us a yoga teacher who hasn’t heard this, especially one teaching teenagers. But Helen Clare has another view!

So, how do you get the reluctant boy – whether through ‘machoism’ or shyness – to the mat?

This is a bit of a thousand dollar question and it is often a case of trial and error to see what captures their interest. But as a yoga teacher of many years for young athletes, Helen Clare knows more than most about how to make yoga appeal to all – including those boys (and girls) at the back of the class.

She says: ‘I think that there is still some stigma about yoga only being for girls, or that is it easy. But I also think these preconceived perceptions are fading, with so many professional athletes publicly talking about yoga as being part of their daily life. This we can encourage.

Helen has a sporty background, something she keeps up now in her home of Cornwall, making her ideal to teach yoga to young people in school groups and local clubs.

‘I have always been into sports – a competitive swimmer throughout school and a keen runner. I now love to surf and run on the Cornish coast path. I teach yoga to many athletes of all sports and love to encourage young athletes to take it up early,’ she says.

So, where do you start when you’re (somewhat nervously) standing in front of a group of doubtful teens?

  • Famous yogis – talk about the sports stars who do yoga. The obvious ones are coach and former footballer Ryan Giggs and world number one tennis player Andy Murray. Even the stereotypical world of rugby has taken to the mat, with the England rugby team doing a few postures to get in peak fitness. If you have images – or better still a film clip – to show of sportspeople doing yoga, even better.
  • ‘Impressive’ postures – ok, yoga is non-competitive but showing a few challenging asanas will get their attention. Try arm balances such as crow for boys and some hip openers for girls – maybe pigeon.
  • Physical benefits – use a bit of anatomy and explain how yoga can boost your physical fitness and help with recovery, allowing the young athlete or sportsperson to return quicker and stronger to the field.

Helen says: ‘I love learning about the anatomy and combing that knowledge of our physiology with the breath and the focus that yoga brings. I love seeing people who come to yoga expecting to only benefit physically, gaining so much more!

And how do get a foot in the door initially to teach these benefits? Let those once sceptical students speak.

‘That was way better than I was expecting! I thought it was going to be really boring.. but that was awesome,’ says a Year 10 boy.


Helen will be sharing more tips and how teachers can specialise in yoga for athletes during her talk at the Instill conference, organised by the Teen Yoga Foundation, in November. Book here!

Find out more about Helen at

Instill speakers: Robin

If like me, you are no longer a teenager, then it may prove slightly difficult to comprehend how practising yoga can relieve stress and reduced  anxiety for teens and their peers. After all, in order to fully digest new ideas, it can be beneficial to get experiential awareness of a suggestion or theory in order to verify, or at least relate to the essence of the idea. Not to worry; we can attempt to grasp the idea by talking to those with the actual empirical background.  Robin Watkins-Davis, who is 18,  is going to be part of a panel with other young teens at the upcoming Instill Conference this November, detailing and sharing her experiences of this incredible holistic tool.


Though her early teens were spent feeling angry and upset, Robin, through the practice of yoga, has created a world in which she says she feels ‘joyful and loved’.  These feelings have allowed her to attain growth in both her personal and academic life; ‘In terms of education, having awareness of my mind and body has helped select my thoughts carefully so that they motivate, encourage and support me in my learning’.  As a result, Robin feels that the many challenges and obstacles that teens face during adolescence can be met with a positive approach along with a greater sense of self belief.


One of the many by-products of yoga practice is a development and expansion of selflessness, which can of course initially seem strange considering yoga is about self-development.  Yet the many testaments to its nourishing benefits seem to be so profound, that it can only serve as a device to share.  In Robin’s case, her journey has not only allowed her to become comfortable in her own body and mind but has inspired her to become a yoga teacher, fulfilling her belief that everyone has ‘the right to know about this magical tool and practice, so that they too can then access it when they desire’.


It would be fair to suggest that it’s not always easy to educate and inspire young people; even if they are your peers.  After all teens often don’t take kindly to being told to do or try anything!  Robin suggests that the way to manoeuvre any resistance to yoga is through subtle suggestions that point towards the workings of the body and mind by touching upon messages of body image, self-confidence, notions of contentment, love, kindness and so forth.  This approach is gentle and calls upon light scientific principles so that the practice can be steered away from any religious or spiritual perceptions which can make teens feel uncomfortable.  This method of engagement fluidly allows for an open mind which is not only essential for academic learning but also in the context of a wider every-day, multicultural society.  Fundamentally though it is the rewards from inspiring others that keeps Robin motivated to share the gift of yoga:


“a young girl in year 9 recently said to me after class ‘I just love yoga because I was having a really bad day and now I feel great!’, others comment on how much it has helped them through anxiety and sleeping difficulties. So far, everyone who has come to yoga, including myself, detail their own unique story of how yoga has turned their life around for the better, so there is definitely a trend here and one not to ignore!”


So what are we waiting for?  To empathise with teens, we need to get into their mind frame, what better way to do this than by coming to see Robin and her friends share their experience at Instill!

Robbie Cully


TYF LogoWe are going to carry out a survey. It is now more than ten years since Teen Yoga began, and more than 600 Teen Yoga teachers have been trained. Though we are in contact with many, we don’t have information about what everyone is doing.

The aim is to find out how many young people are involved, the frequency of classes, the distribution across the country, the kinds of classes being taught, and so on. This information would be useful for all of us, because:

  • It can help teachers promote the value of yoga to schools and parents by showing the number of young people already doing yoga
  • It will also be of value to the Teen Yoga Foundation in our requests for funding, for our research and other activities.
  • Having a clear idea of the activity in the Teen Yoga community will help us to better adapt the work we do to the real needs ot teen yoga teachers and the young people they work with.

We have therefore decided to carry out a census of the Teen Yoga community, using an online survey, to be answered by anyone who is teaching yoga to young people. This survey only takes a few minutes.


Here is a link to the survey.


Please help us by filling out the survey yourself, and asking anyone else you know who teaches yoga to young people to answer it as well.

When the process is complete we will publish a report on the results.

All the information will be treated in the strictest confidence, in accordance with current UK data protection laws, and when presenting results all data will be anonymised.

Thank you!

Teen Yoga Foundation Census 2017

Join us at the World Yoga Festival 2017

This weekend, from Friday 7th to Sunday the 9th of July, the Teen Yoga Foundation has a stall at the World Yoga Festival in Reading.

The World Yoga Festival has a wide range of speakers and activities, and looks like a very rewarding event to attend. We have certainly heard a lot of good feedback from people who went last year.  We have a stand at the festival in order to spread the word about our work at the Teen Yoga Foundation. We will be focusing especially on telling people about the Instill conference in November,  the Peace Day initiative which takes place in September, and on the survey of the Teen Yoga community that we are about to launch. We will say more about this exciting new intiative in a couple of days.

Please come and visit us to talk about our work, the more we talk, and the more suggestions you make, the more we can adjust our work to people’s needs. We are always looking for collaborators to find new ways of bringing the benefits of yoga to young people, and also sponsors who can help to support and  fund the research and advocacy we do, and if you have friends you know are going, please ask them to drop by for a chat.

The exact location is at Beale Park, near Reading.

The nearest station is Pangbourne, and it is 6.5 miles from Junction 12 on the M4. We hope to see you there!!