Meditation and mindfulness are not the sorts of things with which most teens can be bothered. They are usually far more concerned with getting on and doing things, usually at 100 miles an hour. But when teens get agitated and stressed, these restful mind techniques can help to calm things down.
You may or may not have heard about the Default Network. No, it is nothing to do with computers or smartphones. It’s a network in the human brain. Recent research has shown that the brain is almost as active when you are doing things, as it is when you are resting and daydreaming. This suggests that brain activity morphs into another mode, and it is a subject that has recently been receiving a lot of attention.
What is the Default Network?
The Default Network of the human brain is the area that is believed to become active during rest and is thought to be responsible for things such as achieving a state of mental harmony.
If you look at the philosophy of yoga, it revolves around three states or Gunas. Tamas (darkness and lethargy), Rajas (energy and passion), and Sattva (purity and peacefulness). Yoga seeks to balance these three forces to achieve a healthy state of mind. When it comes to destressing and calming your teen, it is the Sattva state you are seeking to engage.
Devotees of yoga believe that it is during Sattva that the brain can unclutter itself and resolve problems. It, therefore, presupposes that practicing yoga can bring about efficient, less stressful thinking by engaging the Default Network area of the brain.
Turning thought inwards
The Default Network is involved with the process of perceptual decoupling. This refers to the changing of mental relationships that are ever-present in our brains. In yoga, when you go into a meditative frame of mind, the Default Network engages, shutting out the world outside, allowing you to direct your thoughts inward.
With training and practice, you or your teen can, in theory, induce a meditative state almost anytime, anywhere. It is what yoga is all about.
Practicing yoga is a great remedy for stressed-out teens. They can learn how to tune out any distractions from the outside world and set about improving mental strength without having to constantly suppress interfering thoughts.
Putting the brain into neutral
Although you may not be aware of it, exercising self-control and suppressing thoughts drains your glucose levels leaving you feeling tired and distracted. Yoga exercises train the mind into entering a neutral state rather than having to constantly apply the brakes to suppress active thought.
Initially, a certain amount of active thought is necessary to achieve the various yoga positions. However, with training, this becomes routine, leaving your mind to freewheel. By utilizing yoga in this way and strengthening the Default Network, it allows those practicing this philosophy to calmly contemplate other aspects of life such as mindfulness.
Clarity of thought and insightfulness
Being able to control your mind is a vital step on the path to gaining insights. Insights are defined by psychologists as problems that don’t resolve themselves immediately until suddenly, the answer becomes clear.
Journeying through a maze isn’t an insight problem because it’s something you have to keep at constantly to find the exit. Solving anagrams, on the other hand, is insightful because you either know the answer or you don’t. If you do, it hits you rather like a bolt out of the blue.
Recent research confirms that people who daydream before dealing with an insight problem tend to see the answer almost straight away, whereas those who don’t, do not. It is therefore not surprising that practicing yoga, which activates the default network, facilitates clarity of thought and speeds the resolution of problems.
Staying with the yoga philosophy, thinking actively about problems and their solutions, will only drive a teen out of Sattva and into Rajas. In other words, it turns a purely negative exercise into an active task. It’s not what is needed. It doesn’t engage the Default Network.
Breathe easy, relax and destress
The evenness of breathing that yoga devotees develop helps them to think calmly and allow feelings to flow through their bodies while staying in that all-important neutral state. It allows a free interchange of thought coupled with body movements to harness the power of the Default Network, in a completely non-taxing way.
What it amounts to is that if your teen were to practice yoga, he or she would be capable of solving stressful problems calmly and serenely. The fact of the matter is that yoga promotes insight, more than daydreaming does. It is not unusual to find that the problems one wakes up with are completely resolved after a session of yoga.
Improving focus on organization
Teens can quite often be scatterbrained. Practicing yoga engages the areas of the brain that manage conceptual organization. By translating information into meaningful concepts, it not only highlights its significance, but it improves its retention. In effect, it helps the brain with the daily maintenance of data.
Better than you
In a nutshell, yoga is something of a mental boot camp for your teen and his or her Default Network. Your teen can benefit from improved focus and better problem-solving. So, watch out. If you don’t practice yoga, but your teen does, who knows? He or she could end up being less stressed and more organized than you.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.