When some natural event coincides with the ripeness of our awareness, we are opened to new dimensions in experience. These are nature's spontaneous initiations that are the basis of our maturity and wisdom. All cultures and societies recognise the threshold of physical maturity as one such time of transition and changing awareness. In many traditions, puberty is marked by special ceremonies that consecrate physical adulthood and awaken the life of the soul. This is the time when girls should be introduced to yoga to maintain health and emotional stability, and to provide the cornerstone of spiritual experience.
In many traditional cultures, puberty for both boys and girls is surrounded by many symbolic rites. Among certain aborigines, the young girl used to be buried up to her waist in warm sand to assist the first flow, and then was fed and cared for by her mother in a sacred place. Later, she returned to the tribal camp to celebrate the feast marking her entry into womanhood.
In some parts of India, kumari pooja is celebrated at the time of first menstruation. On the first day, having attained womanhood, the girl is worshipped by family and friends as the incarnation of the maidenly aspect of shakti - kumari, symbol of purity and promise. Kumari later grows into Parvati who becomes the consort of Shiva. The kumari is showered with gifts and flowers, and presented with her first sari. Sometimes, there is a festival procession and celebration feast. On the fourth day, after a ritual bath, she goes to the temple to perform pooja and from then on joins in the religious observances practised by devout Hindu women.
Such rituals ease what could be a difficult transition, and publicly recognise the young adult's new status. However, many cultures no longer celebrate such ceremonies, and some girls even come to their first menstruation totally unprepared. This time is a challenge to both mother and daughter, and provides the opportunity to strengthen the foundations of a warm woman to woman relationship in later years. Frank discussion will be appreciated by the daughter and, should a mother feel that her knowledge is inadequate, this is the time to brush up on biological facts.
Adolescence is characterised by the stresses and strains accompanying times of rapid personal growth. The physical changes set in motion at puberty continue, and it takes some years for the hormonal balance to assert itself. Not only does her body become a stranger, but the adolescent girl becomes aware of new roles and responsibilities that often create emotional conflict. At this time she has to recognise her sexual drive and learn how to deal with it.
During adolescence, a girl is under increasing pressure to prepare for marriage and motherhood and she has to abandon a lot of the freedoms of her childhood. This is a time when a girl must make some compromise between her own ambivalent desires and the restraints and skills she must develop to become a member of adult society. As a result, she often becomes moody and resentful, angry, defiant or sulky. She may begin to act in ways that are either antisocial or self-destructive. Problems she might have had since early childhood become worse, and her distress and conflict may manifest themselves in irritability, nightmares, giggling, nail-biting, lying, shyness, brooding, sensitiveness or weeping.
Sometimes a girl's behaviour is affected so much that her family thinks she is mentally disturbed. Often parents and family elders are not aware of the relationship between the changes in her body and those in her mind. In such cases, an already distressed young woman may be sent to a psychiatrist or mental hospital. In India, poojas are performed, magic and mantras invoked, but all to no use.
It is precisely at this time that parents can give their child much needed support. By introducing her to yoga, they are giving her a gift of courage and optimism needed on the path to her own unique destination.
Yoga practices have beneficial effects on the whole constitution, regulating the organic functions and balancing the hormones. Asanas, especially surya namaskara, will regulate periods, control weight, clear the complexion and safely release aggressive energy. Pranayama and japa will bring relaxation, soothe the emotions, and assist in developing a positive self-awareness to counter morbid self-consciousness. Yoga practices can help establish emotional stability and give a young girl confidence and poise she will otherwise lack. More importantly, they will preserve the special link that children have with their inner world, ensuring that during the transition to adulthood, this awareness is m no way destroyed but transmuted into a mature spirituality.