If you are a member or director of an organization seeking the benefits of yoga instruction, please click here to complete our Program Request application.
We review program applications on a quarterly basis:
For programs beginning January through March, the deadline is November 30.
For programs beginning April through June, the deadline is February 28.
For programs beginning July through September, the deadline is May 31.
For programs beginning October through December, the deadline is August 31.
Current PYR Outreach Programs
The following are community programs currently supported by Project Yoga Richmond. The instructor/facilitator for each program, compensated for teaching time due to the generous support of our PYR community through donations and in-studio class attendance, has kindly shared a few insights so that we might catch a glimpse. Additional photos of our outreach work may be seen on our “Gallery” page.
Yoga for Autism
My job as a yoga instructor is not about having the perfect Downward Facing Dog—it’s about listening to the students, finding their needs and how they can be fulfilled. In a studio or gym setting, this is done by simply asking questions at the beginning of class. Where are your aches and pains? What poses would you like to work on?
Teaching at the Dominion School for Autism forces me to find those answers by listening in a different way. Many of these students can’t verbalize what they need because their bodies and minds are sending them too many messages at once, so communicating with these students requires that I really look into their eyes to see how a pose feels for them. It demands that I pay attention to every facial expression and reaction. It’s a kind of investigative communication that involves searching for cues and connections. For them, I am often just as mysterious. They are just as eager to understand me as I am them.
Yoga—a word that’s translated as union—provides the perfect format to find those answers. Beyond sound, beyond race or age or disability, yoga offers a language we can all speak. For me, that unique conversation is experienced on a weekly basis at the Dominion School.
Yoga for Seniors
I have been teaching a twice-weekly gentle yoga class at Marywood Apartments since May of 2012. Marywood is a subsidized apartment complex for senior citizens. It started as a community for Russian immigrants so sometimes Russian is the primary language spoken in the room. p.s…I speak English!! I have to be very careful as a person that talks with my hands, because sometimes as I am talking to the class, I see some of the ladies following my hand gestures! There are also a couple of folks who speak Korean. One Korean student is 96 years old and uses her walker as a prop.
It has been amazing for me to watch the transformation of this group. Their posture is better, their flexibility has improved and those that were hesitant to even come into the room now join me, standing for many of the poses. The class started as a chair yoga class only, but now we start in the chair, move to standing, and then move back to the chair.
One of the biggest challenges I had was getting the group to settle down for savasana. They now all close their eyes and relax with me. I have found a book of poetry that they enjoy and if I forget it they make sure to remind me not to forget the next time.
One of my most memorable comments was when one lady said she was so excited to reach the back of her head when she dyed her hair!
It is a true joy to spend a couple of hours every week with “my” seniors. I feel like a have made some very special long lasting friends while sharing my love of yoga and watching them become more active.
Yoga for Teens
Liz Sussan and Becky Eschenroeder- Brook Road Academy (written by Liz Sussan)
The weekly yoga for teens class at Brook Road Academy at St. Joseph’s Villa started in March 2011. The class focuses on staying lighthearted and helping teens find a connection to their minds and bodies and uses asana, physical yoga, along with pranayama, control of the breath, in every class. I encourage the students to smile during challenging poses and laugh when they fall out of balancing poses. I ask them to push their limits, try new things, and tune in to the signals of their bodies. I also encourage quiet and peace in the space so they can “just be” and still their minds.
As the students start to unlock their bodies, feel into the muscles, ligaments, and the poses that their bodies create, they connect to themselves. It’s my hope that the connection and space that they find leads them to more compassion for themselves and others.
I encourage students to speak up and request poses, and every class ask if they have a favorite pose they’d like to practice or a new pose they’d like to learn. I try to engage them. Some classes are built totally by the students. I have asked them to bring in a pose they wanted to practice and made a list of their poses on the board to use as a guide for our class.
The students I have the privilege of working with at Thomas Jefferson High School are not only my students; they are my teachers. Some of them are in constant “fight or flight” mode; just trying to survive at all times, while others have a sense of grounding and peace about them.
The energy in a room full of high school children who are constantly in “go” mode can be synergistic chaos. Before beginning asana practice, I have them sit and close their eyes (if comfortable) and play peaceful music. The students begin to take a slow, deep inhales and exhales with me while I lead them through a brief “centering” before we begin to move. They immediately can tell this is something different, something special. The students that I spend time with every week have such a hard time being still and quiet in a classroom, and constantly feel they have to be doing something. They never fail to whisper a quiet, genuine “yeessss” when I tell them they can lay down and close their eyes on their mats. They are safe to “just be”. Their ability to trust and to find peace within themselves takes place right before my eyes! Each time I see this, I get so emotional!
I have students coming up to me in the halls when I arrive with palms pressed together, greeting me with “Namaste.” I make a promise to myself, to the kids at TJHS, and to students at schools that haven’t even experienced the magic and grace of yoga yet, that they will find that peace within.
I look forward to each and every Tuesday, knowing it is my time with the kids at Albert Hill Middle School. Or, “The Hill” as they call it. For me, it is of the utmost importance that I arrive early. To set up and create the space in which these kids are about to walk into. One by one they begin to arrive and I can immediately see the day begin fade away. Some bursting into the classroom exclaiming loudly, “I really need this today!”, or “I’m so stressed out!”
I know that they have all had a chaotic and stressful day, and have no idea what battle each of them may face outside. What I do know is that while practicing and studying yoga, they have the freedom to BE. The freedom to be themselves in an environment that is both welcoming and friendly. A space where each student knows they will not be talked about or down to, laughed at, called names, or surrounded by negativity. This is a time to explore their connection of mind, body, breath and how they all work together.
During our time together, it is a delicate dance of respect, our very first lesson. Subtly teaching how to get and give it in return. Class begins with a share circle where students can talk about anything they wish. Our asana practice runs 45 minutes to an hour. They follow along and I encourage them to try new things, reminding them that each day is different and the breath will help them through any difficulty on and off the mat. Keeping the mood light, I suggest trying a new pose: “Laugh it off if you fall, and get back up! At least you tried, and know what it takes to succeed the next go around.” By the time savasana comes, they are more than ready and quickly settle in. This is the moment they have been waiting for. The time for quiet and stillness. Possibly the only moment like it they will have until bedtime or our next class. Many fall asleep and do not even awake until it’s over. This is often a sign of a breakthrough, or a release of the day’s stress, cares, and worries– even if it lasted just a few moments.
When I started teaching at “The Hill” it was obvious from the start that these kids could use yoga in all aspects of their lives. Middle school is a time in a child’s life where one is caught between being a child and being a teen. At this age children begin to learn about themselves, their emotions, their bodies, and so much more. It can be a stressful time for most. I am so thankful that I, along with PYR and our kind supporters, helped start this program. I knew that with our intentions, the kids here would flourish. They continue to grow spiritually, emotionally, and communally– and quite beautifully at that!
Yoga for Recovery
For the purpose of anonymity, the author’s name is withheld.
When we talk about yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj, or “yoke,” we are talking about connection, or union. Addiction can be said to be born out of disconnection: from self, from other, from the body, from the breath, from the spirit. The practices of yoga and the 12 step process are meant to support the evolution of a whole, connected, complete being. Vital to this lifelong process in each case are the practices of willingness, awareness, self-inquiry, and surrender.
The principles of both yoga and of the 12 steps of recovery line up well, as practitioners may soon notice, and the study and practice of yoga helps support the addict or the one affected by addiction, in order to prevent relapse. The self-awareness reached through the yoga practice is critical to the addict reading his or her own thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and finding the ability to hit the “pause” button, take a breath, and move ahead from a place of stability and groundedness. This simple practice is the root and the foundation of healing through both yoga and the steps. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2:16 states heyam-dukham-anagatam – The suffering that has not yet come can be prevented. This simple assertion is the underlying principle of yoga and recovery.
The Y12SR (The Yoga of 12 Step Recovery) meeting follows a format similar to that found in traditional 12 step meetings, but the focus is on the exploration of the personal experience of physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of addiction that yoga addresses so well. It’s open to anyone facing active addiction or affected by the addictive behaviors of another. In Y12SR, we sit, get centered and grounded, then have a 45 minute meeting, with a topic relevant to both yoga and recovery, in which participants are invited to share thoughts and feelings in a safe, anonymous space. At the end of each person’s share, the group takes a deep grounding breath. Following sharing, the group is led by the meeting space holder in a short meditation and breath exercise. Following the meeting is the 45 minute yoga practice, appropriate for beginners and intermediate practitioners. Within the practice, we reinforce the work we do in recovery and allow the “issues in the tissues” to be released, clearing the way for deep transformation and healing!
Once established in the practice of letting go, it is believed that the individual is more able to move beyond whatever has been held in order to experience further healing and wholeness. A powerful self-awareness takes root. Y12SR can thus be seen as a relapse prevention tool.
More information about Y12SR and its founder, Nikki Myers, is available at www.y12sr.org.
One statement that I often make at the end of my yoga classes is, “Thank you for allowing me to teach and for teaching me so much in return.” Never have I learned so much as I have in my experience with teaching Freedom Yoga. Freedom Yoga is a class held once a month at PYR that is designed to share the gift of yoga with individuals with intellectual disabilities, with specific adaptations for Down Syndrome. It all started with Sara (Sasa) Noftsinger’s niece, Britt, having the idea of holding a yoga birthday party celebration for her Aunt Sasa. Upon being asked to teach at the birthday, I was immediately humbled and honored. My wheels started turning as I begin to realize I had no experience in teaching individuals with Down Syndrome. I take serving my students to the very best of my ability very seriously and I wanted to do the same for Sasa. I did as much research as I could before the birthday party and thought I had everything all perfectly planned out….
There are certain things that you simply cannot learn from reading about it in a book. Certain things simply must be experienced. My first time with Sasa was one of those times. Throughout the entire birthday class I was so worried about whether Sasa was enjoying herself or not. I couldn’t tell based on her very “still water” presence and demeanor. I continued to cue her through one asana to the next; trying to cater each pose to the structure of her body. After class was over, I approached her and she gave me the biggest hug. I was overcome with a feeling of genuine love. Then I asked her how she felt; what she thought of the class. She looked at me, she looked away and thought, and then she looked at me again. “Freedom,” she so eloquently stated. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I held back tears of inspiration. This beautiful individual had already taught me so much in seeing the simple yet profound way she lived her life. When I was asked to begin a series for individuals with intellectual disabilities, with specific adaptations for Down Syndrome and was asked to think of a name, it was a no brainer: “Freedom Yoga.”
Working with Sasa and her friends has been and continues to be one of the most beautiful learning experiences I have ever had the honor of having. I am so grateful for Sasa’s sweet family and friends, and to PYR for allowing this learning and teaching experience to continue. I am grateful for one of my most influential teachers…Sasa.
Yoga for Court-Involved Youth
Wendy Warren and Sara Lovelace (written by Wendy Warren)
Twice a week, several young women who are housed within the Department of Juvenile Justice get on their mats to journey inward. We join together as yoga students with a shared purpose…to look within and tap into our inner strength to find balance and joy.
These young women live in an incredibly structured environment. Every hour of each day is accounted for in a strict schedule. Too much rigidity leads to breakage, so we spend time learning to bend. Laughter is encouraged to ease the stress of the day. The young women are encouraged to laugh at themselves, laugh with each other, and to laugh both with and at me. The only condition is that all jokes must be made with a respect for one another and a respect for self.
In class, I not only teach postures, but I also offer praise that arms these young women with a sense of accomplishment and confidence, both of which are necessary when faced with the test of making wise decisions. By setting intentions for class that focus on joining the mind, body, and spirit, we call on (and sometimes find) the inner spiritual strength that allows us to stay encouraged when the mind needs to override the body. The classes are designed to teach them that structure, in combination with focus and laughter, brings progress and success.
It is so imperative that these young women know that we are truly one, and that because I am, they are, and because they are, I am. With this thought in mind, my greatest joy in teaching arrived after one of the young women rejected a sun salutation handout that I offered to assist in their home practice. She looked at me, smiled, and stated simply that she did not need the handout because she had memorized the postures during our classes and she practices them on her own while in her room during the week.
Yoga For Adults with Special Needs
Aspree Adult Day Services is a day facility for mentally and physically challenged men and women. PYR was contacted to offer yoga here twice a week, and I jumped at the chance! I am greeted each time by “the yoga lady is here” and several hugs. Recently I had taken in some brightly colored yoga mats and had some of the folks join me on the floor for some simple asana. One of the men who had been unresponsive until that day took a chance to sit on the blue mat…and I saw a little glimmer in his eyes. As I was leaving that day, I hear my name very loudly…”SARAH!!” As I turned, I noticed it was him, with his arms wide open for a hug and a quiet “I love you.” That simple act made my day, week and month. You get the idea.