Why should I Meditate?

Often, it can be intimidating to start a meditation practice. We might fear that we cannot do it “correctly”, that we are unable, or the thought of simply sitting with ourselves can be too much. But meditation takes many shapes and forms. One of our lovely meditation teacher’s, JaVonne Bowles is here to help you break down those barriers and fears. Read what JaVonne has to say about getting passed the initial hurdles of meditation and the ways your life may change.

When and why did you start meditating?

My first form of meditation was through journaling, but on January 1, 2016, after volunteering for the first time at PYR and being cued into a Gratitude Meditation, I was invited to check-in the weekly Mindful Meditation Sessions. The yogis that lead these sessions were indispensable.

They made it extremely easy for me when seated meditation was the topic of discussion in my Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) around March 2016. Originally it was a requirement that I kind of dreaded of my YTT, however meditating quickly turned into a “why not” instead of a “why” (if that makes sense). I will have been practicing meditation for 3 years in June :)

What changes have you noticed in your life since practicing meditation?

Journaling took place out of a need to express myself, I’ve always had ideas and thoughts that seemed close, yet still out of reach. Once I began to clear my mental path of where I wanted to go and how I wanted to get there life seemed limitless. Even when I forget that I am capable of accessing this ready-to-go tool, I become slightly frantic and even a little anxious. Meditating constantly reminds me that I am not my thoughts, nor just a physical being – stepping out of the cycle of life truly grounds me. When I think (after a meditation session) or speak from a mindful place, it is not as rough as it used to be. People have told me that I speak with clarity and I owe this to my meditation practice.

What tips do you have for someone looking to start a meditation practice?

There is never a wrong way. We are sometimes conditioned to think that if you are not seated or breathing properly then it is not meditation, I implore you to find what you already enjoy doing and simply change your perspective. For example, if you are a cook and over the years cooking has become second nature, it takes almost nothing of you to prepare a fine meal. Stop and (using the words I’ve recently read in Holly Z’s blog post) “become a novice”. Allow yourself to really think about what it is that you are doing and why. Why choose those spices over the other, why the method you choose, say sauteing, instead of steaming? Enjoy the flow of your breath as you continue to do your regular task. Begin there then practice patience with yourself as you move into the more subtle ways of meditating, for example, a seated practice. Keep a journal and invite random chatter as you place pen onto paper, let the rougher edges of your thoughts, the ones that appear to always be there, to come out.

Why do you enjoy teaching meditation?

I enjoy creating safer spaces. I believe that I have a general understanding of what pressure feels like and the desire to be perfect in every aspect. When I lead meditation, the level of pressure and perfection is placed in your hands – accessible if you wish to delve into it yet first accepting and loving where you currently are.

Have you noticed any changes in your students? If so, what?

When I first started leading, I would always hold space (as my teachers had done for me) for any questions, comments or concerns. Usually it was I that occupied that space alone. The students seemed timid to share and not necessarily content. As I’ve continued to deepen my personal practice, conversations that take place both before and after are full of life and the wonders it has. Perspective has changed.

Join Javonne Bowles and Jena Morrison for meditation weekly at our pay-what-you-can studio! We offer weekly meditation on Wednesdays with Jena at 6pm and Fridays with JaVonne at 11am! Visit our class schedule for more info!

Mindfulness and ESOL Literacy Outreach Program

This weekend, Project Yoga Richmond had the opportunity to present at the 10th annual Equity and Social Justice Conference hosted with the VCU School of Education. The presentation discussed an evolving three-year partnership between Project Yoga Richmond and the English as a Second Language (ESOL) program at Falling Creek Middle School in Chesterfield County to provide Mindfulness/Literacy programming for Newcomer English learners. Using the tools of yoga and meditation, our goal is to share the physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual benefits of yoga to help communities and participants develop mind-body awareness and self-regulation, cultivate self-acceptance, and build resilience.

Our partnership with PYR started in the 2014-2015 school year.  To give some context, the so-called “border crisis” had been in the news that summer. Increasing numbers of immigrants were crossing the Southern border. Large numbers of children, including unaccompanied minors were coming into the US from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). This was happening in response to increasing levels of violence and poverty there. That year, Falling Creek experienced a surge in enrollment of Newcomer ESOL students that continues today. Newcomers are new speakers of English who are in their first year of US schooling.

That same year, Carolyn Waters, ESOL teacher at Falling Creek and second-year doctoral students in the Curriculum, Culture, and Change track at VCU’s School of Education was part of a MERC teacher action research cohort at VCU, and did a project on family engagement for ESOL families. In talking to students and their families she heard many stories of separations and reunifications due to parents immigrating first then sending for their students, traumatic experiences in the home countries, interrupted schooling, difficult immigration journeys, and border detentions.

In the classroom, this seemed to manifest in increased challenging behaviors: difficulty focusing on school work, attention-seeking behaviors, fights, students shutting down and disengaging, parents telling us they had just gotten their teenage children back after long separations and weren’t how to handle anger and defiance, lack of native language literacy to build on for learning English. At one of PYR’s community fundraising events, Saturday Salutations, Carolyn heard about PYR’s outreach programs and their mission provide access to yoga and applied to have a program at her school as she believed her students would benefit from the practice.

Around the time of the Falling Creek ESOL program application, PYR as an organization was starting to engage in discussions around Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs, and how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness could be a community resource for serving youth and helping to build resilience.  The ACE’s study was conducted by Kaiser Permanante and the CDC and associated adverse childhood experiences with health and social issues as an adult.  Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a significant impact on health and opportunity.  ACES have been linked to adopting risky health behaviors, chronic health behaviors and social problems, and shortened life expectancies.

Project Yoga Richmond also recently hosted a Trauma-Informed Yoga Training for its Ambassadors to ensure that teachers feel prepared to work with populations who may have experienced trauma. The primary intention of a trauma-informed yoga practice is to promote self-regulation.  Self-regulation is the state of being grounded, centered, and oriented in present time.  It allows for a sense of safety and resiliency and can lead to healing. Self-regulation is not about feeling only the good stuff.  It’s about being able to tolerate discomfort.  Being able to feel discomfort (a sore back) while feeling a resource (your feet on the floor) creates resilience.  Resilience means being able to feel our fear/anger/grief while also feeling that there is part of us that is okay.

In our yoga and mindfulness programs, our goal is to provide an environment where students can experience self-care and compassion.  The purpose of yoga is to not deny the uncomfortable or bad experiences, but to show that there are also good, supported ones.  And to offer the tools that aid in healing and that promote a general sense of wellbeing and hopefully ease.

With this particular program, we decided to have a smaller class size, as to provide the opportunity during reflection for Carolyn and Holly to speak to each student and cultivate connection.  For most part, we have had a consistent group of students, which helps in building trust and hopefully resilience.

When onboarding a new outreach program, Project Yoga Richmond is very intentional in its selection of accountable community partners and our ability to pair Ambassadors with relevant experience to the proper program. Holly Zajur, PYR’s Communications Manager and a PYR Ambassador, is currently teaching our outreach program at Falling Creek. Holly was a natural fit to teach this program based upon her work with the Hispanic community throughout her life as well as her teaching experience.

Holly feels deeply connected to teaching at Falling Creek for a number of reasons. When she was young, Holly was fluent in Spanish, but after going to school, she got embarrassed and stopped speaking. She now teaches yoga at Falling Creek in both Spanish and English to demonstrate the struggles of learning a second language and to encourage students to practice both Spanish and English. While she teaches, students often help her with the language, which helps them to recognize the importance of their native language and gain confidence, as well we demonstrating that it is okay to make mistakes when learning a second language.

Holly understands the powerful potential that yoga has to transform her students’ lives. She is aware that her students may not know where they are going to sleep next week, or if they will still be in school. These students already are, and will continue to face more adversity than ever before. She believes that in order to be successful, yoga is necessary to help navigate through the uncertainty they face on a daily basis.

This past week, a student at Falling Creek who is always enthusiastic and eager to participate had just come from the principal’s office and was visibly upset, and excused himself during class. At the end of class, Holly asked that young boy to walk her to the office before she left. She provided a walking meditation for the student followed by a moment to talk and reflect about why practicing yoga is important.

At the core of the program, yoga and mindfulness encourages connection and then redirection to integrate both the right and left sides of the brain. Using Holly’s example from class this past week, the yoga movement provided in class was a vehicle to connecting with the feelings or right side of the brain.

The walking meditation and individual time with the student was another source of connection.  Once the connection is made, there is an opportunity to redirect the energy with logic and understanding.  Redirection happens during the times of journaling (which is placed after the yoga practice) or when the student started to articulate the reasons why he practices yoga, therefore integrating the left side of the brain.

How can yoga be useful for healing trauma and building resilience?
  • Yoga provides a fully integrated experience by which a connection is made to one’s own body and to others.
  • Through breath, movement and experience in the present moment, yoga creates rhythms that aid in regulation.
  • Yoga is a structured, supported, self-paced way for students to make small, manageable choices with respects to their bodies – and the shapes they make – that are kind and compassionate.  In making these safe, healthy choices, students can start developing skills around acting rather than reacting

We follow some basic principles when teaching in this setting that promotes a shared experience of safety, inclusivity, and compassion.

 

  • Always consider the room set up and place mats in a circle as opposed to rows
  • Take final relaxation on their stomachs
  • Repetition of movement/sequences – to build trust, confidence, and competence – a student now leads a warrior sequence
  • The language used is always invitational, options are provided but not too many as too much choice might be dissociative

Carolyn did a quasi-experimental study of the students at the beginning and end of a yoga session one day last spring.  Using a validated survey instrument developed by a researcher from the Psychology Department at VCU, Dr. Kirk Warren Brown the “Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale – Adolescent” which we translated into Spanish.  The instrument is designed to measure “state mindfulness” or mindfulness in the moment (as opposed to “trait mindfulness” which is more general all day mindfulness). Mindfulness scores increased for every student, with a very large effect size and statistically significant results.

We are proud of our program at Falling Creek Middle School look forward to continuing our partnership and working on making this program as powerful as possible for our students. To support our ESOL program at Falling Creek and our other outreach programs, make a tax-deductible donation today!

Can Acro Yoga Help Build Trust?

We believe yoga has the power to heal and strengthen individuals and in turn, transform whole communities. We work hard to increase access to yoga because we see this transformation on a daily basis through our students. We are honored that one of our student’s, Julia Bardof, took the time to share a part of her story with us and reflected on the ways acro yoga has changed her life.

“To say yoga has changed my life is an understatement. Yoga, Acro Yoga, and Thai medicine are now intertwined parts of my being. They have all played an integral part of my healing process on so many levels. Yoga has physically helped my symptoms from Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, while mentally and emotionally helping me find more balance and peace.

When reflecting on the ways Acro Yoga has transformed my life, trust is one of the first words that come to mind. Acro Yoga provides a space for me to trust myself to get out of my own head and allow movement to happen. To trust another human to suspend me in the air, to fully support another human-being them safely to the ground, trusting the spotter has your back, should something go awry.

The initial trusting of each other’s strengths is one thing, but trusting another human on a deeper level, that takes time to cultivate. To truly connect with another human in that moment to create a fluid movement together. To know that you are not alone. This is where Acro changes lives. To me, this practice goes much deeper than the physical. Unfortunate trauma in my earlier years, left me quite guarded, especially regarding physical touch and overall social anxiety. This practice just continues to help breakdown barriers.

None of these amazing things could happen without a group of loving, welcoming, individuals who’ve also gone through their struggles, who have experienced the medicine of physical touch and true connection.  Individuals who have chosen to open up and allow for change and healing to occur together. The Acro Yoga Richmond community sparks so much love, joy, and compassion. I feel blessed to be a part of it.”

Through acro yoga, we hope to provide a place for you to heal, trust, and support one another. Join us this Sunday, February 19 and Acro Yoga 101 with Kim Catley from 2-4:30 pm! If this practice is new to you, do not fear, all are welcome and we have this blog post for you to help answer any questions!

 

Photography: Kaiya Healing Arts

Your Power: Social Sharing

Who would have thought that a life changing organization would have started through a Facebook post? But that is exactly how Project Yoga Richmond emerged. The idea grew from the beloved Arlene Bjork’s desire to take yoga to the people in their communities and make it accessible to everyone who wanted it. It wasn’t another yoga studio, exactly; it was a place for community, with yoga at its core. After Arlene passed away in 2009, a group of her students came together and reflected on her life and teachings. Then, PYR Co-Founder Jonathan “J” Miles put his idea into words and posted on Facebook. 6 years later, Project Yoga Richmond is thriving and lives are changing.

While social media has its point to be cautious of, we know how powerful it can be. There are a lot of ways you can support your community through Project Yoga Richmond. Some choose to support us through practicing at our pay-what-you-can studio. Some volunteer. Some donate. In addition to these and the many other ways that you make our community stronger, we want to highlight one of the simplest, yet most powerful ways that you can help us increase access to yoga in the Greater Richmond region. Social sharing.

Here are a few simple ways you can increase access to yoga from the comfort of your couch through social media!
1. Like our Facebook page and invite your friends to do the same
  • The more people that like and follow our Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages, the more people we reach! The more people we reach, the more people we can serve!
  • From 2016 to 2017 we went from 4,726 Facebook followers to over 5,850! Thanks to this increase we were able to reach over 1,000 new people that we were able to reach and share the benefits of yoga with! We also provided 19,999 yoga experiences in 2016, our highest number yet!

 

2. Sign up for our newsletter
  • We promise to respect your privacy and to provide engaging content, plus then you get the inside scoop on what is happening in our community! You can sign up now by clicking here! (Sign up is at the bottom of the page)
3. Like, comment, and share the content on our Facebook, Instagram, and email that you enjoy!
  • The more you like, share, and comment on our posts, the more others will see it as well. The more engagement a post receives, the more people it will reach! Plus this shows us what you like so we can create more of the information you want to see!
4. Post your own pictures at our studio and events on your own social media accounts!
  • Don’t forget to tag us! @projectyogarichmond
5. Participate in social media challenges
  • Follow our Instagram account and participate in challenges to win PYR prizes as your increase access to yoga!!
6. Invite friends to events that are interesting to you
  • The more, the merrier! Share events and workshops with friends and encourage them to come by inviting them on Facebook. This also creates ways for you to connect with people you care about at our studio as you support your community!

 

7. If you volunteer or teach at Project Yoga Richmond, share it on your LinkedIn!

 

8. Share with friends in person about Project Yoga Richmond
  • Nothing beats hearing about something special from someone you care about. Inspire others by sharing your experience with them!
9. Connect at our studio
  • Bring all of those social media connections to life and walk through our pay-what-you-can studio doors with a friend!
  • Try making a Facebook status before attending a class and extending and open invitation for anyone to come!

Feel free to participate and share in whatever ways you feel best for you. Thank you for all that you do to support us as we increase access to yoga. We are constantly reminded of the many ways in which you bring yoga to your community through your service and dedication to Project Yoga Richmond.

How can Yoga help Arthritis and Chronic Pain?

How can Yoga help Arthritis and Chronic Pain?

We are dedicated to making yoga accessible to everyone. To address the needs for those who experience arthritis and other kinds of chronic pain, we are hosting a special 8-week series with Nitika Achalam, one of PYR’s Board Members and one of our newest Ambassadors.

Nitika has experienced chronic pain throughout her life. Despite her pain, she has been able sustain a healthy lifestyle and experienced healing through yoga. Not only has Nitika found yoga to be a powerful way to enhance her quality of life, but she is able to share these tools with others.  Nitika has her RYT-500 hr, been teaching yoga for over 16 years and has a background in Yoga for Arthritis. Hear what she has to say about yoga and chronic pain and the ways it can enhance your quality of life. We hope you leave with some tools that are useful to you!

How and when did you first begin practicing yoga?

From a young age I was learning principles that would support me in developing a yoga practice as an adult. I remember rolling around on the floor and making animal shapes with my body in the first grade. It all seemed like play and exploration at the time, but I later realized that I was mirroring what my mom had learned in her yoga classes and own personal study.

How has yoga impacted your life?

Yoga extends beyond the mat and impacts my life by providing core tenets to support daily living. The study of the science is the basis by which I choose to live. In times of stress or pain the most fundamental thing I ask is if my thoughts will help me to: Do Good and Be Good? Will my actions assist me to Serve All and Love All?

What is chronic pain?

Chronic Pain is a physical limitation, which causes damage and disrupts a person’s quality of life. In my personal experience and that of people I’ve worked with, chronic pain makes it challenging to carry out simple daily tasks, earn a living, and even maintain healthy physical movement.

How has chronic pain impacted your life?

Both of my parents suffer from Arthritis, as do many family members. I’ve watched them navigate life with these aches and pains as they struggle to keep going. I’ve been involved in car accidents and sports injuries, which have resulted in severe lower back pain and limited range of motion in some joints. In addition, I’ve suffered from endometriosis and PCOS all of my life. Until recently, I’ve kept from telling many people about what I experience for a number of reasons. Sometimes I’ve refrained from sharing because I have not wanted to appear weak, out of wanting to feel like “normal” people my age, and wondering how effective of a health care professional can I be if I can’t manage my own health. People don’t understand unless they deal with something similar, others tend to downplay my reality by saying “it could always be worse”.

Chronic Pain has kept me from social engagements and away from work for extended periods of time. In the past, I’d kept the truth about my chronic pain a secret from employers. Holding those secrets led to a loss of work, which in turn led to isolation and depression. Being honest with myself and then with others about how I feel is far more beneficial. It’s ok for me to feel poorly, it’s ok to listen to my body and back off, it’s ok to say no to social engagements or accepting more work than I can reasonably handle, it’s okay to be honest that I am not perfect.

What methods have you tried for coping with chronic pain?

Like so many others, I’ve tried prescription medications to help relieve severe symptoms of pain. While the meds can help, I’ve found that they are not always the complete answer. Yoga for Arthritis (YFA) has been a big help to me and many of my clients by imparting physical and psychological benefits. Through the research of Dr. Steffany Moonaz, creator of YFA, we know that yoga is a safe and effective way for patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis to discover freedom of movement and empowerment. These principles extend to those suffering from other types of chronic pain as well.

The food and drink I choose to put in my body plays a big role in overall health so I stay away from things that trigger. The conditions I experience personally are not curable but they are manageable. I’ve found that even when we are doing “all the right things” our bodies have flair ups and at times feel out of control. Yoga has helped tremendously with managing expectations around having a perfect life at all times. I am now able to find a source of strength in the adversity and use it to assist others in experiencing life beyond pain.

What changes did you notice when you first started practicing Yoga for Arthritis?

When I met Dr. Steffany Moonaz, the creator of Yoga for Arthritis, my understanding of empathy in supporting those living with chronic disease was redefined. People of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds suffer in very similar ways. The yoga community creates a space, free from shame and judgment, to unify all people as we share our experiences and learn how to adapt to the ever-changing demands of our lives.

Did you ever find it challenging to be in yoga classes while dealing with chronic pain?

Yes it can be a challenge to attend “regular” yoga classes at times. Most teachers ask if anyone is working through an injury, but I’ve had many clients feel nervous about disclosing their ailments or health status in a room full of “able-bodied” yogis. Some clients express embarrassment about the lack of support around modifications or adaptations so that they too can participate fully in a yoga class. Transitioning from pose to pose swiftly and feeling the need to keep up a certain pace can be a source of discomfort. The purpose of this 8-week series is to address these concerns and more. We explore topics on how to build a home practice appropriate for all ranges of motion and levels of pain as well as how to safely attend general focus group classes.

Has yoga helped ease your chronic pain?

Yoga has had life changing impact on minds and bodies for thousands of years. The 8-week series I will be teaching addresses chronic pain physically and mentally. The physical stretches of the program are a great relief for tension and assist in building strength, stamina, and flexibility. The breathing and guided meditation practices are effective in stress relief and for the psychological trials of living with pain. I’ve learned that it may not be possible to feel 100% relief from pain at all times but I can use the tools in my yoga kit to shift my perception and attitude in dealing with it.

What is one thing you recommend to someone experiencing chronic pain?

Often times it may seem impossible to even get out of the bed when dealing with Arthritis and Chronic Pain flare ups, much less think about manipulating those parts of the body in any way. The breath is a tool that we all can use no matter the level of pain.

Begin by exhaling slowly and deeply, followed by a long, slow inhalation.
Use the exhale to soften the tension around the joints.
Use the inhale to replace that feeling with a sense of ease.

Breathing in a deliberate way has the power to transform our feelings around a sensation and offers relief by reducing stress. Almost as importantly as breath is seeking out things that make you smile. I like comedy, plants, and creating things from found objects. Even pasting on an artificial smile can be a springboard to real happiness.

What is one of your favorite yoga postures for chronic pain?

It’s tough to make a general statement about what works for all people with chronic pain since that looks different for everyone. A pose that feels good for one person’s neck may hurt another’s back or knees.

My favorite pose is one that does not cause any strain or pain. YFA advocates the use of props to support the physical body to execute poses with ease. Yoga for Arthritis supports practitioners in finding as much comfort as possible in a pose and shifting the focus away from the symptoms to an easeful peaceful experience. My personal favorite relaxation pose is laying on my back with a cushion under my hips while resting my legs up the wall. Then drawing a blanket across my torso and arms. After 10 minutes of deep breathing in this position my back feels a lot less pressure.

Join Nitika every Thursday from 6-7:30 pm from February 16- April 6 for this special 8-week series that will facilitate a space and provide tools for you to find ease within your chronic pain. Space is limited to 8 participants and pre-registration is required, so be sure to save your spot. And remember, when you practice at Project Yoga Richmond, you help make yoga accessible to your community!

Special thank you to Mc Abbott Photography for sharing the talents with us!

Top 19 Reasons People Give to Project Yoga Richmond

Top 19 Reasons People Give to Project Yoga Richmond

  1. Because the ability of yoga to unite and heal is what we need most today, and always. Thanks for all that you guys do.
2. Practicing yoga makes people feel better and in turn lifts the whole community.
3. PYR changed my life. Yoga changed my life. I am now shining my light. The ripple effect is beautiful. #bethemovement
5. In honor of Arlene Bjork, who introduced me to yoga and for Dana Walters’ vision for changing a community through service
6. Because yoga has the power to heal both self and the community in which we live.
7. Taking care of yourself takes care of others!
8. PYR provides our community a source of support, connection, and empowerment!
9. Project Yoga supports the kids at our center (The Founders Center at West Grace) by doing yoga with them and donating their time, and we appreciate it very much!
10. I think all people should be able to enjoy the benefits of yoga, regardless of age, physical ability, or financial situation. Thank you for making yoga accessible to all!
11. Mindfulness is nothing less than the salvation of the planet.
12. Yoga has made a big difference in my life.
13. I see the positive affect that it has
14. Because yoga=love
15. J Miles introduced me to the cause when I lived in VA, you all do amazing work!!
16. I believe it’s essential to self-care and should be accessible for all.
17. Because I’ve experienced yoga’s power to heal at the individual and community level
18. My wife is an ambassador at PYR . Her stories of taking yoga into the community are very uplifting.
19. Project Yoga has given me and my community more than I could ever gain from any other yoga studio. PYR is the only pay what you can studio in town and all proceeds go towards making my city a better place to live. Every time I go to PYR I feel like I always get back more than I give. I cannot say enough about how important I believe yoga and PYR is to myself and my community. I do not want to imagine what our lives would be like without it and I hope I never have to.

You and the reasons you give inspire us. Our first ever annual fundraising campaign has been a great success and we are so close to reaching our goal to ensure that yoga will remain accessible to all for years to come through PYR.

If you haven’t already, it’s not too late to make a donation to Project Yoga Richmond today. All donations are tax deductible, so make your gift before the start of 2017!

The latest on classes and special events, plus an inside look at how practicing with PYR helps our community. Sign up here.