10 Yoga and Mindfulness Programs

Are you wondering what programs you will be supporting during our GivingTuesday Yogathon on November 28? Here is a list of 10 of the programs you will be supporting as we raise $10,000 on #GivingTuesday!
1. Brooke Road Academy

  • PYR launched its first community partnership at Brook Road Academy at St. Joseph’s Villa in March 2011, offering yoga and mindfulness to middle and high schoolers, including those facing extraordinary challenges.  Drawing from the program’s success, PYR has developed and implemented yoga and mindfulness partnerships for individuals and communities of all abilities and ages.

    “Project Yoga Richmond has given members of the Brook Road Academy community opportunities to better understand the dynamic interactions among the body, brain, and breath – an integral part of learning that fosters critical reflections and self awareness.” – Ben Walters, English Dept. Chair, Brook Road Academy

2. The Founder’s Center for Commonwealth Autism
  • We offer yoga as a part of The Founders Center of Commonwealth Autism‘s Transition Program each week! Yoga has been a great way for students to engage in physical activity at their own level! And we love having the chance to visit our friends as we share the benefits of the practice with Commonwealth Autism!
  • The physical sequences are similar from week to week (or class to class) to build confidence, encourage exploration, gain a sense of empowerment and independence, and ultimately increase mobility, strength, and balance.  

“Our Transition Program has an adapted yoga class with teachers from Project Yoga Richmond once a week. It has been a great way for our students to engage in physical activity at their own level.” – The Founder’s Center of Commonwealth Autism

3. Freedom Yoga: Yoga for Special Needs
  • Offered the first Saturday of each month from 12:30-1:30pm at PYR’s studio.
  • This class is tailored toward students with intellectual disabilities, everyone in the community is welcome to join!

“Freedom Yoga was a doorway to yoga for us because there weren’t any other places we could go that were calm, relaxing, enveloping, and welcoming to yoga students with special needs, and now we even go to a gentle yoga class together on the regular schedule with all the other students! … It has opened up a whole world of opportunity.”
-Parent of a Freedom Yoga Student

4. ESOL Yoga with the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Passport to Education at Greene Elementary and Salem Church Middle

  • Many ESOL students have shared stories of separations and reunifications due to migration, interrupted schooling, difficult, and border detentions. These experiences often have a traumatic impact on students, which manifests in the classroom and in daily life.
  • PYR  has studied Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, conducted by Kaiser Permanante and the CDC, and uses yoga, meditation, and mindfulness as a community resource for serving youth and helping to build resilience.  These trauma-informed classes have supported students as they heal trauma and build 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
  • Yoga supports ESOL learners to develop language skills and resiliency and fosters community and connection.

“I feel very calm and I can forget about the things that I do not like to think about. I calm down and then don’t need to be so upset anymore. I am grateful because you have taught me to control myself, thank you for your teachings, to be able to control my breath”. – PYR Programs Student

5. Boushall Middle School  and Lucille Brown Middle School with Next Up RVA

  • Half of PYR’s Community Partnerships engage children & youth!
  •  We introduce breathing exercises, relaxation, and visualization techniques as a support to cope with and reduce stress, improve focus/concentration and self-regulation, and promote a general sense of health and emotional well-being.

“For those moments when I feel scared, sad, joyful, disgusted, accepting, ashamed, loving, gentle, or anything and everything else, there is immaculate calm inside me. It’s beautiful. It’s imperfect. It is why I do yoga.” -PYR Programs Student

6. Aspree Adult Day Services
  • This program engages adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities 
  • These adaptive yoga classes are focused on building strength, developing regulation skills through breathing, improving mobility and maintaining/improving overall health and emotional well-being. Additionally, these classes provide a sense of belonging and community.  
7. Senior Center East at Peter Paul Development Center
  • Yoga for seniors supports health benefits, increases mobility and strength, and provides a sense of belonging and community. We have noticed that seniors are able to balance and hold poses for longer, extend their legs and arms higher, and remain in seated savasana/meditation for longer
  • We offer yoga for seniors at Senior Center EAST at Peter Paul Development Center and Marywood Court Senior Apartments
8. Y12SR

  • Y12SR (Yoga of 12 Step Recovery) supports people recovering from all manifestations of addiction, from behavioral addictions to substance abuse – creating a safe place on the mat where trauma can be released. It also supports those who are impacted by a loved one’s addiction.
  • We offer Y12SR at our studio every Tuesday 5:30-7pm and the first Friday of each month from 5:30-7 pm.
9. Trauma-Informed Yoga for Women

  • Yoga provides a supportive space to reconnect with the body, as a mind-body disconnect is often a result of traumatic experiences.  Yoga is grounding and allows practitioners a framework to practice making space from traumatic thoughts, all the while exposing folks to their present moment experience.
  • Join us every other Sunday from 12:30-1:30 pm for Love Your Body: Yoga for Women to experience trauma-informed techniques for yourself!
10. Binford Middle School with Higher Achievement
  • Project Yoga Richmond receives evaluations from program participants, yoga instructors, and partner organization staff ton the impact of the yoga and mindfulness classes.  Many of them cite positive effects of yoga for adolescents, including:
    • Less anxiety
    • A greater sense of self and belonging
    • Developed the ability to self-monitor
    • Better focus
    • Felt less reactive
Support these programs today!

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!

How do Yogi’s Handle Stress?

How do Yogi’s Handle Stress?

Written by Holly Zajur, PYR’s Communications and Studio Associate

Life lessons arise in many unexpected ways. Yesterday, we hosted Saturday Salutations in support of our yoga programs for ESL Children and Youth. The sun was shining, Sue was singing, and the sculpture deck was full of yearning yogis. But somewhere in between the Sun Salutations, the speakers stopped working.

The sound went out and students had a hard time hearing and understanding what was going on in the class. Not being able to hear or understand the instructions can be incredibly stressful. While it is incomparable to what migrant communities face coming to the United States, for a short thirty-minute span, students experienced a teeny tiny glimpse of what ESL students in schools might feel like.

If you were practicing with us on Saturday, take a moment to reflect:

What did it feel like when you could not hear what Sue was saying?

Did you feel lost?

Did you feel like you could not succeed?

What would you do if you felt this way in daily life?

And how did your practice help you deal with that stress and get past these barriers?

Here is how our PYR community handles life’s hiccups:

  • Patience and Perseverance (Tapas / Dedication)

So there is Sue standing on a deck teaching a class to over 160 people, and there is no sound. She could have panicked or been agitated. The class could have stopped. But Sue pushed through. Not only was she already facing her fears by using cues in Spanish, a second language to her, she continued teaching through all of the obstacles. She even played the banjo at the end to show how to embrace uncertainty with grace.

 

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  • Support (Seva / Selfless Service)

Our Superhero Sound Team, Matt and Slash, jumped off of their mats and raced to our rescue. They took not only the time out of their early Saturday morning to help us set up, but they went above and beyond the call of duty, interrupting their practice and doing everything they could to get the speakers working. Our ambassadors moved their mats to the areas that were more distanced from Sue to repeat her cues and demo for the group to follow. Students had to look around and rely on each other to follow what others were doing visually. We had to support one another and collaborate to get through class. We are continually inspired by the selfless service of our amazing students, volunteers, ambassadors, and our board as they share so much of their sacred time with us to support all parts of PYR.

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  • Let Go (Aparigraha / Non-Attachment)

You, our wonderful students, took what could have been an annoyance, and turned it into bliss.  You let go of what you expected going into class and embraced the situation and found beauty in what it was. You took the unexpected of life and turned it into something special.

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  • Laugh (Santosha / Contentment)

Our staff, board, and ambassadors could have been upset that today that did not go as planned. But do you know what we decided to do instead? We danced. We laughed. And we celebrated the ways our practice helps us to deal with the inevitable hiccups of life.

 

  • Rest and Recharge (Brahmacharya / Moderation)

The speakers stopped working today because the outlet was not working and our batteries ran out of power. While this is a common technology issue, it is also something each of us face in daily life. We keep going, and going, but if we are not plugged into a reliable power source, we stop working. We need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves and tuning into our internal power source. It is important to moderate our energy and make sure that we recharge regularly in order to sustain ourselves and our impact in the world.

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These are a few, among the many, messages that yoga teaches us each and every day. The ways the entire PYR community dealt with the unexpected demonstrate the skillsets that yoga brings to our students. Thank you to all who practiced with us this Saturday, for not only embracing life with a yogi state of mind but providing opportunities to share these life lessons with ESL youth in our community through your practice.

What Are We Grateful For?

Yoga was introduced to Falling Creek Middle School last April after ESL teacher Carolyn Waters attended Saturday Salutations at the VMFA the previous Fall. She recognized that the practice of yoga would greatly benefit ESL students in her classroom, many who were facing challenges of living in a new country and learning a new language, so she reached out to PYR. Fast forward one year, and Project Yoga Richmond continues to offer yoga and meditation classes weekly to the middle school ESL students at Falling Creek.

Last week Ambassador Claudine Varesi, an immigrant and ESL teacher herself, shared a story about the meaning of the glass half full vs glass half empty with the students.  The theme of the entire class was: “What are we grateful for?” After meditation, Claudine led the students through a gratitude exercise.There was a full 10 minutes of quiet and reflection!

What are we grateful for? These are our students’ answers:

“What makes me happy is to have my family and us healthy, and to have my friends.”
– ESL student at Falling Creek Middle School

“I am grateful for being here in the United States with my family, and studying, and I am going to prosper here.” 
– ESL student at Falling Creek Middle School

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“First of all I am grateful for having my family with me, and we can also be grateful for what we have and what we don’t have, but one day we will achieve our goals. We have to be grateful, for we are all together. Thank you.”
– ESL student at Falling Creek Middle School

“I am very happy for being where I am, and for having all my family alive, and for being well.”
– ESL student at Falling Creek Middle School

“I am grateful for my family, for my food, for having a roof over my head, because without my family I feel alone, I don’t have anyone to talk to, without my family I would not be here.”
– ESL student at Falling Creek Middle School

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“What I don’t want to lose in this life is my family, my parents, my friends, my loved ones, may my teachers always be with me; and be healthy. For having given us one more day of life, for giving us food, and that we may not lack anything.”
– ESL student at Falling Creek Middle School

“What makes me happy is being with my family, otherwise everything would be very different. We would not have the love of our parents, as they are the greatest thing there is.”
– ESL student at Falling Creek Middle School

Passport to Education with Sue Agee

Passport to Education with Sue Agee

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by Sue Agee

Lots of sweet smiles and eager-to-please faces bound in the room after school on Thursdays. Middle-schoolers volunteer to wait for their snack because they want to practice yoga first.

The students look for the mat that has their name and unroll it forming a semi-circle. These English as a Second Language (ESL) youth, from a variety of Latin American countries, are part of the Passport to Education program at Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School. The program is supported by the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (VAHCC) and Project Yoga Richmond.

The youth repeat affirmations in English and Spanish, listen to the sounds of the singing bowl, and begin to focus on breathing as they move through sun salutations, learning the English (and sometimes Sanskrit) names of various poses. They practice standing poses, arm balances, twists and more.  The students are always happy to show everyone their improvement week to week.

Sharing their experiences and connecting with the students the bilingual leadership mentors, guide small group discussions after yoga and encourage children to dream big and achieve their goals. They also join in our yoga practice and together we move through the poses. The mentors are volunteers from the community from various professions, ranging from a local business owner to a uniformed police officer.

Relaxation is a guided meditation shared in both English and Spanish. When relaxation is over, many of the youth are reluctant to sit back up because they enjoy the calm and peaceful feelings relaxation brings.

After yoga, the students neatly roll up the mats and place them away for next time. Each mentor has several students gather at various tables where the smaller groups take turns reading, discussing, and completing the worksheets. The worksheets and activities provided by the VAHCC are presented in a fun and interactive way. Leadership lessons include topics such as “Attitude Is Everything,” “What are my Dreams?” and “Achieving Success.”  All handouts are translated in English and Spanish to help the middle schoolers continue to improve reading, writing, and conversation in both languages.  Increased comprehension of English directly impacts success in schoolwork.

When the 12-week program is complete the middle schoolers receive a certificate of congratulations and their yoga mat to take home. We hope that they take with them the tools learned in yoga. We hope that they are inspired by the possibilities their lives hold and know that many adults in the community care deeply about them.

Sue Agee, E-RYT500
PYR Ambassador and Board Member

Meet Our Ambassador: An Interview with Claudine Varesi

Meet Our Ambassador: An Interview with Claudine Varesi

Meet Claudine Varesi. She recently joined our team as one of PYR’s newest ambassadors.Her background is inspiring and far reaching.  She has an extensive experience in serving Hispanic and Latino communities, providing translation services in multiple languages across a variety of fields, and teaching ESL classes to adult learners.  She also has owned a yoga studio and provides coaching and meditation services at Lucid Yogi.

With a willingness to serve and connect, especially in the Hispanic community, we matched her with our yoga program at Falling Creek Middle School, serving ESOL students. Starting in November, the yoga and mindfulness program will incorporate stories in Spanish to link with literacy instruction and bring movement and breathwork to help the students find some peace and calm within.

We were thrilled to chat with Claudine as she embarks on a new program in the community and brings her own real life experiences to the mat. Get #insPYRed!  Read more about Claudine and the power of partnership on the blog.

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Q: What does this program with the Falling Creek Middle School students mean to you?

A: This program has several elements that interest me. The opportunity to include all of them into one project makes it very appealing to me. This is a group of children who have endured great challenges and hardship. In order to grow into healthy adults, they need attention and care. Teaching them some Yoga, breath awareness, and mindfulness will hopefully give them something practical they can apply right away to feel better, and more centered. They might even learn to love it and continue to practice it one day.

Being able to teach this class in Spanish is quite phenomenal. We want these kids to adjust to their new environment and our culture, and at the same time, we want them know we care and respect where they came from. Their country and their culture is something they can be proud of – it makes them special. I want them to have something that feels familiar, so they can start to build a bridge and walk with ease into a much better future. While they are learning English, it is really important they continue to speak Spanish.  There are many wonderful things that await these children once they understand that being bilingual, and bi-cultural, is really a good thing!

Q: Why are you looking forward to this particular opportunity to connect and serve?

A: Because it feels right. We always have choices, and mine are to always try to be sync with everything I do. Head and heart in the same direction. Life is about relationships and putting our best into conscious actions.

The Hispanic community has a special place in my heart. It is the culture I was raised in, and where I learned to love.  This opportunity is a way to give back to all the wonderful human beings along my path who have contributed to who I am today… a grateful human being.

Q: What are you looking forward to sharing with the students?

A: I look forward to sharing my own experience as an immigrant, and hope. Hope for better times, new friends, and great education. I’ve learned to love this country through people who’ve been very supportive during difficult times and have become great friends.

Q: What are you looking forward to learning?

A: I love to teach. I’m always searching for ways to make the learning process easier, more comprehensive, and joyful.

Q: You have a rich life filled with friends, family, hobbies, creativity, and hard work. How do you remain centered when life gets too busy?

A: By constantly reminding myself why I am here. I spend a fair amount of time writing, doing research, and interpreting. The nature of my translation work allows me to spend time in solitude, and I meditate quite a bit. I love quality time with my daughter, friends, and pets. I have a passion for dance, music, and art. The time I spend for study and contemplation… I cherish just as much. The balance of both allows me to stay present.

Q: Why do you practice yoga?

A: I practice Yoga because Yoga answers some very fundamental questions. In order to understand who we are and why we are here, we need to train our body and mind so that we may experience the stillness, beauty, love and wisdom that is at the very core of our essential self.

In order to cope and move ourselves through the havoc of the world, through all the uncertainties and changes we face on a daily basis, we must learn to recognize and master the divine power that’s within, which each one of us has been granted.

Thank you for your service and incredible spirit, Claudine. We look forward to our work together. If you are interested in learning more about Claudine read her full bio here.

Claudine also teaches From Stillness to Movement, Wednesdays at 5:30 PM, at the Project Yoga Richmond studio, where she infuses gentle movement with meditative moments. Class is open to all levels and your suggested $10 amount supports our outreach programs in the community, like the program at Falling Creek Middle School.

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