Serving With Grace: In Honor of Arlene

Serving With Grace: In Honor of Arlene

“In honor of Arlene” are the words that many supporters wrote alongside their donations to PYR this season. Many of you may know who Arlene is and her history behind Project Yoga Richmond, however, many may not. This post by PYR Ambassador Kim Catley highlights Arlene Bjork, the woman who inspired so many, and brought PYR’s co-founders together with the desire to give the gifts of yoga to everyone.

Written by: Kim Catley

Photography by: Becky Eschenroeder

In the last six years, thousands of you have opened Project Yoga Richmond’s door, walked down the hall, and settled onto a mat in the main studio. On your way in, you might have noticed a small, framed photo on the altar, showing a tall, slender woman in a white tank top and pants, back arched in urdhva dhanurasana.

The woman in the photo, Arlene Bjork, was a yoga teacher in Richmond. In the late 2000s, she approached several of her private and studio students, hoping to drum up interest in her new teacher training program.

Arlene pushed her students. Every class began with 30 minutes of vinyasa. She insisted that good teachers have to be practitioners.

She taught them to be prepared for anything their students might need. Pam Cline, one of her students, remembers a cueing lesson where everyone was blindfolded. They had to guide the class from asana to asana without the help of demonstrating a pose. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first time Pam taught at a local gym, in walked a woman, holding the hand of her blind husband.

Arlene also taught them that everyone has a responsibility to give back. Before graduating from the training program, every student had to teach 50 hours without pay.

“Her biggest thing was yoga is not about the poses; yoga is a lifestyle,” says Pam Cline, one of Arlene’s students. “It’s the way you treat people and animals and your body. She taught us all of that.”

When she opened Grace Yoga, a studio in downtown Richmond, she saw it as a place where anyone could teach in service to the community, and where they could bring yoga to those who needed it.

“We had a lot of people that walked into Grace Yoga who barely had clean clothes, let alone a mat or yoga pants,” Pam says. “She said, there’s a need and there’s a community out there that would benefit from it, but it’s expensive.”

In October 2009, Arlene passed away suddenly. In the wake of her death, her family of students felt lost without their leader at the helm. “We didn’t know what to do, or where to go,” Pam says.

Then one day an idea started to take shape. It wasn’t another yoga studio, exactly; there were already plenty in Richmond. It was a place for community, with yoga at its core.

The early days weren’t easy. But gradually, a movement started to take root, and people started to come. In a nondescript building, tucked just out of sight from a busy stretch of Broad Street, a new energy was born.

“Arlene said to all of us, ‘you were born to serve and when you’re giving, you’ll be in the best place you can possibly be,’” Pam says. “She showed the community what a real yoga teacher could be, and what a really good person can be.”

Though she is no longer physically with us, Arlene continues to inspire our community. Her teachings planted powerful seeds in her students, which have grown into Project Yoga Richmond. We work hard to carry Arlene’s dedication to giving each and every day through our pay-what-you-can studio and yoga and mindfulness outreach programs in the community, making yoga accessible to all. For those who have given in honor of Arlene, we thank you and will continue to work hard to honor Arlene through PYR.

 

6 Things that Happen When you Give

6 Things that Happen When you Give

…to Project Yoga Richmond

(6 Reasons for 6 Years!)

Written by Communications and Studio Associate, Holly Zajur

1. You create community

“The best thing about volunteering for Saturday Salutations is getting to meet all of the students who may be totally new to yoga, new to PYR, experiencing their first outdoor practice or their first time at the VMFA or maybe even they are just visiting Richmond and we get to gush about our awesome city! 
Once you make it back to your mat, you are truly ready for practice and enjoy the ability to lay back and stare at the clouds, hear the sounds and enjoy your practice with the strangers all around you who, after a morning of gathering around a common cause, somehow feel like family.” 

– PYR Volunteer, Sara Anderson

When you donate your time, dollar, or practice with PYR, you are a part of our family!

2. You unroll the mat for someone else at our pay-what-you-can studio

“I came to Project Yoga Richmond for the first time in need of a safe space. I was beyond comforted by the space and the people that I shared class with.”
-First time Project Yoga Richmond Student

Donating any amount helps us unroll the mat for someone else 7 days a week at our pay-what-you-can studio so that all people have the opportunity to experience the power of yoga.

3. You help support our outreach programs

“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 Outreach Teen Student

Did you know one of the primary things that we do at Project Yoga Richmond is bring yoga to communities across the Greater Richmond Region? We currently provide twenty-two outreach programs and offer services from incarcerated youth to elderly populations!

4. You create inner peace

“Our world can feel, at times, very scheduled and device dependent – it’s very easy to find ourselves overextended and overcommitted. I think yoga resonates because the practice allows us to hit the pause button to recharge, to bring awareness and connection. It creates a space to look inwardly – to feel it out, listen to our bodies and offer ourselves some time for self-care.”
– PYR Operations Manager, Nadia Gooray

By supporting PYR, you create the space for yourself and others to pause and recharge. When we are able to take time for self-care, we are more likely to act kinder to ourselves and others.

5. You help yourself, and someone else, recognize their potential

“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

Our outreach does more than offer a place for physical movement. We help people realize how much they can achieve. Every time we unroll the mat, transformation takes place, we can see it on our students’ faces.

6. You stimulate lasting change

“Teaching yoga and mindfulness is like teaching people to fish: they learn a lifetime skill that enables them to nourish themselves over and over. That means the impact of every dollar you contribute to support the delivery of trained yoga instruction through PYR is amplified since people own those skills forever. You are the key to unlocking the power of yoga to transform our community.”
– PYR President of the Board, Rebekah Holbrook

By donating to Project Yoga Richmond, you plant the seeds of self-care in someone’s life that will continue to grow throughout their lifetime!

G I V I N G

This six letter word has been very important to us over the last six years of our organization. Giving takes place in many ways, shapes, and forms. From our students to our volunteers, ambassadors, board members, community partners, and staff, our community is possible because of giving. These people in our community generously give their time, share their skills, unroll their mats, and donate their dollars because they believe in PYR and the impact we are making.

This year, in place of the AmazingRaise, we are participating in GivingTuesday, the global day of giving, on November 29. We need your support on GivingTuesday to increase access to yoga. As an organization, we give back to our community by making yoga accessible to everyone. As we give our services, we also give thanks for the support we constantly receive from our community. We give thanks for the transformations we see in our students. We give thanks for impact we have seen, and continue to see in the Great Richmond area. We give thanks for the growth we have experienced so far, and the growth to come. We give thanks to you and your giving for making all of this possible.   

When you share your dollar with us, we use it to share yoga with our community. Give the gift that keeps on giving by making a donation to Project Yoga Richmond on GivingTuesday.

How to participate:

  • Donate any amount to PYR on our website
    • First $3,000 raised will be matched!
    • First 25 people to donate $50 or more: enter to win a limited edition PYR T-Shirt and a Yoga Mat!
    • First 15 people Donate $100 or more: enter to win a free ticket to our Birthday Party on Dec 3 and a limited edition PYR T-Shirt!
  • Share on social media why you support PYR and how yoga improves your life on social media and tag Project Yoga Richmond (@ProjectYogaRichmond) on Facebook and Instagram
  • Practice at our pay-what-you-can studio for special classes, juice from Ginger Juice, T-shirt screen printing (BYOT), and more!
    • 8am Birthday Yoga with Jonathan “J” Miles
    • 12:15 Mindful Meditation with Javonne Bowles
    • 5:30pm Live Your Yoga with Sue Agee
    • 5:30 pm Y12SR (Yoga of 12 Step Recovery) with Billie Carroll
    • 7pm Vin/Yin with Alec Abbott
6 Years at Project Yoga Richmond!

6 Years at Project Yoga Richmond!

Written by PYR Ambassador Kim Catley

Six years ago.

That’s when a Facebook post brought together a group of people who believed in the power of yoga, and Project Yoga Richmond was born.

Anniversaries give us a chance to reflect, on simple moments and major milestones, on big wins and tough decisions. Today, some of the people who were here from the very beginning look back on PYR’s history and remind us just how far we’ve come.

“Those words became real”

I remember J throwing this idea at me, one of his, “hey sis, I was thinking …” moments.

It was a wonderful idea that grew from Arlene’s desire to take yoga to the people in their communities and make it accessible to everyone who wanted it. We chatted about it. I moved on with my day.

Then J put his idea into words and posted on Facebook.

Those words became real. So many people within the yoga and movement communities all started chiming in: “Great idea! We need this! Who’s in?!”

Those words drew Dana in. She had a love for yoga, a love for people, a love for community. She wanted to build a community centered around yoga — not just a studio, but a true space for healing — and she had a building!

Then Michelle came on board and we had a website.

Then Pam joined in to assist with building matters.

With Michelle came her husband Zane, who got all of our thoughts and ideas on a bunch of sticky notes on their dining room wall to determine our mission, and from there, PYR was born.

—Wendy Warren, co-founder

“A headquarters for community action through yoga”

I remember the first time Dana brought me to 6517 Dickens Place. We walked into a time machine — the space was right out of the disco era — and asked me what I thought. I said, “This needs to be our headquarters.”

And then she set about transforming this retro, disco, man cave into the PYR we all know and love.

It will always and forever be my yoga home, a headquarters for community action through yoga.

—J Miles, co-founder

“You could not deny the energy and love in the room”

Our first year was a miracle in action. I saw an organization created from nothing become a breathing living thing, a body of hope. I believe the universe conspired with all its power to bring the idea, the people, the teachers, and the place together at one time, with a synchronicity that cannot be explained.

Yogis are very strong, positive, and passionate people, but to make this work we needed to believe that there was a need for yoga in our community. We needed to believe that it could heal people and give them something to count on, regardless of their ability to pay for it. When that first anniversary came, we realized that not only were we right to do this, but that success was on its way.

People poured into our anniversary class that night. Arm to arm, mat to mat, you could barely see the floor and you could not deny the energy and love in the room. We practiced together, sipped tea, listened to music, and heard from many that were grateful to be there and part of this movement.

I knew that day, without any doubt, that PYR was going to be a special gift to Richmond. With every outreach program and with every class taught, it continues to grow and blossom into a place of servant leaders who believe in giving more than they take. I am honored to be a witness to this and grateful for this time in my life.

—Pam Cline, co-founder

“We were sitting on the top of a rising tide”

It was a bright, sunny, breezy spring morning in 2011 in Richmond, and PYR was hosting its first-ever outdoor class at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The Belvedere Deck had just opened to the public not long before, and the VMFA was eager to invite Richmonders up to enjoy the space.

Jonathan Miles and I co-taught the class, which surprisingly at the time, brought out about 60 people. We had no volunteers, no mic, nothing but us and the class. I think that was the first time I knew, at a deeply felt level, that we were sitting on the top of a rising tide — a giant swell of energy around what we were trying to do, even in those very early days.

Our work has deepened and yet become easier, somehow, as we have grown in our supporters and students, and over the years we have begun to make great impact in our community. Starting with only two studio classes and one outreach program, we now have 19 regular pay-what-you-can studio classes, numerous monthly and bi-monthly events, and nearly two dozen weekly recurring and seasonal outreach programs happening throughout the year. And we offer between 1,200 and 1,600 monthly experiences of yoga to underserved individuals and groups in our community.

I feel we are still riding high on that tide. It’s been an amazing thing to be a part of, and I’m just so grateful to each and every one of our PYR family: ambassadors, staff, volunteers, board members, donors, and students.

—Dana Walters, co-founder

“I remember feeling this swell of support”

Heading into the final stretch of our very first Amazing Raise 36-hour YogaThon, back in September 2013, I remember going in to co-teach the last class knowing we were in the running to not only reach, but exceed our goal of $20,000.

I couldn’t believe it. We had set our inaugural goal high, and here we were, about to crush it. Our class was set to end after the close of the giving window, so we would not know the total until we had finished.

As the class proceeded, I tried to temper my excitement with steadiness — a skill we learn in yoga — staying focused as best I could on the task at hand. I remember feeling this swell of support around me, this great energy and love for the community we had created together and what our success would mean we’d be able to do in the future.

As I finished leading my portion of the class, and stood aside to assist J, who was teaching the second part, Natalie slipped in with a note that had our final total on it.

We had done it.

I was overcome with emotion and stood there weeping with joy. I don’t know if the class had any idea what was going on until we finished! It was a major turning point for PYR, and your ongoing support since that time continues to ensure our ability to serve our community with yoga and mindfulness practices for a very long time.

—Dana Walters, co-founder

“We were striving for organizational balance”

One pivotal hour remains with me always because it signaled that a season of growth and change was at our doorstep. It took place not on a yoga mat, but around the table in the company of my fellow board members. We were bathed in golden October sunshine at a board retreat about three years ago — a time when we were still an all-volunteer organization. We were celebrating because we had just completed our first successful Amazing Raise, which brought PYR space to spread our programmatic wings in the next year, and we were dreaming of the new partnerships and classes that we could offer.

But we were also grappling with the great organizational challenges that growth brings. Administrative tasks now needed to be completed steadily, frequently, and consistently. Inquiries from potential new partners were streaming in daily. Donations needed to be logged and acknowledged. The studio, with its expanded traffic, needed reliable monitoring. Our devoted and enthusiastic ambassadors deserved more frequent updates.

Volunteers could no longer complete these tasks within a few generous hours per week, and we all felt that a paid, part-time staff member was necessary. We crunched budget numbers. We asked ourselves hard questions. Can we take on the responsibility of someone’s livelihood? Or, more basically, what W-2 paperwork is required and do we have the right financial structure in place to build a payroll? We were electrified as we weighed risk against potential reward, knowing that our decisions would deeply affect PYR’s organizational health.

Today, PYR sustains three staff members and nourishes an even larger population than it did that day four years ago. When I view this moment with the gift of hindsight, I see now that we were seeking what we seek daily on our mats: Sattva. We were striving for organizational balance and it required us to stretch a teensy bit in one direction to evenly redistribute the frenetic energy of our passion and mission against the weight of our responsibilities. The leaders of PYR do this every day, year after year, as they transform the organization into a stronger, more accessible, and more impactful resource in Richmond.

—Jillian Jones, former board chair

Project Yoga Richmond has thrived over the last six years as a tribute to our community and the support you all provide. From our founders and donors to our volunteers, you are the reason so many people in our community are able to experience the benefits of yoga. Up until this point, our primary fundraiser was the AmazingRaise. We have grown as an organization and the AmazingRaise is no longer there, so we are shifting our fundraising efforts to GivingTuesday on November 29th and our 6th birthday celebrations!

Join us for a series of Birthday classes:
1. Yoga and Gong Bath Meditation: Monday, November 28, 5:30pm at Diversity Richmond
2. GivingTuesday Yoga Celebration: Tuesday, November 29, 8am at Project Yoga Richmond
3. Birthday Yoga and Gratitude: Wednesday, November 30, 7am at Robinson Theater

Birthday Bash: Saturday, December 3, 7pm at Project Yoga Richmond

Celebrate with us on November 29th for GivingTuesday:

  1. Donate any amount to PYR on our website
  2. Like our Facebook page post why you support PYR and how yoga improves your life and tag us to be entered into a drawing for a ticket to our birthday party on December 3rd!
  3. Join us at the studio for special classes, juice from Ginger Juice, and more!
    • 8am Birthday Yoga with Jonathan “J” Miles
    • 12:15 Mindful Meditation with Javonne Bowles
    • 5:30pm Live Your Yoga with Sue Agee
    • 5:30 pm Y12SR (Yoga of 12 Step Recovery) with Billie Carroll
    • 7pm Vin/Yin with Alec Abbott
What’s Up With Our Funky Space?

What’s Up With Our Funky Space?

Written by PYR Ambassador, Sara Lovelace

I vividly remember the first time I walked into the PYR building on Dickens Place. I’d been invited by a friend, and the first thing she told me about the studio was that it was different. I had no idea what that meant, but when I entered the front door I quickly found out. Most yoga studios I’d seen were fresh new spaces with hard surfaces and glistening off-white walls.

By contrast, PYR had a distinct 70’s feel to the decor that I found both humorous and deeply comforting. There were multiple spaces for congregating, complete with plush sofas and chairs.
Everything about the studio said you’re totally safe here. We’ve got you.

My love for the space has grown since I became a teacher there. I love the big studio room with the long bar in the back. I love the (initially intimidating) lighting panel that allows me to set the scene for every mood and occasion. I love, especially, the black toilet in the front bathroom. It never fails to make me chuckle.

The first questions that new students often ask aren’t about alignment or sequencing–it’s about the building. They want to know the whole story. So do I. Thankfully, co-founder Dana Walters took some time to share the history of this one-of-a-kind space.

Who was the original owner of the building?

My grandfather, Spencer, built the building around 1979 when I was just six years old. At that time Spencer was in local commercial real estate and built the building as part of the industrial space in the surrounding area. He used the portion now occupied by PYR as an office and what’s now the main studio as a space that he and my grandmother Margie could use for entertaining friends and family. They had recently downsized to “condominium living.”

Back in the late ’70’s, development along Broad Street was still pretty limited and I recall the empty lot that used to sit along Dickens Road. My grandfather developed a lot of that surrounding area and built many of the commercial buildings.

Do you have any early memories of the building?

I remember being at one of their Christmas parties, crawling around on the floor in my red velvet dress under the buffet tables. I remember all the lights, the dancing, the adults’ fancy shoes, and the meatballs and mini gherkins that were such popular party food at that time. I remember the music- my grandmother and I always loved listening to Christmas music together, pretty much any time of the year! Of course I remember the black and white furniture, black walls and bright red carpet (some of which lives on in what we sometimes call the “Elvis” lavatory at PYR). The juke box and slot machines that sat in what my grandmother called the “Vegas” room And of course, the black and white bar, which is original! In 1984, the studio was used to host a party for the cast and crew of the traveling “Grease: The Musical” starring Christopher Atkins and Lori Laughlin. Some of the cast members were breakdancing on the dance floor we put down– such a cool memory!

Why did PYR decide to stay with so much of the original décor?

I think early on when people visited (just prior to our opening as PYR) I kept hearing what a unique space it was, the great energy and feel it had. So many people suggested we keep a lot of the original look that we opted not to “go pastel” or transform the decor entirely. We did update the sound, the floors, and the lighting, but most of the fixtures and the furniture are original. In fact, a lot of the furniture that’s there now is authentic mid-century era and came from my grandparents’ residence– which was a replica of a Frank Lloyd Wright home located in Henrico County.

 

Do you think that the décor and mood of the space gives students a unique experience?

For whatever reason, people seem to feel at home in the space, even with its “funkiness.” I agree there’s a palpable, grounding energy there that’s hard to name. It just feels good. I would assert that it’s the goodness of the people who come to practice, work, volunteer, and teach that keep that energy alive!

How does the space lend itself to opportunities for connection?

It does have a “home-y” feel to it. People will often linger before and after class. I think that’s great– having that “practice after the class”– we are living now in such a busy and distracted world that I’m grateful people see our space as a place to connect, especially after having a great yoga practice together. That makes me so happy. And of course, the fact that our studio classes make so many outreach classes possible in my home town– that feels pretty good, too.

I can’t really imagine PYR operating out of a newly constructed space! I’m glad Spencer’s building has been re-born as a community service space. He’d be so thrilled. My grandmother always called what I do “yogurt.” I quit correcting her long before she passed in early 2010– but I know she was proud of me and would be excited that people are still enjoying the space. We’re glad to also host RVA Massage and Wellness and Urban Dwellers on the property as well. They’re great partners and neighbors.

How is the space maintained?

My husband Ben can be seen maintaining the exterior and grounds a few times a month. It’s a labor of love for both of us to continue to work on the building and to provide periodic updates and improvements as time and finances allow.

Can students get involved in the cleaning and care of the building?

PYR has been very fortunate to have awesome volunteers to help with weekly mini-cleanings in between visits from our “professional” crew. Some people love to clean, and find it therapeutic– so, if students or supporters are interested in helping out in that way, they can complete a volunteer application by clicking here!

Dear PYR : My Volunteer Experience at TJHS

Dear PYR,

I really enjoyed the Health Fair at Thomas Jefferson High School and I would love to volunteer to help with anything like that in the future! Hopefully, I was of some help to the rest of the amazing volunteers representing PYR. Everyone did such a wonderful job helping the kids. I was impressed especially by the way the PYR volunteers were able to quickly adapt and modify their approach according to each students level of enthusiasm and/or shyness.

I found myself kind of gravitating towards the shy kids, who were not willing or able to participate in the asana demos. One girl was on crutches, one girl was in a short skirt and there was one young man in particular who just flat out said he wasn’t interested in trying the asanas even though all of his friends were joining in. He looked as if he was about to cry as I talked with him about how yoga is not all about the physical aspect of the practice. We talked about (I should say I talked about, he was stone cold silent) breath-work and quieting the mind, turning within and mantras. I told him how he could immediately change the way he was feeling in any circumstance by taking a few deep breaths. I saw his demeanor change and the tears in his eyes disappeared…that was a very special moment. Hopefully, he can use that information to help with whatever he’s dealing with. It meant the world to me to reach out and have conversations with these kids. They are treasures.

Thank you for the opportunity. I hope to be of service again soon!

Peace and Love,

A PYR Volunteer

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

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