Yoga for Special Needs

Yoga for special needs classes provide a sense of belonging and community. These adaptive yoga classes focus on building strength, developing regulation skills through breathing, improving mobility and maintaining/improving overall health and emotional well-being.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, as well as increasing mobility, strength and balance.

 

 

  • PYR offers 4 Yoga for Special Needs programs:
    • Aspree Adult Day Services
      • Running weekly since Spring 2013 
      • Instructors: Sarah Humphries and Dan Weiseman
      • Population Served: Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

 

 

 

  • Founders Center of Commonwealth Autism
    • Running weekly since October 2012
    • Instructor: Carrie Puryear
    • Population Served: Teens with Autism (we work with the Upper School)

 

 

 

  • Freedom Yoga
    • Running monthly since Spring 2013 at PYR
    • Instructor: Carrie Puryear
    • Population Served: Adults with Intellectual Disabilities, their friends and family, and is also open to the entire community
    • This was a doorway to yoga for us because there weren’t any other places we could go that was calm and relaxing and enveloping and welcoming and now we even go to a gentle yoga class on the regular schedule with all the other students.  It has opened up a whole world that I never thought we would have the opportunity.” – Parent of a Freedom Yoga Student

 

 

  • Transitions Day Support Services
    • Running weekly since April 2015
    • Instructor: Natasha Foreman
    • Population Served: Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

 

 

 

“Emerson and I wanted to thank you and Special Olympics for the So-Fit program and share with you all the difference it has made in xxx’s health.  He really took the program very seriously and actively participated in the Yoga and Exercise programs.

I must say the coaches at Yoga and JCC were excellent!  They gave individual attention to each member, which really made xxx  try harder to accomplish especially the Yoga positions.

In July, we went to see his primary care physician, Dr. David Taminger, with results that were remarkable.  Not only had he lost a total of 14 pounds, but also had the best lab results this year.  For his diabetes the results of his HbA1C,  which is a measure of your average blood glucose levels was 1.2 points lower.  His fasting glucose level was also within normal limits. His cholesterol levels was also so much lower. Overall he showed remarkable improvements. His doctor sent us a note saying, ” Whatever you are doing, please keep up the good work.”

This program really worked and I am so glad that we were participants.  Not only was it fun and gave xxx an opportunity to see old friends at the program, it has made a substantial difference in his health.  My only wish is to have a continuation of this program on a more permanent basis.” –Testimonial from a sister of a participant

4 Benefits of Yoga for Senior Citizens

In addition to the physical and mental benefits, yoga provides a sense of belonging and community. One of the populations where we have seen these benefits is when offer Yoga for Seniors. 

“This particular site started as a residence for Russian seniors. One of the first things I noticed was that all of my students, regardless of nationality, began to look out for each other. They took interest in what was going on with their fellow yogis, despite nationality. I have called it my mini-UN because the population is so diverse!” – Sarah Humphries (PYR Ambassador at Marywood)

Project Yoga Richmond has offered Yoga for Seniors since 2012, and we currently offer programs at Marywood Senior Apartments with Sarah Humphries (PYR Ambassador) and Senior Center East at Peter Paul Development Center with Twylah Ekko (PYR Ambassador).

 

Benefits of Yoga for Seniors
  1. Sense of belonging and community
  2. Improvements in mobility, overall health, and emotional well-being
  3. Increased confidence, independence, agency, and creativity
  4. Increased mobility, strength, and balance
What are some elements of our Yoga for Seniors classes?
  • Similar sequences each week
  • Low impact, gentle movement using the support of the chair; balancing poses using the support of the chair (if needed);
  • Breathing techniques and meditation
  • Physical sequences are similar from week to week 
  • Senior Center EAST has a devotional at the end of class

Unroll your mat with us at our pay-what-you-can studio and Saturday Salutations at the VMFA on August 5 as we highlight Yoga for Seniors.Support our outreach programs by paying-what-you-can when you sign up for this event! And know that anytime you pay-what-you-can for class at our studio 7-days a week, you are supporting outreach like this!

If you would like to learn more about how to support Yoga for youth or to sponsor one of our outreach programs, you can make a donation by clicking here 365 days a year or contact holly@projectyogarichmond.org for more information!

4 Ways Yoga Supports Youth

Did you know that 50% of Project Yoga Richmond’s outreach programs work with children and youth? We are dedicated to serving youth for a number of reasons! Here are just a few of the many benefits yoga and mindfulness provide for youth in your community!

1. Promotes social-emotional learning

Social-emotional learning develops 5 core competencies in students: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Yoga and meditation foster these core competencies.

Through a yoga and meditation practice, students first learn to bring awareness to their breath and physical body. By focusing on this connection, student become more able to feel and experience what is happening within the mind and bodies, developing stronger self-awareness.

As self-awareness emerges, students become more able to manage their emotions. When a thought or experience that would have formerly elicited an impulse reaction, students become more able to approach the situation by connecting to the breath and recognizing the emotion before acting. In turn, students are able to make more responsible decisions as they become less reactive and approach situations with more clarity.

With a newfound self-awareness and self-management skills, students are able to recognize not only what is happening within them, but what is happening around them as well, demonstrating improved social awareness and developed relationship skills.

2. Improves self-esteem and body image

As students practice and become more connected to their breath and their body, they can become more accepting and demonstrate self-compassion in a safe environment rooted in non-judgement.

Testimonial from outreach student at Boushall Middle School

3. Improves focus and school performance

Yoga may reduce classroom disturbances and enhance cognitive performance.

4. Improves physical health

Yoga improves respiratory functions, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and reduces obesity risk factors

So, how do we teach our Yoga for Youth outreach programs?

Each one of our outreach programs is unique, depending on the population that we are working with and the Ambassador that is teaching. But, we do like to keep a few key elements in mind!

1. Engage students in a variety of accessible physical postures
  • The physical posture sequences progress from week to week to build trust, confidence, and competency, while inviting creativity and playful exploration

2. Introduce breathing exercises, relaxation, and visualization techniques
  • This helps students cope with and reduce stress, improve focus/concentration and self-regulation, and promote a general sense of health and emotional well-being

3. Incorporate reflection activities and partner or group sharing
  • Many of our yoga classes include philosophy, journaling to offer a space for inquiry and sharing of voice and enhance communication skills

Currently, over 50% of Project Yoga Richmond’s outreach programs serve children and youth, particularly youth in Title 1 schools where 51% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch in Richmond City and Chesterfield County. In 2016 PYR led 226 classes specifically for children and youth, providing 1,648 yoga experiences, in both school and community center/agency settings through our outreach programs.

Over the past 6 years, Project Yoga Richmond has developed and implemented yoga programming for youth to provide these benefits throughout Greater Richmond. Currently, PYR offers recurring programming at the following Title 1 schools:

  • Binford Middle School (Partnership with Higher Achievement)
  • Falling Creek Middle School (Working with ESOL students)
  • Greene Elementary and Salem Church Middle School (Working with ESOL students, Partnership with Pasaporte a la Educacion of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce)
  • Thomas Jefferson High School  
  • Henderson Middle School (Partnership with NextUp RVA)
  • T.C. Boushall Middle School (Partnership with NextUp RVA)

Project Yoga Richmond also partners with SwimRVA to offer yoga programming to youth from Peter Paul Development Center and with Robinson Theater Community Arts Center in the East End, working with George Mason Elementary youth.

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

Unroll your mat with us at our pay-what-you-can studio and Saturday Salutations to support our yoga and mindfulness outreach programs and make transformations like this possible. You can support our outreach programs by paying-what-you-can when you pre-register for this event! And know that anytime you pay-what-you-can for class at our studio 7-days a week, you are supporting outreach like this!

Make an impact. Unroll your mat. Sign up for Saturday Salutations at the VMFA today to learn more about and support Yoga for Youth!

If you would like to learn more about how to support Yoga for youth or to sponsor one of our outreach programs, you can make a donation by clicking here 365 days a year or contact holly@projectyogarichmond.org for more information!

Works Cited

Wei, Marlynn. “7 Ways Yoga Helps Children and Teens.”Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 22 May 2015. Web. 20 June 2017.

“Yoga 4 Classrooms®.” Scientific Evidence for Yoga and Mindfulness in Schools: How and Why Does It Work? N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2017.

3 Ways Yoga Helps Direct Support Staff

In order to take care of others, we need to make sure we are taking care of ourselves. By offering trauma-informed yoga for staff who support populations in need, we were able to provide self-care and self-regulation tools to support building resilience in our community. This not only offers the tools to staff but provides them with the skill sets to offer basic self-care practices to the populations they work with as well. 

Safe Harbor Shelter provides support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence to overcome their crisis and to transform their lives. Staff who directly work with those who have experienced trauma have an increased likelihood of:

  • Secondary traumatic stress, also known as compassion fatigue
    • Compassion fatigue can lead to vicarious traumatization which can be common among caregivers after constant exposure to the trauma of others
  • Burnout
    • Enhanced by the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion due to chronic work-related stress

These effects make it challenging to provide high-quality care to patients and may result in a high level of staff turnover. In order to prevent this from happening, Safe Harbor reached out to Project Yoga Richmond to provide meditation and self-care practices for staff. Project Yoga Richmond began offering yoga to the Direct Support Staff at Safe Harbour in September of 2015.Safe Harbor had a few goals for offering yoga and meditation to the staff in order to provide the best care possible. Each month, Project Yoga Richmond provides the space to encourage self-care and the tools to develop sensory awareness and self-regulation and to ground and center the team.  

Working with members of the community who have experienced and/or witnessed significant trauma, direct staff are especially at risk for compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and burn out.  It’s the organization’s goal to be intentional and proactive to avoid said issues by implementing a yoga and meditation program into the work week.

Two tips for teaching direct support staff:
  1. Gentle, trauma-sensitive movement using the support of the chair
    • This teaching style offers staff the tools to use these techniques at their desks when needed, making yoga and meditation accessible in a hectic work environment.
  2. Breathing techniques and meditation for staff to ground and center
    • The techniques develop self-regulation and build resilience.
 “The sessions really impact our day and get us in a good headspace, especially since Wednesday tend to be hectic around here.”
– Safe Harbor Staff Member
3 Ways Self-Care Practices Benefits Staff at Safe Harbor:
  1. General Wellness is provided as staff are empowered to practice yoga and meditation techniques and directly experience the benefits
  2. Organizational Wellness is demonstrated as staff is encouraged to create time and space for self-care practices during their work day and providing a community of support at work for those practices
  3. Education around the impacts of working with people who have experienced trauma is provided, as a well as a means of coping with the impacts

Help us support those who support others in your community by signing up and paying-what-you-can for Saturday Salutations at the VMFA highlighting Yoga for Direct Support Staff with Amy Taylor on June 10!

Pay-what-you-can for Saturday Salutations to help us make $900 to support yoga and mindfulness outreach programs like this across the Greater Richmond Region!
Works Cited

Menschner, Center Christopher, and Alexandra Maul. “Strategies for Encouraging Staff Wellness in Trauma-Informed Organizations.” Strategies for Encouraging Staff Wellness in Trauma-Informed Organizations (n.d.): n. pag. Center for Health Care Strategies. Web.

3 Tips for Teaching Yoga for Autism

Have you ever wondered how PYR’s outreach programs are different from a studio class? Or how yoga can impact different populations? At Project Yoga Richmond we are dedicated to finding the most impactful ways to share yoga with students of all abilities. As you help us make yoga accessible and affordable to all we want to make sure you know more about the impact your dollar makes when you unroll your mat with us!

 

Project Yoga Richmond has partnered with The Founders Center of Commonwealth Autism for the last four years and currently offers a weekly program serving students in their upper school, primarily serving youth/emerging adults ages 17-22. We see the impact these practices make in our students each time we unroll our mats.

Yoga holds a variety of benefits, some of which can be especially beneficial to youth and adults with autism. According to Autism Parenting Magazine, the results of a yoga practice can be especially beneficial to people with Autism. They found these 6 benefits to be among the top reasons for how yoga can benefit someone with autism.

1. Increased Social-Communication Skills
2. Awareness and Expression of Emotions
3. Reduced Anxiety
4. Reduction in Challenging Behaviors
5. Increased Body Awareness
6. Positive Sense of Self

We see many of these results in our students after they unroll their mats. One of our students from The Founder’s Center of Commonwealth Autism demonstrated all 6 of these benefits through a testimonial shared with a Project Yoga Richmond team member,

“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”

This testimonial conveys increased social-communication skills as the student was able to share with a PYR member about their personal experience on the mat. Awareness and expression of emotions is demonstrated in this testimonial by the student’s reflection on both calm and anxious emotions. The student shared that yoga helped to reduce anxiety by stating “I calm down” and demonstrates a reduction in challenging behaviors as the student shows self-regulation and control through the statement, “you have taught me how to control myself”. Increased body awareness is shown by the student’s ability to connect with and control his or her breath. Additionally, the student’s ability to positively share, reflect, and interact with others about his or her personal experiences demonstrates a positive sense of self.

Here are 3 things we do when we teach yoga at The Founders Center of Commonwealth Autism to best meet the needs of our students with Autism:

1. Start class by greeting each student by name as they are entering the room (specific verbal recognition is very important)

2. Providing verbal praise- again, specific verbal recognition– throughout the class

3. Incorporating sensory items into class

You can help us continue to bring the benefits of yoga to students with autism in your community. Start by joining us on May 27 for Saturday Salutations at the VMFA where Shannon Somogyi will share about teaching at The Founder’s Center for Commonwealth Autism as she leads the community in an all-levels yoga class on the VMFA deck. You can support our outreach programs by paying-what-you-can when you pre-register for this event! And know that anytime you pay-what-you-can for class at our studio 7-days a week, you are supporting outreach like this!

Make an impact. Unroll your mat. Sign up for Saturday Salutations at the VMFA today!

If you would like to learn more about how to support Yoga for Autism or to sponsor one of our outreach programs, you can make a donation by clicking here 365 days a year and you can contact holly@projectyogarichmond.org for more information!

 

A special thank you to Mc Abbott Studios for providing all imagery content in this blog post!

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!

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