Youth Programs: Up And Running
Stop for a moment and picture yourself in middle school…Are you wincing?
If you’re like most people, chances are you weren’t at your most calm, collected and confident. It’s a challenging time. Recently, studies have confirmed that social media usage increases students’ stress and anxiety levels, making it tougher than ever to focus and stay present.
This is why PYR seized the opportunity to bring the benefits of yoga to four schools this academic year: Brook Road Academy, Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School, Falling Creek Middle School and Binford Middle School. PYR Ambassadors provide yoga and mindfulness classes for students with a variety of needs, including students for whom English is a Second Language (classes include a Spanish-speaking interpreter) as well as students with special educational needs.
Kendra Robinson, Center Director for NextUp RVA at Elkhardt-Thompson explains, “So often we forget the trauma and stresses our students face. For them to learn to be in the moment and relax is a skill they can utilize not only in class, but at home, leading to an overall more healthy individual.”
PYR Ambassadors Keonna Knight and Sara Lovelace teach Elkhardt-Thompson’s yoga class in partnership with NextUp RVA. They are continually impressed by students’ honesty and openness when Keonna checks in each week at the outset of the class.
“Many of the students are experiencing emotions that we often label as negative,” Sara explains. “When a student responds saying that they are sad or bored, Keonna thanks them for sharing and lets them know that it’s okay to feel that way. I can feel how relieved they are. It’s a brief moment that has huge implications. It’s beautiful to witness.”
At this crucial developmental phase when students often feel dismissed, PYR’s Ambassadors validate their feelings and offer tools to cope. The very existence of PYR’s class acknowledges that students live complicated lives.
“Middle school is definitely a transitional time,” Sara remembers. “Your body is changing. Your mind is changing. You are waking up to more complicated ways of seeing the world. Yoga is an ideal tool for transitions because it forces us to stop and examine where we are at the moment.”
Every time you pay for your class at PYR or make a donation, you offer students in Richmond the time and space to examine their feelings and reduce their stress, leading to increased concentration, expanded creativity and more thoughtful decision-making.
Drug addiction, specifically to opioids, has increased dramatically in the last decade. Virginia alone has seen a 500% increase in drug-related deaths over the last seven years. In fact, hundreds of people find themselves incarcerated at Chesterfield County Jail as a result of addiction.
The staff and administration there recognize that addiction is a disease and not a crime, so they created the “Helping Addicts Recover Progressively” (HARP) program in 2016. They’ve had great success evidenced by a significant reduction in recidivism. Some inmates have even asked to continue their participation in the program after their release.
At Project Yoga Richmond we believe in the power of yoga as a public health tool. So we seized the unique opportunity to offer classes under the HARP program. Since 2017, PYR Ambassador Billie Carroll has led a weekly Yoga of 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR) class at Chesterfield County Jail. Y12SR is a relapse prevention program developed by Nikki Myers that combines a 12-step discussion meeting with an intentional yoga therapeutic practice for those with addictions or affected by the addictions of others.
Elysha Kim, Program Coordinator at the jail, explains how yoga fits naturally into the HARP program, “The physical body and mental health are tied so closely. Yoga is one of the few programs we offer that combines both.” Elysha suspects that the vast majority of those incarcerated at Chesterfield are facing drug-related charges.
“When we come to class it’s like a relief,” reflects Regina, a Y12SR participant. “We can talk about recovery, get peace and meditate. We feel better all weekend because we do yoga on Fridays. We leave…ourselves.”
As a yogi who has been in recovery for 17 years, Billie appreciates the opportunity to serve the community in this way.
“She relates to us as an addict,” explains Joy, another student. “Our issues are in our tissues. That’s what Billie always says. We don’t realize how much our stress and trauma remains in our bodies. The way she taught us to process that has been amazing.”
Students apply the therapeutic yoga techniques they learn in PYR’s Y12SR program to their lives outside of the community room where they meet. “Instead of being so angry all the time we learn how to think differently. How to act differently,” says Nari, whose first experience with yoga was in jail. “You can take on so much more after class.”
Ron, a student in the men’s class, says he uses a breathing technique called 4/3/7 (inhale for four counts, hold it for three, exhale for seven) to help him fall asleep. The women apply soothing techniques they learned in class, such as a butterfly hug and tapping methods, to calm down when they feel anxious.
Recently, a few of PYR’s male students began an inmate-led book club to deepen their practice. PYR donated copies of Meditations on the Mat by Rolf Gates and the men study it together on their own. “That was the biggest compliment to me,” says Billie. The participants’ enthusiasm for the program was evident in their willingness to share their experience when offered the opportunity.
When asked to reflect on his teacher, Dominic, a participant in the men’s class, says, “She pays attention to what we have to say.” He pauses, “I think she gets a lot out of it too.”
Dominic is right. Billie’s relationship with her students is symbiotic, reciprocal, spiritual and transcends the walls of the jail to include all of us at PYR. You support your programs like Y12SR each time you contribute for your studio class or make a donation. Your practice is their practice. We are all Project Yoga Richmond.
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Meet our May Volunteer of the Month, Carolyn Henao!
Here is a quick interview with Carolyn:
“I love Project Yoga Richmond because it is so inclusive and creates a strong sense of community.
At every class, there is such a strong mix of different types of people, both men and women of all different backgrounds, that come together in order to practice yoga and meditation.
PYR offers not only a clean and beautiful physical environment for our practice, but also amazing and welcoming energy from all of the teachers, employees, and volunteers I have met.
My favorite yoga pose is One-Legged King Pigeon or “Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.” This is my favorite because when you grab the foot from overhead and lean back it offers such a nice backbend/heart opener and it also stretches the legs and opens the hips. Opening the hips and the heart releases stagnant emotions and helps with physical as well as emotional flexibility! :)”
We are so grateful to have Carolyn as a part of our PYR family!
Be sure to give her a big thank you next time you see her at PYR class or event!