Yoga for Juvenile Justice

Every day we are reminded of how amazing our Ambassadors are and the life-changing ways in which they are impacting our community. Today, it was a pleasure to wake up and read this wonderful testimonial written by PYR Ambassador, Ashley Williams, who is currently getting her MS in Yoga Therapy at the Maryland Institue of Integrative Health.Take a moment to read what she has to say, and hear why this week’s Saturday Salutations at the VMFA is so close to her heart!

“In 2013, as an employee at the VA Department of Juvenile Justice, I reached out to Project Yoga Richmond to teach the young men and women at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center (BAJCC). The request was enthusiastically welcomed and PYR placed two Ambassadors and yoga props at BAJCC to teach two weekly classes. After becoming a yoga teacher in 2014, I began to offer yoga alongside PYR. In 2015, I became a PYR Ambassador and began to teach at BAJCC every week and it is undoubtedly one of the things that I look forward to doing. Each week, I am honored to teach the young men and women at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center, and each week I am amazed and humbled by their strength, resilience, curiosity and authenticity as they show up on their mat to breathe, move and release.

Last week, I ran into one of my BAJCC students at the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Community Resilience Summit, and she immediately introduced me to her counselor, stating, “This is Ms. Ashley, the one that I told you taught me yoga and meditation at Bon Air. She taught me how to breathe through my anger.” Once again, I was reminded of the power of yoga.

Join me on this Saturday, August 13 at 9:00 am for Saturday Salutations at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) as I lead a practice and highlight PYR’s community outreach program at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center. It’s an honor to serve as a PYR Ambassador and be a part of this LOVE movement! See you on Saturday! Much Love, Folks! ‪#‎ProjectYogaRichmond‬‪#‎saturdaysalutations‬ ‪#‎yoga‬ ‪#‎community‬ ‪#‎meditation‬ ‪#‎rvayoga‬‪#‎outdooryoga‬ ✌️❤️☀️ “

Ashley, it is an honor to know you and to share your wisdom and knowledge with the community. When you save your spot and sign up for Saturday Salutations at the VMFA, you are supporting PYR’s movement to create access to yoga in our community. So come, unroll your mat, move with us, and see the ways your practice is stimulating change in our community!

 

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.

A New Venture at Brook Road Academy

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Maya Angelou wrote, “I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.”

This was the reading I chose to close a recent class at Brook Road Academy.  As so often is the case, the reading chosen was as much for myself as for my students.  Lately, there has been a lot of decision-making happening after a period of calm.  Jobs have been changing, classes shifting, and I find myself embarking on a new venture:  Picking up the Brook Road Academy outreach from my dear friend Becky Eschenroeder.  I am so grateful for the opportunity, and beyond honored to be able to work with such a cool group of teens.  However, I was also a bit nervous:  How am I to embody the role held by a teacher as beloved as she?

Her answer, sage and simple: “My dear, we do not wear shoes.” Becky reminded me that it’s not hard to remember what it was like to be a teen: You are still that young person inside.  It is true:  It feels like yesterday I was getting ready to make the leap from high school out into the world. The problems and stressors I had then are not that much different now.  My teenage years were the years I started my journey into my yoga practice;  these formative years are when humans can make a beneficial coping strategy, like yoga, a habit.  How amazing is it that Brook Road Academy, through the cooperation of teacher Ben Walters and Project Yoga Richmond, provides this?

On May 20th, Becky and I co-taught the final class of the school year.  Students brought a giant, colorful card, gifts (including a necklace I refuse to take off), and a huge turnout.  Even the sun showed up for the occasion.  Becky led us through a vinyasa sequence, with students calling out Sanskrit names and playfully moving through their practice.  Halfway through, Becky turned to me and whispered, “You’ve got this now.”  Even though that was a queue for this specific class, it was also for a passing of this outreach opportunity.  And now: I’ve got this.

This summer, through PYR, I’ll be attending the Kripalu Institute’s Yoga in the Schools program.  I know I’ll be gaining a lot of technical knowledge there, and I am so excited to do it.  But nothing will replace the boost of confidence and love I got from Becky and the students that day.

Being given the chance to work with PYR and the fantastic crew at Brook Road Academy, I find it fitting to close with a continuation of Maya’s wisdom: “I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I am grateful for all my students, my PYR family, and especially Brook Road Academy, for making me feel loved.  I hope I can do the same in return.

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

Volunteering at PYR with Kasey Dolin

Kasey Dolin has been volunteering with PYR for close to a year. We’ve enjoyed working with her and are grateful for her support. Recently, she took on the role of PYR Volunteer Leader for the Richmond City Health District’s health fairs series, which offer single day events at 5 Richmond City public high schools. Her passion shines working with teens. She also teaches mindfulness and meditation on Tuesdays from 12:15-12:45pm at the studio. Read below as she shares her experience working with PYR and how just a taste of yoga can change someone’s perspective.

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“I have a tremendous amount of respect for teens – I mean, here are these amazing individuals that are still essentially kids, but they are at a time in their lives where they are making very adult decisions every day.  They know that their choices impact their bodies, their minds, their emotions, their futures, and they are willing to hear you out and see what you have to offer…but if they also happen to think that it’s absolutely hilarious to see their buddy with his butt stuck up in the air, they’re going to let you know that, too.

These health fairs are a great opportunity for teens to get to see yoga in a context that is not often presented to them.  We ask the kids, “What do you see when you picture someone doing yoga?” and they have plenty of images for that – but when we ask “What is the purpose of doing yoga?” most of them don’t have a ready answer.  It may not seem like much, but doing two minutes of yoga with someone can really shift the image they carry – it is enough time for someone to actually feel that there is a connection between mind, body, and breath, and it is enough time for someone to sense that this is an activity worth pursuing.”

– Kasey Dolin, PYR Volunteer Lead  & Yoga Instructor

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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