What’s your experience of yoga?
If I asked you why you practice yoga – now, and back when you first started – what would you say? Hang on to that thought. Now what if I asked you to give up your home, your family, your emotional support, nearly every level of safety, and some of your meals?

What exactly does yoga help with?
Let’s return to the reason that you practice yoga. Chances are awfully good that at some point you’ve found relief from chronic aches, acute pain, illness or injury. But rarely is that the end of the story. I’d be willing to bet my kids’ allowance that you’ve experienced a positive impact on your mental and emotional state: relief from stress, anxiety or depression. I wouldn’t be surprised if you find it easier to relax, concentrate and sleep. You might feel a renewed sense of vitality, strength, flexibility, balance or openness.

But what is it that traumatized youth really need?
Clearly, many of us have found yoga to be a major support in our lives. But if you’ve experienced severe trauma – the stress, fear, groundlessness, pain, heartache, numbness, grief, anxiety, loss and disconnection – what do you really need? Nutritious meals? A roof over your head? Social services? Absolutely. Such fundamental needs must be met. But it appears that meeting basic survival needs isn’t enough for many of us. Even though we have a home, family, emotional support, reasonable safety and regular meals, many of us – with our good fortune of awareness and resources – still find yoga and mindfulness to be an invaluable support in our lives. And for these same reasons, I am enormously grateful that Street Yoga exists to provide such healing services to traumatized youth.

Life-building practices grounded in ancient healing principles
Street Yoga teaches yoga and mindfulness to a variety of “underserved” populations that are recovering from trauma, including youth and families struggling with homelessness, poverty, abuse and addiction. Street Yoga gives youth and their caregivers tools to overcome early life trauma, though the sharing of life-building mindfulness and wellness practices grounded in the ancient healing principles of yoga. The practices help clients create a sense of true home in their own bodies, minds and communities so that they can grow stronger, heal from past traumas, and lead lives that are inspired, safe, and joyful. Street Yoga inspires assertiveness, resilience and connection to community. Street Yoga classes take place in shelters, treatment facilities, residential programs and clinics.

My awe
I teach yoga and mindfulness practices to teens at a Street Yoga site in Seattle and I couldn’t be more deeply moved by the incredible potential of human beings and the power of yoga to heal. After a mere 35 minutes per week during the first quarter it was offered, the teens reported relief from backaches, shoulder pain, a bad knee, stress and anxiety. They reported being more awake in class after yoga (offered during the lunch hour) and more peaceful and relaxed. Counseling times were changed to occur just after yoga as the students were found to be more engaged and the counseling more effective when sessions occurred just after yoga class. The counselor reported one student doing better in school and at home. I saw her come to be more engaged and exhibit increased confidence and joy in her practice. Another student was reported to have made a tremendous turnaround in her psychological recovery. What I saw was a young woman who came to the first class with dark clothes, a fairly meek manner and downcast eyes. By the end of the quarter, she smiled and even giggled after class because she felt such a lovely sense of joy and relief. She seemed to “lighten” before my eyes: she smiled, met my eyes, tried out new clothing and hairstyles and reveled in her practice. She said she had begun to practice a few poses daily at home.

I’ve volunteered for over 20 years and been associated with many valuable efforts. This one resonates the deepest for me. Aside from birthing and parenting my own children, I’ve never been more honored to be engaged in such a worthwhile effort.

Posted by: Shelly Thorn

Want to serve? Join the Street Yoga Training, November 19-21, 2010. In the Street Yoga teacher training, you will receive practical, real world techniques for teaching yoga and mindfulness to youth and families struggling with homelessness, poverty, addiction, abuse and trauma. To learn more go to: http://www.streetyoga.org/education/street-yoga-teacher-training Questions? Please contact Jaime, Street Yoga Program Manager, at 503-232-0362 or Jaime@streetyoga.org.

Neighborhood Studios