A Holiday Message from Mary Lynn

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Dear Art of Yoga Project teachers,

I wanted to write something beautiful for you all, to offer gratitude and support right now. It’s been a particularly challenging few weeks. The holidays are always a difficult time for the girls and because I have the privilege of learning about ALL of our now THIRTEEN sites (wow!), I hear about all the struggles, too.  Struggles like:

classes ending abruptly or cancelled altogether because of low facility staffing, too-small rooms, girls in tight jeans who couldn’t move, girls very late, girls described as “defiant”, “disrespectful”, “full of heightened energy”, “completely checked out”, “very resistant”, “impatient”, “having to be coaxed into poses”, “half-hearted”, “interrupting”, “giggling”, “poor attitudes,” “challenging group dynamics” and my personal favorite: asana was “unenthusiastically received.”

On top of that, there were facility staff that were “no help”, “distracting,” “chatty” and one particularly disheartening experience when they were very rough with the girls which caused our teachers to “feel sad and wish there was more support and guidance for [the girls].” Other AYP teachers arrived to classes and “found the girls exhausted and upset” with “one girl sobbing in class”, “a girl left the circle and threw up”, and “a confrontation in which threats were made girl to girl…”

This is indeed difficult and heavy stuff. And yet. AND YET! There was also such beauty. I wanted to write something beautiful for you all but you wrote it for me! You wrote all this beauty down each day in your class recaps. You told me the girls (often the VERY same girls on a different day!) were:

“engaged and contributing” , “thoughtful”, “in a good space,” had “light spirits”, were “open to the poses”, “all truly engaged”. Girls said they felt “calm”, “content”, “chilled”, “relaxed” “blessed and happy.”

You told me over just the last two weeks that girls led asanas, beautiful journals were made, writing was done, emotional processing happened and brand new girls were introduced to this beautiful practice. Girls were inspired by Nelson Mandela, learned tools for inner peace and calm, reflected on women they admire, played fun yoga games in which their postures were “sewed together”, met their older, wiser selves which gave them advice, heard poetry by Rumi, shared thoughts and feelings on many subjects like generosity, hope, labels and gratitude, distinguished between wants and needs, wrote poems and made ekphrastic collages, articulated their dreams, learned how to budget money, met with their mentors, appreciated our bodies and celebrated being women!  To quote one of our girls last week “That’s deep.”

And personally, I went to Girls Court last Wednesday and realized 3 of the girls there had current yoga mentors—one of which told the judge she loved yoga, that it calmed her and made her feel better. And yesterday, my own new mentee told me the same.

Some of you saw these successes too! You saw these shifts. You said:

“When we ended, nearly every girl said thank you to me and Kristen for the class…it seemed the gratitude had really rubbed off by the end of class.”

“It was a very productive day at the school. The girls were quick to join the circle and get ready to begin our session. They loved the art project and are really starting to open up and share more about themselves with us. Today was, for this group, the best participation in the yoga circle.”

“The mood in class dramatically shifted by the end. The class left everyone in a much more positive mood.”

“There was the most beautiful focused Savasana imaginable, brought to you by Sarah’s wonderful guided meditation.”

“The meditation really met the girls where they needed to be supported.”

And from Nora who witnessed a breakthrough with a girl at the Center for Young Women’s Development: “[This was] a moving reminder for all of us that even when a girl appears ‘non-participatory,’ the work can be deeply affecting them.” So true!!

I wanted to write something beautiful for you all but you already wrote it to me and to each other.  Thank you. Your words make me weep with concern, sadness, despair, delight, joy and deep fulfillment. Your words and teaching illustrate the yin and yang of what we do, the ease and discomfort, the healing and the suffering, the light and dark in each of us that we hold space for every day for these wonderful girls.

Please know how much you are valued, admired, respected, and loved. And please reach out if you need support at any time.

Have a blessed holiday,

Mary Lynn