Following is a tribute from our Founder Mary Lynn Fitton to our teachers that work with us to bring this amazing program to at-risk, exploited and incarcerated teen girls.
I am often asked what I enjoy most about our work at The Art of Yoga Project. There are so many things! At the top of the list is the way we all come together in support of these unique and wonderful girls. And what really moves me is how we care for each other in the process.
Behind the scenes, Lisa, Nicole and I are working with our incredible board to sustain our programs and there is no shortage of love going around between us. Then there are all of you, day in and day out, helping each other to be a force for good in the lives of our girls. I am often moved to tears watching and hearing you do this. So, in honor of this holiday, I want to share a few examples from your recaps. (And I had a great number to choose from!) These are your teacher-to-teacher correspondences and they make my heart swell with happiness. Note: I removed teacher names to honor privacy—and because I feel we should all take in these words collectively! I invite you to sit back and hear from each other again:
“I’m so inspired by the bravery exhibited. Beautiful class plan that obviously brought the girls to a really safe, open place. Tremendous work!”
“Your sweet attention to X’s emotional tone should be noted. While she was having a tough time engaging in the postures, there is something deeply healing in having the teachers give her space to be quiet and supported in her own way. The nurturing attention you offered, no doubt, gave her a sense of being seen. Thank you! Offering you all so much love on this Friday afternoon.”
“Dear X, thank you so much for that meditation. I could feel and hear and see the girls breathing into it, relaxing. It was dynamite. Thank you!”
“Such a beautiful class. I find so often that the girls are impacted by those immediately surrounding them, impacting their ability to participate and engage. SO great to see the ways that everyone was inspired by the challenge of bird of paradise and it seemed to ignite something within those girls who were otherwise checking out.”
“That is an immense amount of energy to hold, X and X. First with the large group (12 girls! and more arriving!) in that small space. It sounds like you both did an absolutely amazing job offering a full class with those important moments of grounding in child’s pose and balance. So sweet to hear of the shift that you observed in some of the newer girls—well done!”
“Here’s to the continued discovery, challenges and successes, ladies!”
“The emotional arrival of the new girl on the unit is such a raw reminder of what so many of these girls must feel on some level. The sense of loss, the sense of being ‘out of control,’ the sense of wanting everyone to hear your pain loud and clear. A difficult thing to witness and to see the unit staff work to maintain some sense of calm and order in that chaotic moment. It sounds like you both did exactly what you needed—focusing on keeping yourself and the girls calm (not easy!) so the staff could take care of their responsibilities. I’m glad you also had a moment to check in with Ms. B at the close and to receive her supportive feedback. I am more than happy to take some additional time to debrief the experience with either of you. Take care of yourself and be aware of your own emotional residue. Sending you and all the girls and staff so much love and light”
“That’s a beautiful write up, X. Thanks for your strong support.”
“What a wonderful class—I just feel like sharing— It is clear that the only thing you ladies can control is what you offer in your beautiful sacred space—whether they participate is less important than what they seem to consistently gain from merely being on these mats with all of your positive, meaningful intentions.”
“Girls were very engaged and sweet, with a visible shift from beginning to end. Great to finally witness X’s wonderful energy and connection with the group in the seat of the teacher! Class was so soothing…and the sounds of rain and wind outside helped to ground us all.”
“I really appreciate X’s teachings. It’s easy to see that she authentically practices what she preaches.”
“Thank you, X! It WAS a lot of energy! And so very heartbreaking to experience such angst and sorrow and pain Those girls. And what they endure. Wow. True goddesses, all of them. Thank you for acknowledging and appreciating both me and X. I feel so genuinely supported and cared for. In Light, Love & Gratitude, X”
And when one of you stepped forward to cover another’s shift within moments:
“X, You are ROCKIN my world!!!! Thank you so much!”
Can you feel the GRATITUDE, the SUPPORT, the LOVE and RESPECT between you?! I hope so because I feel it for each and every one of you.
When I read these words I see and feel us together. All across this work, I see us leaning on each other as we bear witness to the pain our girls endure. I see us linking arms to provide strength for the girls to draw upon. And I feel us in a big virtual-embrace celebrating our successes big and small. You are certainly rockin my world!
Sending love and wishes for a blessed holiday to each of you,
Exhibition and Reception: A benefit for The Art of Yoga Project
At the Allied Arts Guild, 75 Arbor Road, Menlo Park
Thursday September 18, 2014
6:00 – 8:00 pm
Join us and help paint a brighter future for at-risk girls in our community.
There is ample free parking. The event is partially outdoors: be sure and wear grass-friendly shoes.
All proceeds support The Art of Yoga Project’s work to end the cycle of violence and victimization for girls in the juvenile justice system.
Click here to buy your tickets online.
By Mary Lynn Fitton, from the Yoga Service Conference at the Omega Institute in New York, May 2014.
I am once again awed by the power of intention. Late last Friday afternoon, I gathered with fellow faculty members to connect and set the tone for this year’s Yoga Service Conference—the third annual. Jenn Cohen Harper, board member and tireless conference organizer, reminded us of our purpose in being there—to welcome, embrace, educate, assist and encourage other individuals and organizations on this path to serve the underserved. I looked around the room and felt a surge of inspiration of how our community had grown.
Just 5 years ago, I met at this very spot with Founders and Executive Directors from 6 other organizations to form the Yoga Service Council (YSC): Bent on Learning, The Lineage Project, Little Flower Yoga, Niroga Institute, Off the Mat, Into the World, Sprout Yoga, Street Yoga and yogaHOPE. We were a small group of organizations, bringing yoga to underserved populations. As the YSC website reports, “we worked to support each other, exchange ideas, and envision the future. A collaboration was sparked that has made all of our efforts stronger and more intentional. Each year the membership of the YSC grows, and our capacity to serve grows with it. We meet every May through the generosity of the Omega Institute to exchange best practices, discuss how to expand access, and infuse our programs with renewed energy and inspiration.”
This year was no exception. It was rich with learning and connection. I listened to a panel on diversity and social justice with Hala Khouri, Nikki Meyers and Teo Drake who told us that in this work we had to be willing “to have our hearts broken” and that it is really our response to situations that matters most. I was reminded to take always a breath before speaking to wait for “wisdom to knock on the door.” I heard Kelly McGonigal give us the latest research on stress and resilience. I presented a Breakout Session with Leslie Booker and Bob Altman titled “When Things Go Wrong” and shared The Art of Yoga Project’s latest knowledge in neuroscience and trauma as the framework for understanding brain-based behavior challenges in our yoga classes.
But it was the one-on-one conversations that stood out as highlights for me. I connected with leaders who serve veterans, children and seniors in under-resourced communities, homeless individuals, people with cancer and eating disorders and (like The Art of Yoga Project) incarcerated and at-risk youth. I met Heidi who wants to bring yoga to end the misery of generational poverty. I met Carrie who wants to bring yoga to veterans because her own partner suffered from PTSD from the Iraq war. I met Sara, who works with boys and girls with eating disorders (and also knows my friend, Sally, from high school!!) But who really astonished me was Cheryl. Cheryl saw AYP featured in the documentary YogaWoman and was so inspired that she came all the way to Omega from Singapore to meet us so she could bring our Yoga and Creative Arts Curriculum to girls in her community!
And what better spot to find us than the Omega Institute, a pastoral setting north of New York City, which claims to be “more than simply a place, but a global community that awakens the best in the human spirit and cultivates the extraordinary potential that exists in us all.” I couldn’t agree more! Thank you, Omega. Thank you, fellow YSC members and faculty and thank you, conference participants. You are my Yoga Service Community and your passion, honesty and commitment to this work moves me beyond words. Until next year… Namaste.
Happy Spring! As we welcome a new season, we wish to express gratitude to two of our new partners. The continued success of The Art of Yoga Project would not be possible without the generous support of partners like these… and you!
SV2 — The Art of Yoga Project has been selected by SV2 as their At-Risk Youth Grant 2014 awardee! In addition to funding for three years, we will receive invaluable advising and training on organization capacity building from experienced SV2 Partners. We are overjoyed!
For more information about SV2, please visit their website.
Leo Buscaglia Foundation — The late Dr. Leo Buscaglia dedicated much of his life to the pursuit of the understanding of what love is and how we can all embrace it. The mission of his foundation is building community spirit by helping people to help others. We couldn’t agree more!
You can find out more about the Leo Buscaglia Foundation at www.leobuscaglia.org.
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,