Portraits and Pinot

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

Portraits and Pinot Invitation


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.

Nikki Meyers and Mary Lynn Fitton

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.

Kelly McGonigal and Mary Lynn Fitton

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.


New Partners

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,

Mary Lynn



Poetry in Song Form

By Shannon Larsen
June 2013

As a yoga instructor for AYP, I am grateful to be able to visit both James Ranch and the girls unit in Juvenile Hall.  It gives me the opportunity to work with girls that rotate in and out of the hall quite frequently as well as spend time in curriculum and creative expression with those at the Ranch, who tend to be there much longer.

I recall beginning class at the Ranch one winter day speaking about our form of creative expression and outlet for release. Anne, our writing teacher, had been visiting the girls and I was able to be there for a few of her Thursday writing days.  It was amazing witnessing the girls find their words and become more and more comfortable sharing their stories, their truths.  I shared with the girls that one of my ways to express myself and find release was through songwriting and that maybe one day I could share a song with them.  After making sure I could bring my guitar in, the next time I was scheduled to visit James Ranch, I brought my guitar.

I let the girls know that before we practiced, I wanted to share a piece of my life with them since they share pieces of theirs with me.  We re-visited the idea of our stories being our gifts.  How Anne says that it’s important to share our life stories with others.  I told them that as a teenager I didn’t know how to express myself but when my brother showed me how to play the guitar, I started writing songs about all the things happening in my life, including the hard stuff.  However, I ONLY sang in secret in the bathroom with no one listening.  Not until an important woman  encouraged me to share my “gift” with others did I start playing songs publicly.  I told them that just like poems and life stories, songs are my way to share life as I see it and as I learn. And it is also a way that I practice purity of mind as I work through my own feelings and thoughts. The song I shared is called Change the World, one that I wrote.  One girl stared intently at me the whole time as another doodled in her journal.  Afterwards the ladies were ready to have a physical practice which we kept very watery and a bit more mellow, focusing on breath and what our bodies needed.  I noticed that the girls seemed more uninhibited that day after having listened intently to the song I shared, and perhaps recognizing that we all have stories and gifts to express. I’ve brought my guitar in several times now and no matter how distracted the girls appear at first, they always quiet to listen as I share songs with them.

Change the World (Lyrics)

Poppa why are you working so hard
Momma why are you crying in that car
Young loves why are you running away
What do we have to say, do we have to say?

Brother why are you acting so hard
Sister why don’t you love yourself as you are
Old fools why are you disappointed in youth
What do we have to say, do we have to say?

Some things seem like they’re never gonna change
But I can tell you darlings they don’t have to stay the same
If we believe in love and understanding
And you and me…
We can change the world

Why do we live in boxes black and white
Is that so much scarier than risking flight
Why do we run in circles like we do
There’s somethin different now somethin different now, for me and you

Spread arms the wingspan of a storm
Find your truth and escape all the nor
And flyyy-yyy-yy my bird
There’s somethin different now somethin different now, haven’t ya heard

Who knows how much time we got
Take time to free your mind we got
Who knows how much time we got
Take time to free your mind, free your mind

Some things seem like they’re never gonna change
But I can tell you darlings they don’t have to stay the same
If we believe in love and understanding
And you and me…
We can change the world
Change the world
We will change the world.





The Art of Yoga Project

The Art of Yoga Project is designed to help at-risk girls by focusing on early intervention and preparing girls for a positive future. We are leaders in revolutionizing the rehabilitation of girls by offering trauma-informed, strength-based, gender-responsive services.

Our mission is to lead teenage girls in the California juvenile justice system toward accountability to self, others and community by providing practical tools to affect behavioral change.