October 11, 2012

Last month The Art of Yoga Project (AYP) participated in the 2012 Juvenile Justice Expert Exchange between three Bay Area County Juvenile Justice systems and delegates from China’s Supreme People’s Court. From September 9-16, seven Chinese juvenile judges visited three jurisdictions: San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara – all service areas for AYP.

Slides for the presentation were translated by StarVista's Tonia Chen

The judges were interested in the collaborative approach between probation officers, courts, attorneys, mental health and community-based organizations like The Art of Yoga Project. AYP was asked to participate in a multi-disciplinary gender-specific treatment overview in San Mateo. Sarah Barnard, Site Director for San Mateo and San Francisco, presented our gender-responsive, trauma-informed model and eight best practices for the rehabilitation of teen girls in the juvenile system.

Like our partners, we highlighted the importance of seeing the girls in the context of their difficult environments and upbringing. Sarah explained how we advocate for our girls caught in cycles of victimization and San Mateo Juvenile Judge Elizabeth Lee offered, “We make a greater effort to understand the unique circumstances and social history of each juvenile in order to find the best disposition for him or her.”

The practices presented at the conference could likely affect the way China treats it adjudicated youth. “This exchange is of great importance for juvenile justice reform in China,” said Executive Director John Kamm of the sponsoring Dui Hua Foundation, “as it very well may influence the way the country implements its new juvenile justice system in 2013.”


Art Against Exploitation

August 23, 2012

Get your mind around this: Girls in juvenile detention reaching out to girls in India who are trapped in the sex trade. Their backgrounds are similar—girls in detention have an astonishingly high incidence of sexual abuse and are often victims of sexual trafficking here in the Bay Area. They both suffer from trauma.  And they both need to feel worthy and have hope. In this instance, art is the answer.

Quilt 1

This summer, The Art of Yoga Project embarked on a very special partnership with the amazing Anchal Project.  The Anchal Project is a textiles non-profit offering employment alternatives to commercial sex workers in Ajmer and Kolkata, India.  Late last year, we met with Anchal co-founder, Devon Miller, and planned this exciting cross-cultural collaboration. Due to a generous grant from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Donor Circle for the Arts Fund, we are able to complete this project in two of our detention facilities!

The quilts pictured here are the fruits of a 6-week workshop where 5 girls at our Santa Clara James Ranch facility explored places of personal power and refuge through fabric collage. In the spirit of giving, or seva, the girls donated their work to be sold to help sponsor a young commercial sex worker in Ajmer, India to become an Anchal artisan. website change monitor . In fact, one quilt was supposed to be kept for themselves and the girls chose instead to auction both quilts at an upcoming Art of Yoga event.

On August 11th, our beloved advisor and master yoga teacher, Desiree Rumbaugh, offered an inspiring and energetic yoga class to a full house at Breathe Yoga Studio in Los Gatos  as a fundraiser for the Art of Yoga. The quilts were displayed and two lucky and generous participants bought them when auctioned! When the girls at James Ranch heard the news, they were thrilled and empowered by their giving.

Quilt 2

Stay tuned for photos of quilts from our San Mateo Camp Kemp site!

Perhaps most inspiring to me were the letters, full of compassion and empathy, that the James Ranch girls wrote to the women in India. Some poignant examples:

“I pray for you, and if you have children, them also. I wish you to stay strong and don’t ever give up…It’s sad because the situation you’re in, but one day, everything will be okay, keep your hopes high.”


“…Keep in mind that you guys are worth something. In somebody’s eyes you’re all beautiful in any way. In and out.”

Yogawoman DocumentaryIt was the day before Thanksgiving at San Mateo County’s Camp Kemp Juvenile detention facility. Holidays are always an especially rough time for girls locked up away from family and friends. At The Art of Yoga Project (AYP), we not only hold yoga and art classes on holidays, we try to think of special ways to inspire the girls. We decided a movie showing would be just the thing. And not just any movie, but one which they could personally relate to and see themselves in a new, hopeful light.

The film was Yogawoman, a groundbreaking, award-winning documentary narrated by Academy Award winner, Annette Bening, and now premiering worldwide. The talented trio of producers came to Camp Kemp three years ago to include AYP’s work in the film and follow the story of one girl in particular, Sayle, as she served her time and later transitioned home and into college. We couldn’t wait to see the girls’ reactions as they recognized Camp Kemp, their probation counselors, schoolteacher and AYP instructors in the film. We knew that some would even know Sayle. And we all knew that they would relate to yoga – because girls at Camp Kemp practice yoga four days a week as a mandatory and integral part of their rehabilitation. Four days a week for an average of six months plus our aftercare program for another year can certainly create a life-long discipline for health and well-being. We looked to Yogawoman to help the girls further understand why we bring this beautiful practice to them and the way it can transform their fractured lives.

On this day, another long-time AYP teacher, Jessica Archer, and I brought bags of kettle corn and rearranged couches to set a cozy space in their otherwise austere setting. We met with facility staff for an update on the girls, carefully laid out napkins and journals. Then we quietly set our intentions for the session, knowing the usual challenges that come in this environment.

Twelve teen girls filed in, found their seats and, as is our usual practice, were acknowledged and honored by Jessica and me individually by name. Before long, every one of the girls was very engaged. They began to stir and make comments and Jessica and I, both teary, smiled at each other knowing the girls were interested and inspired:

  • Hearing about a woman with breast cancer, they expressed compassion.
  • Seeing Uganda on film, its wild animals and the beautiful women being helped by Seane Corn’s humanitarian project made the girls want to go along. “We should do a field trip there someday….” “I want to do that!” “I want to help those women, too.”  “I would hella do that.”
  • Seeing India, “I want to do yoga in India!”
  • Learning about how Patricia Walden used yoga to conquer addiction was a revelation to many “No way… Wow!”
  • Learning the history of yoga and how women reclaimed yoga in the west and made it their own “That’s hella cool.”

Quite simply, the film broadened their world. It inspired travel, service, empowerment and compassion and, as we see consistently in the yoga room, it brought out the best in them. Many of the girls made comments that showed their deepened commitment to the practice  “I can do that pose.” “I’m going to try that.” “ I want to do yoga for a very long time!” “ I want to do yoga on the outs.” “I’m going to teach my mom AND my grandma yoga.”

After the movie, we asked the girls to journal to the prompt: “Yogawoman is….”

They each shared their answers aloud.

A Yogawoman is:

  • An inspirational person
  • Stress free, balanced, full of energy
  • Someone who is physically, mentally and emotionally strong
  • Someone who can control her breath, who is strong, flexible, motivated, comes inside herself and forgets the bad and focuses on the good
  • Someone who likes to do yoga 
  • Someone in tune with her own body
  • Very inspiring and has strength
  • A strong, confident woman, comfortable in her own skin
  • Someone who takes time to know herself, physically and mentally, who is willing and doesn’t give up, picks herself up when she falls, and makes herself stronger than she is
  • Beautiful even if she is ugly
  • Someone who loves herself

Next, I asked the girls “Are you Yogawoman?”  There was a resounding “Yes!” So for our closing, each girl, one at a time, substituted “I am” for “Yogawoman” in her answer above. It was powerful:

“I am an inspirational person. I pick myself up when I fall. I am in tune with my body. I am a strong, confident woman. I am beautiful even if I have been ugly.  I am someone who loves herself…”   

Yogagirls becoming Yogawoman.




Mary Lynn, founder of The Art of Yoga ProjectWelcome!

I am Mary Lynn Fitton, the founder of AYP. I  have the great pleasure of being the  director of programs for all of our services for at-risk and exploited teen girls. We have core programming in three San Francisco Bay Area Counties and affiliates in 10 states nationally. I speak for all of us at AYP when I say that teaching the Yoga & Creative Arts Curriculum to girls in the juvenile justice system brings us much joy, gratitude and fulfillment. There are many stories to tell, and I hope you will be as inspired as I am to hear about our heroes – the girls whom we serve.  Please visit our blog often and become “A part of the Art”—of Yoga!


Executive Director Lisa Pedersen (right) and Site Director Sarah Barnard attend the First Lady’s Conference on Women in 2010.

San Mateo – A roomful of teen girls dressed in pink, white and grey worked quietly on small quilts adorned with the bust of Roman warrior goddess Minerva recently in San Mateo while in summer school. It was difficult to imagine that any of them could have committed crimes. Yet, all of the girls are serving time in the juvenile justice system as residents of The Margaret J. Kemp Camp for Girls, a minimum-security facility and rehabilitation program. This particular week they were taking part in The Minerva Arts Project – a collaboration between The Art of Yoga Project, the California Governor and First Lady’s Conference on Women, the California Arts Council and the Alameda County Arts Commission. A statewide program, The Minerva Arts Project is designed to encourage at-risk youth to see the traits of Minerva reflected in themselves and to highlight the importance of the arts in the development and education of all young people. This year, San Mateo joined Alameda, Los Angeles, and Ventura Counties in the project and added its own distinctive twist – two yoga symbols incorporated into the quilts: the peaceful warrior pose in honor of Minerva’s symbolism, and the tree pose, which represents strength and flexibility.

A primary partner with the San Mateo County Probation Department, The Art of Yoga Project initiated the project at Camp Kemp. “The Minerva Arts Project was a perfect opportunity to enhance our day-to-day work at Camp Kemp,” stated Lisa Pedersen, Executive Director of The Art of Yoga Project. “We are honored to have been the project lead in San Mateo County and to have been able to contribute the principles of yoga and meditation to the Minerva curriculum.”

“The girls at Camp Kemp truly are everyday Minervas,” said Mary Lynn Fitton, Founder and Program Director at The Art of Yoga Project. “They’ve had tough lives and really resonate with Minerva as both warrior and peacemaker. A few were even familiar with her.”

The Minerva Arts Project – Creating Youth Empowerment is an arts education program designed to provide a way for California youth in detention centers and state facilities to explore the leadership traits of the Roman goddess Minerva, who graces the California state seal. It is also a means for these young people to learn about the winners of The Minerva Award, California First Lady Maria Shriver’s recognition of women who reflect the potential in everyday Californians to make a positive impact on their communities.

Each day began with a discussion about leadership followed by a yoga practice to relax, energize and inspire the creative process. By the end of the week, many aspects of what it meant to be a great leader had been identified. Compassion, strength, trustworthiness, being real, courage, staying true to yourself, wisdom, not giving up, uniqueness, and being able to understand the people you’re leading were just a few of the qualities that were named by the girls. One participant wisely noted, “A good leader needs to know a lot about love.”

“The yoga practice, discussions and art projects often break down the tough outer “bravado” of these girls,” said Sarah Barnard, San Mateo Site Director for The Art of Yoga Project. “It helps them to see that many of us are engaged in a struggle as warriors seeking our own inner peace. We try to teach them that we can “battle” our negative self-talk and impulses by using self-awareness, breathing and meditation as “weapons” for change and positive decision making. We encourage each one of them to be her best self.”

After the yoga practice and discussion, the class transitioned into the quilt project. “We played inspirational music to provide a calm, upbeat working environment. The overall experience and the mood were very positive,” observed art teacher Tina Mizukami.

As the completed quilts were placed in the center of the room, the girls took a silent walk around to view each other’s artwork, reflect on the collective work, the process and its challenges, and to think about their own potential to become a Minerva. Then the project, day and week came to a close with the reading of the definition of the Sanskrit work namaste by one of the girls. “I honor that place in you in which the entire universe dwells. It is a place of love, light, truth and peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one. Namaste.”

About Camp Kemp

Camp Kemp is a gender-responsive facility for girls in the California juvenile justice system. The first of its kind in this state, it provides sustainable resources and programs that promote the process of healing, educating, and empowering each girl to achieve her greatest potential. Camp Kemp’s philosophy is guided by its belief in and commitment to gender-responsive service delivery and restorative justice which centers on blending accountability and treatment to repair harm done; to heal personal and interpersonal relationships while forming positive connections with the larger community. www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/portal/site/Probation

About the Alameda County Arts Commission

The Alameda County Arts Commission is a division of the County of Alameda and believes that the arts and creativity are an essential part of every successful and thriving community. The goal of Creative Power: Alameda County Arts Commission’s Arts Education Program is to empower youth to make positive changes in their lives, families and community. www.acgov.org/arts

About the California Governor and First Lady’s Conference on Women

The Mission of The Women’s Conference Organization is to create Architects of Change – people from all walks of life who see a problem and seek to create the solution, be it in their home, their community, their state or our world. Led by California First Lady Maria Shriver, The Women’s Conference has created a global community of Architects of Change who gather every year at the nation’s premier forum for women in Long Beach, CA. www.womensconference.org.



The Art of Yoga Project

The Art of Yoga Project focuses on early intervention to help marginalized and justice-involved girls prepare for a positive future. We are leaders in the treatment and rehabilitation of justice-involved girls by offering gender-responsive, trauma-informed, culturally-responsive, and strengths-based programming.

Our mission is to lead at-risk, exploited and incarcerated girls toward accountability to self, others, and community by providing practical tools to effect behavioral change. We send specially trained yoga teachers, art therapists, creative arts and writing educators into facilities to deliver our mindfulness-based curriculum.

The Art of Yoga Project is a 501(c)(3) non profit. Tax ID #20-2448697.