The Art of Yoga Project’s National Affiliate Pilot cohort is comprised of eight organizations from seven states across the United States including Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, Mississippi and Texas.  These community-based organizations serve marginalized girls in diverse contexts within juvenile detention centers, group homes, behavioral health treatment centers and in the community. 

The spring delegates from these organizations attended The Art of Yoga Project’s training: Using Yoga and Art to Support and Empower Marginalized Teen Girls.  They returned home equipped with an in-depth understanding of The Art of Yoga Project’s trauma-informed and gender-responsive model, along with their yoga and creative arts curricula.  Each organization will integrate The Art of Yoga Project’s Wise Inside Essentials curriculum into existing programs and/or partnerships serving marginalized girls.

Nollie Jenkins Family Center, Lexington, MS

Phoenix Savage, Yoga Instructor and Teaching Artist

Ellen Reddy, Executive Director

Nollie Jenkins Family Center (NJFC) is a community-based organization that offers parent education, environmental education, literacy development, civic engagement and support for families of adjudicated youth.  With this grant, NJFC will introduce trauma-informed yoga and creative expression to girls with a trauma history who are already involved with the organization. 

Cunningham Children’s Home, Urbana, IL

Susan Bane, Yoga Instructor

Jillian Schultz, Special Therapies Specialist

Cunningham Children’s Home serves youth and families across nine counties in Illinois through residential treatment centers, therapeutic day schools, vocational services, counseling, and independent living programs. With this grant, Cunningham Children’s Home will bring trauma-informed yoga and creative expression to girls housed in the organization’s group home and students at their therapeutic day school.

Youth Arts: Unlocked, Swartz Creek, MI

Marcia Faye McGee, Yoga Instructor

Jessica Hammon, Legal Advocate and Yoga Instructor

Youth Arts: Unlocked brings poetry and creative expression workshops to incarcerated girls to promote confidence, creative skills and positive identity development.  Through this grant, Youth Arts: Unlocked will integrate trauma-informed yoga and creative expression into their existing weekly creative expression programs with girls in detention. 

Crittenton Services, Inc., Wheeling, WV

Lindsay Schooler, Yoga Instructor

Kathy Szafran, CEO of Crittenton Services, Inc. WV

Crittenton Services, Inc. of WV offers behavioral health services for girls with complex trauma histories in 22 West Virginia counties.  They have residential programs and also serve pregnant and parenting girls. They currently offer weekly yoga to girls involved with their organization and will use this grant to adopt a more trauma-informed approach to their yoga classes.

Rising Ground, Brooklyn, NY

Michele Favale, Therapist and Yoga Instructor

Devon Stewart, Yoga Instructor

Rising Ground supports vulnerable families from high-poverty areas in and around the New York City area.  They also support adjudicated youth with behavioral health and community placement.  With this grant, Rising Ground will integrate trauma-informed and gender-responsive yoga and creative expression into their current program working with girls in a long-term therapeutic detention program.  

YWCA Tri County Area, Pottstown, PA

Kelly Grosser, Youth Program Manager

Kristie Piacine, Youth Program Coordinator

YWCA Tri County Area serves families and youth through education and youth leadership development.  Their Healthy Pathways Project is a program designed for girls with a trauma history who are struggling in school, as a diversion from juvenile detention.  They will be integrating AYP’s trauma-informed yoga and creative arts curriculum into their existing yoga programming.

Human Kind Wellness, Dallas, TX

Kathy Crane, Owner, Counselor, Yoga Instructor

Human Kind Wellness offers a prevention program in partnership with Rockwall County Juvenile Services office for adjudicated teen girls including counseling services and yoga.  Human Kind Wellness will be integrating AYP’s trauma-informed yoga and creative expression program into their existing yoga program for girls.

Buffalo Dance Center, Elma, NY

Stacey Wawrzyniec, Director, Yoga Instructor

Buffalo Dance Center teaches life skills to youth such as creativity, confidence, focus, accountability and perseverance through the avenue of movement.  They will be bringing yoga and creative expression to marginalized girls at two partner agencies in Western New York.


The Art of Yoga Project (AYP) is honored to have been selected to receive a grant from the hope & grace fund, funded by the wellbeing beauty brand .  Semi-annually, the hope & grace fund provides critically-needed funding to community-based organizations that promote women’s mental health and wellbeing. An advisory board comprised of leading mental health researchers, practitioners, and philanthropists, as well as senior leaders from philosophy, ensures the hope & grace fund identifies and supports the most innovative and effective programs to empower women with mental health issues.

The hope & grace fund focuses on increasing mental health knowledge and awareness, reducing stigma around mental health issues, and providing access to mental health services for a diverse group of women.  With the support of the hope & grace fund, AYP will develop Wise Inside, a gender-responsive, trauma-informed curriculum to meet the unique mental health needs of the most trauma-impacted, emotionally dysregulated girls in juvenile detention and other high-need facilities.  Wise Inside programming will be integrated into AYP sites, which serve over 750 girls annually. AYP is extremely grateful for this support.

Dear Teachers of The Art of Yoga Project,

As you know, we are working on another curriculum (our 4th!). “How about Wise Inside?” offered Jessica Archer-Nuzzo when

we were considering a name at our Leadership meeting a few years ago. (Up to that point, I no doubt had an unnecessarily complex and lengthy acronym as a working title!) “Wise Inside” resonated with us. We felt that honoring wisdom was important for our work—our own wisdom and that of the girls we serve.

So what does it mean to be WISE? I think wisdom is knowing what we don’t know. To that end, I sincerely ask that you consider our curriculum and offer your own input. We have 6 overarching themes: Intention, Self-Awareness, Self-Respect, Self-Control, Peaceful Living and Celebrating the Feminine. Each of these has 10 subtopics with numerous corresponding check-ins, check-outs and writing prompts. We also have accessible creative art and writing projects and a Wise Inside Women’s Artist of the Month—ranging from Venus of Willendorf and Frida Kahlo to Kara Walker and Wangechi Mutu. I feel it’s incredibly rich and exciting. Yet I know I have to still ask myself and all of you—What’s missing? What could make it better? How can it be more culturally relevant, engaging and connecting? Please know your voice is important and welcome. As we pilot Wise Inside, we really want and need to hear from you.

By design, Wise Inside can set

the conditions for a girl to discover her own wisdom. This is our goal. Using the latest combination of developmental neuroscience and trauma learnings, we have sequenced each of these classes to help girls first regulate their emotions in order to access their deeper intuitive knowledge. I like to think of it as REGULATE, RELATE then REASON, as we start with essential warm-ups before asking the girls to connect with us, each other and their inner lives.

Wisdom is also regularly checking in with ourselves to maintain balance—emotionally, physically, spiritually. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This work is intense. Please don’t underestimate the importance of self-care. This holiday

I hope you can surround yourself with beings you love, find some alone time to reflect, get out in nature, cook, laugh, dance, soak…whatever you need to replenish and nurture. And those of you who are working with our girls during the holiday, I offer special thanks and acknowledgment.

Wise Inside has also inspired a new instructor tee design. Now we have shirts with an owl sitting near our hearts. To me, it represents this combination of love and wisdom inherent in what we do every day. In essence, we are offering our love to the girls yet we need to have the wisdom to choose its form. Moment to moment, we must choose from a wide range of responses—a firm directive, genuine praise, encouragement, honest reflection, a warm smile, spacious silence, a clear boundary, or an invited embrace…to name just a few. It takes wisdom and experience to know which to choose. I honor each of you today for yours. We are blessed beyond words for your gifts to this work.


With deep admiration and gratitude,
Mary Lynn

By Michelle Grambeau
Original publication July 2015 on the Namaste Foundation blog

Group tree pose

Operating within the juvenile justice system, The Art of Yoga Project provides yoga, mindfulness and creative arts programming for incarcerated and exploited teen girls.

I had the opportunity to visit the center last week to participate in the weekly yoga practice and join forces on a visual storytelling project with the girls. After fingerprint tests and security clearance, a process that took weeks, I was granted access. As a yoga teacher myself I have been in more yoga classes than I can count, yet entering onto the grounds of Kemp Camp was entirely new territory.

There is a diverse and complex nature to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ these young ladies (ages 12-18)

become incarcerated. Yet, consistently 90-95% self report some form of trauma—sexual, physical or emotional abuse, exploitation, or prolonged neglect.

Knowing the above statistics begs of us as a society to ask smarter questions, looking deep into the cycle of trauma, victimization, delinquency and reformation.

  • What does true rehabilitation look like?
  • How do we empower and heal the mind and body of a traumatized girl moving through the challenging transition into womanhood?
  • What tools can we offer her so she has a shot at building a healthy future for herself?


Onsite at the Juvenile detention center it was clear the first step, which many facilities overlook, is the need for gender specific rehabilitation. The Art of Yoga Project was envisioned to meet this need in a variety of enlivening ways.

With recognition of the cyclical nature of victimization and abuse, all certified yoga teachers, therapists, art and writing educators receive trauma-informed and strength-based training. The end result is a population of girls who have safe space to physically, emotionally and mentally ground and center. With tangible weekly practice in emotional regulation and healthy relationship building comes an opportunity to heal the
patterns of hurt in body, mind and community.


When practicing bakasana crow pose (a rather difficult balancing pose on the hands), I told the girls that they could one day float forward and lift up into a headstand. The response was unanimously, “Oh yea? Show us.”

The pressure was on. All those hours of practicing and teaching yoga were about to pay off. As I moved through this challenging transition, I could feel every eye in the room intensely. After a successful delivery, I lowered my feet to the ground, one of the girls blurts out, “Daaaaaaaaaaang Michelle” and the room erupted into laughter and conversation. There was vulnerability, unknown and a willingness to see the humanness in the each other’s eyes. After practice, two students asked me to take a photo of them in the same crow pose. It was in this moment that it became ever more apparent, the importance of having strong female role models and the safe space to express, share and relate.

Crow pose



The Power of Questions

By Julie Greicius

When I started teaching writing with the Art of Yoga Project in July 2014, I told the girls in detention to think of writing as yoga for the imagination. Writing, I told them, stretches our ideas, stretches how we imagine ourselves and how we think about our world. And it’s fun: on the page, anything goes.

Like yoga, expressive writing is therapeutic for people of all ages who’ve experienced trauma – which consistently 95 to 99 percent of girls self-report experiencing prior to their entry into the juvenile justice system. Their trauma may be sexual, physical or emotional abuse, exploitation, or even prolonged neglect. Finding language for traumatic experiences helps victims process their memories, and begin to heal.

This week’s class at Santa Clara Juvenile Hall was a good – and playful – example of how this emotional processing takes place, and how girls in juvenile detention face far different challenges than girls their age who have lived without trauma, yet have so many similarities.

Our project focused on questions—because, as I suggested to them, knowing our questions is just as important as knowing our answers, and sometimes even more so. My co-teacher, Julie Wool, started by centering and grounding the girls with a short yoga sequence, and then I shared a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“…Have patience with everything that is unresolved in your heart and try to live the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. … Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way to the answer.”

“That’s deep,” one girl said, and asked for an extra piece of paper to copy it down.

Then we talked about questions, the questions that shape our lives now and in the future. Who tells us who we are? Where do we want to go with our lives? How do we want to get there? I invited them to write down absolutely any question they had, on any topic. I offered some prompting, such as: Consider the things that feel uncertain in your life. Consider the things that influence you, and why. Consider the mysteries of your life, and why they are important to you. Then, imagine there was a source for all the answers. What questions would you ask? Write down as many questions as you can think of. Don’t worry about the answers.

The girls had amazing responses. Some wrote questions about god and aliens and life and the afterlife. One girl wrote, “Why is the devil a fallen angel?” Many wrote the whys of the future and past, their families, and their relationships. Some wrote questions about their bodies like, “Your nails – what is that white dot that can be there?” and “Why wasn’t I an animal? Like a cat, dog, fish or pig?” They had a lot of fun with each other’s ideas (“That white dot means someone is thinking about you.” “You would have been eaten if you were a pig!”). Even those who didn’t write much enjoyed the discussion, with me encouraging them to “put those words on paper!”

I told the girls to notice how our questions connect us, that many of them wrote similar or even identical questions, or when they heard someone’s question called out, “Yeah, I want to know that too!” A big part of the discussion was letting go of the need to have answers, to stand with the mysteries and embrace “the questions themselves” as Rilke wrote. One girl said she liked the idea of “living your way to the answers” without trying.

Two girls were moved to dive deep for this project, and wrote questions that, when read together, had the qualities of rhythmic poems and personal stories. Woven together, their questions even seemed to hold answers.

Questions by “C”

Everyone has a purpose in life, what is mine?

Why couldn’t I have blue eyes?

Why does the “higher” people hide things from us?

Isn’t this a free country? But yet there’s so many rules.

If there’s a god and when we die there’s a heaven and a hell, then how come we see ghosts on earth?

When and how will I die?

How would it be if we choose our family?

When will I get out?

Why can’t we have three wishes in life?

Why are alcohol and drugs legal, but yet they can kill you?

Why can’t we choose our life?

We can’t we read people’s minds?

Why can’t we have super powers?

How can a female give birth to another human?

How come my pencil isn’t sharp?

Why was I born a girl?

Why can’t I know what I know now?

Why can’t I restart my whole life?

How can people believe in something they can’t see?

I wonder what I look like from my enemies’ eyes?

Questions by “S”

Why do we have the lifestyles we have? Why can’t we choose our life? It’s like everything was made for us, without consent. When we’re born I feel like God already knew our choices we would make to this day.

Why are we who we are? Why am I the daughter of ____? Why did my mom marry my stepdad ____? Why did my stepdad beat and abuse me? Why are some people immune to physical, verbal, emotional and mental abuse? Who taught us the wrong ways in the world?

What’s the point of love? Why do people cheat, lie, and hurt others? What’s the point of falling for someone who won’t always be there for you when shit happens? Why can’t I be as happy as everyone else?

Why does the good die young? Why do we all end up having to say goodbye? Why did god create a time in their life when we eventually leave? Will we all go to heaven? How will I die? Car accident, shooting, overdose, beat to death, or will I just die old? Why do people judge and discriminate? Why do people look to god when they are in trouble, but not just any day? Why do people expect the higher power “god” to answer all their prayers?

Why doesn’t my mom understand me? Does she really care? Why do we keep making the same mistakes, knowing we weren’t happy the first time we made them? Why was I born?

Where did the human race begin? When my time comes will god forgive me from all my sins? Will he accept me? Will I be loved? Why do we die?

Writing about trauma isn’t easy, and as a teacher it can be heartbreaking to witness. My co-teacher and I both give the girls a lot of feedback as they’re sharing—not just compliments, but responses that reflect our understanding and empathy. I always offer to type up the girls’ work and bring it back to them, which helps them to realize that what they’ve expressed is important, that it’s being held safely, that it’s worth keeping – and, like them, should be treasured.

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.