We are focusing on healthy living during March. Former Huck House caseworker and guest blogger Candace McDowall is a Connection Coalition volunteer who brings yoga to the crisis shelter.
My last paid day as a case manager at Huck House was almost 20 years ago. That place and those people still have my heart. You can tell, because I just can’t stay away.
Yoga Gangsters (now called Connection Coalition) is a non-profit organization that collaborates with schools, jails, foster homes, crisis centers and rehabs across 17 states to bring yoga, meditation and mindfulness to youth. As a part of this amazing group of volunteers, I knew that Huck House was the perfect place for this type of work with our young people.
One of the things I love best about teaching yoga in this setting is what happens to participants in the short span of 40 minutes or so. Every time I came, EVERY TIME, at least one person in the group, and often all of them, would start by saying “I can’t do YOGA.” And by the end, usually the loudest detractors were working the hardest to show off their moves or practice a crazy-looking pose.
But my favorite was always the one kid who would insist on not participating. Halfway through the class, when no one else could see, as I said to the group, “Ok, now take a really deep breath…”, I would get a glimpse of him or her, eyes half closed in feigned apathy, inhaling and exhaling deeply in rhythm with the group. To me, that was the most important breath in the room. The one who was trying not to be engaged, but couldn’t help being a part of something so simple and yet so brilliant. The deep cleansing breath.
Often, by the end of class, when the others were chatty and laughing at the crazy stuff we did, the loner who sat out the earlier stuff would agree to lie down on a mat for, what I always consider the dessert of yoga. The good stuff. The reward for the hard work that looks suspiciously like sleeping, but is actually a blissful respite from the chaos of their world.
In these moments, active, restless, young people who have rarely sat still for more than 30 seconds, whose parents and teachers would insist that they were incapable of self-controlled quiet time, would all lie down, in whatever positions they found comfortable, quiet, listening to the music, relaxed, and even, on occasion, meditative. Once, a staff person stuck her head back in the room, because she thought we must have left. “They’ve never been this quiet. Ever.”
This is how I know it works. This is how every young person in the room begins to feel at peace within themselves, on their own, in control, and liking that feeling. Those otherwise elusive moments of calm and security, that they were able to accomplish inside their own bodies and minds, are the building blocks of the self-control and mindfulness they need to move on from Huck House back into a chaotic world, but now with the knowledge that they are in possession of skills they didn’t even know they had. And it all started with that one beautiful breath.