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For many of us, yoga evokes images of toned arms and tight cores, but one organization is pioneering an entirely novel use for the ancient meditative practice: helping disadvantaged youths and families cope with hardship.
Street Yoga, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Ore., aims to help people struggling with homelessness, poverty, abuse, addiction and trauma by providing them with yoga classes and lessons in mindful breathing and compassionate communication.
Founded by Mark Lilly in 2002, Street Yoga initially recruited a handful of instructors to teach yoga at a Portland day shelter and a school serving homeless youth. Since that time it has grown from a grassroots effort to a staffed nonprofit organization. Street Yoga now trains 200 people a year -- mostly yoga teachers, social workers and schoolteachers -- in the skills necessary to offer yoga to the needy and at-risk. These volunteers serve over 1,000 individuals annually, bringing yoga and wellness workshops to the social service scenes of Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York and other major cities.
Skeptics might ask what place yoga, let alone nebulous concepts like "inner balance," have in providing measurable help to the homeless and poor, but Street Yoga points to mounting scientific evidence that yoga helps with depression, anxiety, PTSD and drug addiction.
As Lilly explained to NPR in August 2009, yoga provides a measure of order, strength and balance to people dealing with extremely difficult situations.
Want to get involved?
Street Yoga's website details the following opportunities:
- Become a Street Yoga teacher. If you are passionate about yoga and helping at-risk youth, sign up to participate in an upcoming teacher training.