“I come in a bad mood, and I leave feeling happier.” That pretty much sums up one reason many people practice yoga. In this case, the quote is more meaningful. The speaker is a child at Youth Haven, the area’s only emergency and residential shelter catering to kids between the ages of 6 and 18 who have been removed from their homes as a result of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
Partners in Shine, a volunteer-based service organization, teaches yoga at Youth Haven weekly. Led by Gina Monteiro, the volunteers encourage kids to come as they are, in jeans, pajamas, or whatever, so that yoga feels accessible to them. The class may incorporate props and games—for example, basketball yoga under the stars ending with a resting pose on the court. Sometimes it’s glow yoga with glow sticks and paint or mandala coloring, yoga Jenga, or excursions for beach and paddleboard yoga. A favorite is chocolate meditation wherein each student receives a Hershey’s Kiss to mindfully unwrap and savor as a meditation is read.
“I have been told by students that they have never felt as peaceful in their whole lives as they felt in yoga class,” says Monteiro. “Their sleep improves, they feel calmer, more peaceful, and happy. By the end of the class, we see it on their faces.”