Jodi Weiner: Showing Up For At-Risk Youth

jodi-weiner-3This is an interview with Jodi Weiner, Executive Director for the South Florida-based non-profit organization CoCo, which stands for Connection Coalition (formerly Yoga Gangsters). It provides free yoga to youth in jails, foster homes, and homeless shelters. You can learn more about CoCo yoga instructors and yoga programs here. CoCo was founded by Terri Cooper, who some folks call “the original yoga gangster.”

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?

My children motivated me; I wanted to be an example my kids would be proud of. I wanted to show them that no matter who we are, we have a responsibility to step in and support those who have no community, support future leaders and innovators, and, I hope, to leave a legacy of love and giving.

How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

I’m motivated now by the children who have no voice, who are forgotten, judged, abused, or disempowered by the systems once thought to serve them. It is for the kids who crave the love they need to thrive, for the kids who have not heard the whispers of love, empowerment, and strength.

Is there a standout moment from your work with CoCo?

It was my first volunteer gig. I was kicking off our first six-week program with SOS Foster Village, and I was teaching my first class. The awakening in the eyes of the kids, the trust and opening I saw in their body language and the freedom that touched my heart after just one class, sticks with me, and drives me forward to share that awakening, that confirmation of Oneness. When you finally make eye contact with the kid who walked in with shut-down hunched shoulders too fearful to look up, it’s that moment, that awareness that these kids see you as safe. It’s truly an inspiring sensation that I hope to support others to find. Serving kids is a gift that needs to be felt to fully understand how much joy there can be in service.

What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed?

The only thing I knew about the kids was they were in some form of crisis and needed the space to just be kids, to be silly, free to be who they are. There were no assumptions. Our certification program teaches that if we assume anything about the population, we are creating disconnect. This is the very opposite of the essence of yoga! Our training teaches how to create the connection and see past the story, to see the soul.

That said, I had assumptions about my own abilities and limitations. Midway through that first class, I realized the effortless flow of connection when we give from the heart with no expectations. I recall stopping and watching the kids smile, trust, laugh and feel genuine joy in that moment, and doing my best to not fully let go into the tears of gratitude. I embodied connection so easily and I won’t ever forget that visceral experience. I was plugged in deep and it was a beautiful confirmation I was on the right path.

What stood out for me ultimately is I felt an immediate connection, not a hierarchy. I knew I had the education of trauma and the “aha” of how to serve, but I was not prepared for the fearlessness and comfort I felt.

What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?

When working with kids, I keep it playful, loose, and open to what is needed in the moment. I meet them where they are. I tap into the energy of the room and allow the messages and teaching to come through me. What comes out is exactly what the kids’ need, unscripted and from the heart. I stay mindful of what may trigger a reactive moment for the kids. It’s a delicate balance that requires a grounded awareness. Our teacher certification teaches the volunteers to provide empowering messages while playing with the asanas and breath of yoga.

When I teach adults, I teach to balance the chakras as opposed to controlled chaos with the kids. Empowerment is always part of my teachings regardless of the population. The “studio” version is a vibrant class and I always bring a little “gangster.” My yogi chatter is more about our energy body, and also about awareness of how we show up off the mat and into the lives we live in community.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

I experience such fulfillment through service and the development of CoCo that I don’t always tend my “playtime.” To address that challenge I get down on the floor with my own kids and play with them, and spend time in nature! My kids remind me to be incredibly silly and laugh as much as I can. It keeps me motivated, for sure!

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach at-risk youth?

Have resources and a community to support you. Regardless of the population you are going to serve, prepare your own grounding energy first. When moments of challenge pop up during service you’re better equipped to move through them instead of avoiding them. Service-minded support is vital in situations like that.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of “service yoga” in America in the next decade?

My vision for the next decade of service is to watch it grow. Once that flame of service is lit in many of us, it’s hard to ignore. I will continue to ignite and stoke those fires with the awareness of the abundance service work brings to the community, and the world as a whole. I am incredibly grateful to Off the Mat Into the World for its vision of social activism.


Join us in sharing the gift of yoga with those who can benefit most. Learn about ways to get involved with the Give Back Yoga Foundation.

Susan Lovett: Yoga for Those Living With Poverty & Trauma

Susan LovettThis is an interview with Susan Lovett, a licensed social worker, K-8 teacher, and a registered yoga teacher who has worked with urban low-income youth and families in the greater Boston area for over 25 years. During her yoga teacher training in 2013 she offered yoga classes and workshops for students at the high-poverty urban school where she works as a clinical social worker, providing therapeutic interventions and programs for youth with trauma. The students enjoyed their yoga and mindfulness practices, and Susan began receiving many requests from teachers and other social workers to provide yoga for their students. Through word of mouth, staff members at local community-based social service agencies heard about her yoga teaching, and requests for classes came in from those sites too. 

Hands to Heart Center (HTHC) – Yoga for the People —is a non-profit yoga service organization Susan founded in 2014 that provides free yoga classes for people living with poverty and trauma in Boston. It orchestrates a pool of over 140 yoga teacher volunteers, who have taught more than 700 free yoga classes in branch libraries, community centers, detention units, domestic violence shelters, high-poverty schools, homeless shelters, public housing developments, and residential treatment programs in Boston.

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?

In my social work career, I’ve always served low-income youth and families with trauma and am constantly seeking effective resources for my clients. When I read Damien Echols’ book Life After Death, I learned that he believes his yoga and mindfulness practice saved his life when he was wrongly imprisoned on death row. I realized that yoga was the resource I was looking for. It requires no equipment, no specific skills or physical abilities, and can be practiced by anyone, in any condition, in any location. Yoga can be practiced by a prisoner on death row, by a young person who lives with their abuser, by a student in a challenging school environment. and by a client in a residential treatment program for substance abuse disorder.

I continue to be motivated by the gratitude consistently expressed by HTHC’s yoga teacher volunteers and students, and by the large numbers of people living with poverty and trauma in Boston who don’t have access to yoga.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?

Being allowed into people’s lives for moments of grace while we’re all on our mats. I love the peaceful silence of savasana, especially in settings that are rarely associated with serenity and softness. When we’re all breathing together in those spaces, I feel more connected to the other people in the room, regardless of all of our lived experiences, and the external conditions that separate us from each other.

What are some of the things your students have taught you?

That yoga practice doesn’t have to be so serious! That we can laugh and talk to each other on our mats. They’ve also taught me to expect the unexpected, and to go with the flow!

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play for people living in poverty?

Yoga is effective in alleviating anxiety, depression, and stress and trauma, but yoga classes are expensive. There are no yoga studios in low-income neighborhoods. Regular yoga practice promotes health and wellness, increases capacity and builds resilience. Hands to Heart Center exists to share this powerful and effective resource with those who need it most.

For people living with the chronic stress of poverty, yoga provides many benefits, including an hour to 75 minutes with no demands, other than to breathe. Yoga class is a time when people with overwhelming stress can be nourished and supported. HTHC yoga classes provide community and connection among a wide range of people, connections that may not happen outside of yoga class. The message of HTHC is that yoga is effective and practical, and needs to be accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic status. HTHC calls on yoga teachers, many of whom benefit from great privilege, to leverage their privilege, their education, and their skills on behalf of others.

In order to address the inequities in access to yoga, HTHC has implemented a Yoga Coach program, a 20-hour free training for HTHC students and staff of our community partners. Upon completion of the program, HTHC Yoga Coaches will be able to teach a safe, one-hour class with eight simple postures. To participate in the HTHC Yoga Coach program, students commit to providing a minimum of six free HTHC yoga classes in their communities. Thus the HTHC Yoga Coach program fosters a larger, more culturally, racially, and socioeconomically diverse group of people who can lead yoga classes. Graduates of the HTHC Yoga Coach program are connected with scholarships to local 200-hour yoga teacher training programs if they’re interested in continuing their yoga teaching education.

What, in your mind, is the relationship between a practice of mindfulness and greater social change?

I believe that individuals who cultivate a practice of mindfulness have increased capacity to actively participate in social change efforts. I don’t think mindfulness alone positively affects income inequality, health disparities, racism, and violence in society, but I do think that people who develop mindfulness practice often seek out others who do the same. Collectively, the organized actions of mindfulness practitioners who focus on social justice can be powerful.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?

I hope that yoga service organizations will become commonplace in the next 10 years, and that the concept of yoga service will be integrated into more yoga teacher training programs. I believe that the scientific evidence about how a regular yoga practice can decrease anxiety, depression, stress, and trauma, and increase resilience will be more well-known, and that yoga will be part of the organizational culture in detention units, health centers, and schools.

I’d definitely like to see more federal and state funding available for yoga service organizations so that trauma-informed yoga teachers can be appropriately compensated for their skills. I believe that more and more yoga teachers are becoming interested in, and excited about, yoga service, and that the general public is becoming more informed about the many benefits of yoga, along with the important and effective work that’s being done in the yoga service field.


Join us in sharing the gift of yoga with those who can benefit most. Learn more about our nationwide initiative this November to give back yoga.

Jill Weiss Ippolito: How We Serve Incarcerated Youth

Jill Weiss IppolitoThis is an interview with Jill Weiss Ippolito, who is the founder/director of UpRising Yoga in Los Angeles, a nonprofit program that brings yoga to incarcerated youth and communities that can benefit from yoga. Her organization holds weekly yoga classes for boys and girls incarcerated in Central Juvenile Hall, as well as group homes, mental health facilities, and schools across Los Angeles County. Jill is helping to change policy and culture by bringing UpRising Yoga Life Skills training to probation staff, mental health, and social workers, teachers, and the general public. Like others interviewed for this series, Jill says, “Yoga saved my life from a past of jails and institutions, addiction and medications, depression and hopelessness.”

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

Jill: What originally motivated me was hearing about the conditions of the minors in juvenile hall. Incarceration leaves a deep scar on a young person. I felt that yoga could be a powerful tool to help young people cope with a bad situation, and that it could bring more peace to an environment that is continually stressful; so I asked the LA County Probation Department, “Can I teach yoga?”

These kids continue to motivate me, especially the ones who are truly motivated to do this on their own because “it feels good.” They light up; they want this yoga. They’re sponges, soaking up this gift that can never be taken away from them.

I want to mention something funny around your “motivation” question. It took about three or four months teaching at juvenile hall before I remembered that I was once arrested and brought there myself when I was a teenager. My mother reminded me, and I realized why this work resonates in me so deeply. Would things have been different for me if yoga had been placed in my path earlier in life? The answer to that question doesn’t matter for me now, but it might for one of the kids we share yoga with!

Is there a standout moment from your work with juveniles in LA County Juvenile Hall?

A lot of work goes into these classes, and I have a lot of wonderful people helping me. But for me, the best experience I have had is actually practicing with the kids: for instance, a boy next to me asking, “Miss, how can I do this on the outside?” It makes me happy to see the kids eager to get in postures they like (for some reason, Crow is by far the most popular asana we do). It’s rewarding to watch them help each other, like one boy telling the guy next to him to be quiet, so he can “get this.” During a meditation, one girl said she had the vision of a beautiful pond, a place where, in her mind, she can always go.

What did you know about the population you are working with, before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population and how have those assumptions changed?

As I mentioned, my mother reminded me that I was brought to juvenile hall when I was a teenager. So I guess you could say that my empathy for a young person in that situation went from this more general idea of “Oh, those poor kids” to “I’ve been there, I can relate.” Also, the idea of kids in foster care was hard to imagine. I knew of foster homes, and how many kids run away from them, but the idea of having no one to come pick you up and care for you really started to sink in.

Another big assumption I carried was that the kids would be really tough. I thought they would be hardened and threatening, and I imagined seeing them throw gang signs at each other and fight all the time. I also worried about racial issues: what would happen if the rival gangs were placed next to each other? Would I be breaking up fights all the time? And I thought they would resist the idea of yoga from a white lady: that the boys would think it’s “stupid” and the girls would think it’s useless. But I was pretty much wrong on all counts. They are sweet kids for the hour we get them. They light up and smile, laugh and share. They ask a lot of questions and are starving for attention, to be seen and to be cared about.

What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?

UpRising Yoga classes are one hour, and involve education with trauma-informed healing as the focus. This requires relationship-building and understanding cultural diversity. Another fundamental difference is that I am not teaching adults who are there by choice. I’m teaching kids in lockup.

We try to allow a lot of room for the kids to approach yoga in a way that makes them feel safe. We also look for every opportunity to praise and encourage. For some of them, just coming to the mat and lying down is a victory. The next time we come back they may try a posture or two. The time after that, they may do the whole sequence.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

I’ve worked at letting go of what I think a student needs to be doing. Teaching these kids has helped me with that, especially when I see them trying new things in class. My intention is to let each student have his/her own experience.

Compassion is my best tool. Before I start each class, I take a moment to share loving energy to each person there. It’s up to me to stay focused in order to offer something grounding.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach juveniles in detention centers?

Make sure you are available, physically and emotionally. What I mean by physically is having the dedication and commitment to show up and be a consistent reliable person in the juvenile department. You have to build trust. Make sure you have time and patience to devote to a program.

Emotionally, make sure you can take care of yourself in a healthy manner while you offer to be of service. We emphasize “being of service” rather than “helping” anyone. Knowing the difference is vital.

What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of “service yoga” in America in the next decade?

We have to find a way to offer yoga to kids BEFORE they get in trouble, BEFORE they commit a crime, BEFORE they get arrested.


Are you interested in learning how to do this type of work? Join Prison Yoga Project founder James Fox for a unique weekend training, where you will learn how to bring yoga to underserved or at-risk populations. Visit the PYP training page for more information.

Best Practices For Yoga in Schools: New White Book From the Yoga Service Council Now Available

Rob-Schware president of the Yoga Service Council

We are tremendously excited for the first Yoga Service White Book, “Best Practices for Yoga in Schools,” published by the Yoga Service Council (YSC) and Omega Institute for Holistic Studies. A collaboration of 27 of the nation’s leaders on yoga in schools, the book is now available on Amazon in both print and electronic formats.

The second Yoga Service White Book, forthcoming, will address yoga for veterans; and the third will focus on yoga in the criminal justice system.

Individually and as a whole, the white book series will support progress on our shared goal; helping to mainstream the practices of yoga and mindfulness in school systems, veterans’ facilities, prisons, and other social institutions.

-Rob Schware, GBYF Executive Director and  Yoga Service Council President

Best Practices for Yoga in Schools

Best Practices For Yoga In Schools. Cover Page

Best Practices for Yoga in Schools is a guide for yoga teachers, classroom teachers, school administrators, social workers, and anyone else interested in bringing yoga to children safely, and in a just and inclusive way.

By outlining suggestions and considerations across a wide variety of topics, this book will help you effectively and sustainably offer high-quality yoga programming for all children.

Based on the collective wisdom and experience of 23 contributors and four reviewers, this Best Practices Guide will support your capacity to implement meaningful school-based yoga programs, with the potential to transform the educational environment and help students thrive in a wide variety of situations.

Take 20% off the“Yoga in Schools” white book through the end of January.
Get your copy now on CreateSpace using the code J33NHWVC

A lot of very bright and experienced teachers, researchers, and clinicians gathered together and worked long and hard to create this well-documented publication. For anyone who dreams to include the powerfully beneficial practices of yoga—such as movement, conscious breathing, and meditation—into any school curriculum, Best Practices for Yoga in Schools is an incomparable resource.

To be effective and supported by the entire community, yoga must be introduced progressively and safely by well-trained teachers. When offered in this manner, yoga can be a powerful aid in helping students of all ages gain and maintain physical, psychological, and mental fitness, and manage stress. This book details how that can be accomplished.

—Beryl Bender Birch, cofounder of The Give Back Yoga Foundation

Learn more about the Yoga Service Council white book series.


Henry Cross: The Quest for Building Community

I met Henry Cross at the 3rd Annual Yoga Service Conference at the Omega Institute. Henry is the Assistant Executive Director of Hosh Yoga, a donation-based, not-for-profit yoga studio that promotes health and wellness as a right of life rather than a luxury. Henry is also the executive director of Hosh Kids, a nonprofit that offers yoga-based enrichment education for kids. This interview is his offering to help others successfully navigate the rewards and challenges of yoga service work. — Rob Schware, GBYF Executive Director

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

Henry: Yoga was part of a personal healing process; along the way I became fascinated by yoga as a vehicle for social change. Certain thinkers have influenced my yoga service work; for instance, you can view yoga service through the lens and power of voluntary associations as suggested by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, and its application in the living culture of your immediate community. There are plenty of like-minded people around that you can collaborate with to make a difference in your community: find the courage to start the community yourself.

Is there a standout moment from your work with your community?

Yes, it was realizing yoga service nonprofits can be as effective as any private business. Hosh Yoga and Hosh Kids in New York make yoga accessible regardless of skill or income. We have never refused service to any person, school, or parent for lack of financial resources. We build yoga communities by delivering a bold and strong message to all our stakeholders. This does not mean that you can’t build a business that can grow financially solvent and sustainable while developing a brand that is mission- and values-driven. Therefore, the power of our nonprofit story, brand message, and dedicated team can only make our bottom line stronger. You can put good information to action making your organization better.

What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching?

When I became a public school teacher, I knew I wanted to make a difference. I’m sure every classroom teacher and teaching artist can relate. However, it takes much more than just your will to make a difference and change the lives of our school students. I’ve seen too many of my peers and colleagues teaching in very stressful environments as classroom and yoga teachers in schools. I developed and directed a staff development program for an enrichment vendor in NYC with over 50 teachers, and I realized you had to teach teachers about the context of a learning environment before they could effectively deliver content. I’ve visited thousands of classrooms and I rarely meet a teacher who doesn’t understand what he or she is teaching. Teachers teach as they know how. Therefore, the sooner a kids yoga teacher develops an education philosophy and an understanding of human motivation, praise, self-esteem and discipline, the sooner that teacher can deliver content. I’ve shared our message with principals, political leaders, and superintendents, most of whom still know very little about yoga as a health and wellness option in schools.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

With children it’s difficult to teach life lessons, over and above content. Yoga philosophy is full of guidance in how to live and what to live for that we can help children understand in a simple way. We encourage our staff to understand the context of the learning environment, because children who might need yoga the most are also the ones most divorced from it.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach in the population you work with?

I would get a mentor, and I’d volunteer, as ways to learn from others teaching kids yoga in schools. Be ready to ask for help. Be ready to change and question your teaching approach depending on whom you are teaching. The process might be rocky, but there is good news in every classroom if you look for it. Believe that you too can start a program that makes a difference in people’s lives.

From a business perspective, visual marketing is a powerful tool to deliver your message, impact, and results in an interactive way. You can make a lot of good happen with limited resources, passion, and skill. Investing time in training your staff to deliver the brand message at every point of contact with your stakeholders is essential. Hosh Kids does it by running Open Book Management, and I credit this method with expanding our reach to over 20 kids’ yoga programs in NYC in 16 months. I would say that if you’re going to volunteer a large amount of time, heart, and effort into a nonprofit, it is also possible to plan and strategize about how to generate an income from it in the long run.

As yoga service nonprofits, we should constantly be advocating for more yoga service programs in the community. I believe yoga is a life skill that works for anyone, anytime, anywhere. I simply share with our leaders that as we teach children how to take tests, we must also teach them life skills that make them better test takers. Go out there and tell the community about yoga service.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of “service yoga” in America in the next decade?

I hope yoga studios and yoga service nonprofits collaborate more often in joint programming in their communities. We can do things better and on a bigger scale by collaborating than by competing with each other. I believe yoga service is part of the new yoga economy. I hope there will be innovators who help donors look at yoga service as a form of philanthropy that yields great cost savings to our society, making it worthwhile to use private dollars for this awesome public good. I’m confident that the collective effort of the yoga service community will make yoga an increasingly popular form of community service across the country.

Originally published on The Huffington Post Blog on December 9, 2014


Are you interested in building strong, engaged and resilient communities? Join us at the fourth annual Yoga Service Conference at Omega Institute on May 14-17, 2015.

Philipa von Kerckerinck: Yoga as a Tool for Development

Through the integration of her interests, Philipa von Kerckerinck founded Roots Tribe Yoga, a non-profit organization that brings yoga to children and young adults within Sub Saharan Africa. In the latest interview for our yoga service series on The Huffington Post, Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Philipa about her work with this organization and the power of yoga as a tool for international development…as well as individual development.

“People often define yoga as asanas or physical exercise, but there are many forms of yoga that can be practiced both on and off the mat. My definitions have changed in that I no longer see them as separate notions: the work is my yoga, the yoga is my work, and all of it is done in service to others, including myself, and, ideally, everyone I come into contact with.” – Philipa von Kerckerinck, founder of Roots Tribe Yoga

To learn more about Philipa’s work with populations in Sub Saharan Africa and her thoughts on the future of yoga service, read her full interview on The Huffington Post Blog and watch her YouTube video below:


If you believe in what we’re doing, here’s one very powerful way to share yoga and mindfulness with those in need of healing: become a Sustaining Member of Give Back Yoga Foundation. Learn more.

Ravi Singh: How We Serve Runaway Youth

Photo Credit: Michael Gill

Driven by a desire to inspire people and raise consciousness, Ravi Singh has spent the past four decades offering his services to populations in need. In the latest interview for our yoga service series on The Huffington Post, Executive Director Rob Schware learns more about what motivates Ravi to continue his work, as well as the tangible results that he has seen from doing so.

“Most people don’t realize that they have a say in the matter of what becomes of them. When I work with people who exist in the most intolerable circumstances, it becomes obvious that the “lowest” rung also contains the potential for the highest. The only way to truly understand life as we know it is to start with the understanding that everything does contain its opposite.”       – Ravi Singh

To read more about Ravi’s work with populations in need and his thoughts on the future of yoga service, read his full interview on The Huffington Post Blog.


Together, we can create change. Check out our video to learn how yoga is changing the lives of those in need of transformation, and how you can help.

Become a Sustaining Member: Join Our Monthly Donation Program

If you believe in what we’re doing, here’s one very powerful way to support our mission of sharing yoga and meditation with those in need: become a Sustaining Member of Give Back Yoga Foundation.

How does it work? Simply visit our Membership page and choose a monthly amount you’d like to contribute, and a program you’d like to support. Through the checkout process, you’ll set up a recurring payment profile that automatically bills your card each month. You’ll receive a notification by email when each debit is made. All donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law, and you’ll also receive a thank-you package by mail. Check out our membership benefits. 

What it is: a simple way to give back.

For just $15 a month – the cost of one yoga class – you can share yoga resources with someone in need, making a direct difference in their lives. Through the collective power of many small contributions, we can grow a grassroots movement of social change and healing. We hope that you’ll be a part of it!

What it isn’t: a contract.

You’ll be able to manage your recurring donation profile through the Give Back Yoga website. If your situation changes, you can put your monthly contribution on hold or change the amount of your donation, so that you’re always giving back in a way that’s right for you. Need help? Drop us a line at

Find out how you can give from the heart.

Are you passionate about bringing yoga to a specific population? We invite you to route your donation directly to that work. You can help us to bring yoga to veterans, first responders, individuals with eating disorders, prisoners or those recovering from addiction.

Or make a general donation, and we’ll put your contribution to work where it’s needed most. To learn more about our program goals and how we use general and specific contributions, visit our Program pages.

Will you join Give Back Yoga Foundation as a Sustaining Member? Together, we can share the transformational benefits of yoga and mindfulness with the world…one person at a time.

GBYF & Niroga Institute Bring Yoga to the Next Generation in Palestine

In August, Give Back Yoga Foundation awarded a $10,000 matching grant to help the Niroga Institute bring its Transformative Life Skills curriculum to educators and other professionals working with children in the politically unstable region of the West Bank. A dynamic mindfulness program that integrates yoga, breathing techniques and meditation, the TLS program is designed to help at-risk youth better cope with trauma and stress. We caught up with Niroga Institute founder BK Bose after his team’s trip to Palestine to learn how TLS is having an impact in the Middle East, and how the Niroga Institute is building a more resilient and peaceful next generation.

Yoga in the Middle East

“This is exactly what we need! It is evidence-based and trauma-informed, and our children have so much stress and trauma. Will you help us bring this into our schools?”

This plaintive plea arrived in the summer of 2012 in an email from Maha El-Shawreb, a public health professional in Palestine, upon seeing our curriculum and the compelling research results supporting it. A few months later, Maha sent a representative from the Farashe Yoga Center in Ramallah to be trained at our day-long Transformative Life Skills (TLS) training. She, in turn, trained 15 newly certified Palestinian yoga teachers – and one of the yoga teachers, Mirna Ali, took TLS to four public schools in Nablus.

“The results have been remarkable,” noted Maha. “Students, teachers and parents consistently report that TLS has improved the students’ focus and concentration, enhanced classroom climate and school-wide learning environment, and improved interactions at home between children and their parents and families.”

This three-pronged feedback trickled up to educators and administrators at UNRWA, and they want to substantially expand the TLS program in schools across the West Bank.

With grant funding from the Give Back Yoga Foundation, a team of trainers and researchers led by the Niroga Institute recently went to Palestine and conducted a series of TLS trainings for over 200 educators, health professionals, social workers and refugee service providers throughout the West Bank. The response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic – some participants have already started teaching TLS in their schools the day after receiving training, and they want Niroga trainers back in 6 months!

I dream about the possibilities for abiding peace throughout the world if we could bring TLS to an entire generation of children caught in conflict, as well as the adults around them. TLS could help them regulate their emotions and make them more resilient in the face of chronic stress and trauma, rewiring brains and changing behavior one breath at a time. TLS could help in bringing joy where there is sadness, shedding light where there is darkness, sowing love where there hatred, and building hope where there is despair.

It will require all of our passion and compassion, vision and imagination to bring yoga where it is most needed throughout the world. Share your time, talent and treasure with us so that we can scale and sustain these time-tested practices, and help change the world one breath at a time.

Bidyut K. Bose, PhD
Founder and Executive Director
Niroga Institute


You can help Niroga Institute to change the lives of teens by making a donation through Give Back Yoga Foundation to support At-Risk Youth. To see how Niroga Institute is “changing the zip code of yoga” and helping youths across the globe to overcome challenges, check out this powerful video.

Eileen Lorraine: Serving Sin City’s Homeless Youth Through Yoga

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Eileen Lorraine for The Huffington Post Blog to learn what the face of homelessness really looks like, and how she is sharing yoga with young adults at the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center in Las Vegas.

“It’s really just hanging out with them and then saying, “Oh, by the way, we’re going to do this thing called yoga and you know what? This meditation and breathing thing I’m going to show you, it actually helps us when we’re feeling angry or frustrated…when we feel like that, instead of reacting and hitting that person, or turning to alcohol, drugs, or sex, maybe we can just pause a moment, and maybe we can take long, slow breaths, and think about what can we do to feel better in this situation that won’t have bad consequences for us later.”

– yoga teacher Eileen Lorraine, on her work with homeless youth in Las Vegas

Click here to read how Eileen got started in yoga outreach, and her tips for teachers who are interested in working with at-risk teens.

Photo courtesy of Angelina Galindo Photography.


Do you want to bring the transformational power of yoga and meditation to underserved populations? Check out Give Back Yoga’s new crowd funding campaign to learn how you can participate in a very special trauma-sensitive teacher training at the 2014 Sedona Yoga Festival, while helping to fund our work of sharing yoga toolkits with veterans.