I am a proud and grateful member of the RISE Yoga for Youth teacher community. Alongside many skillful and incredible yoga teachers, we share the practices of yoga, non-violence, self-compassion and stress reduction with teenagers around the SF Bay. Via RISE Yoga for Youth, I have had the privilege to work with teens from ALL backgrounds and ability, and witnessed PROFOUND transformation in the lives of these youth.
Do you recall your teen years? How informative and influencial they were, for better and worse!? Being a teen in 2018 is not getting any easier considering the socio-political global climate, and the impact of social media and technology. More teens today are stressed and lack the tools and support the manage and reduce stress in healthy ways.
RISE YOGA FOR YOUTH IS PART OF THE SOLUTION. This organization is founded on principals of self-compassion, support, non-judgment, connection, and belonging. ALL TEENS ARE WORTHY OF BELONGING, and need outlets that are accessible and inclusive and non-competitive to nurture connecion with themselves, their peers, and the larger human family in a meaningful and peaceful way.
THANK YOU FOR GIVING GENEROUSLY! ALL donations are generous, gracious, and received with deep gratitude! There is no shortage of worthy causes to financially support– and so thank you for choosing the support this one! RISE Yoga for Youth is here to support our youth -THE LEADERS OF TOMORROW- to help them begin to truly love and value themselves, and in doing so, create innovative and non-violent solutions in our world that fit the needs we all share- to feel supported, seen, heard, and connected to all of life.
THESE YOUTH ARE WORTH IT! They are an incredible generation coming of age at a fascinating and urgent time in our shared human story, and they need your help. They need space in their school day to decompress, LET GO OF STRESS, practice relaxation, learn how to difficult manage emotions in healthy ways, and be in loving community.
Two young women at June Jordan High School in San Francisco practice a partner yoga pose known as double downward dog.
RISE Founder and Executive Director Erin Lila Wilson Singh reflects on how RISE Yoga for Youth has grown in the past 5 years.
I am so excited for our upcoming Annual Yogathon Event! It’s hard to believe it is our 5th annual community event and it is amazing to think about how far we have come as an organization in the past five years. Back in 2014, we offered programming at 4 sites and reached 250 students. Today, we are in 14 program sites throughout the Bay Area, and we are serving over 2,000 students this year!
In the past 5 years, we’ve been able to bring our programming to some of the most underserved youth in the Bay Area including immigrant communities, pregnant teen girls, special needs students and low-income populations. Our students tell us that our programming has helped them reduce their stress levels, regulate their emotions in constructive ways and improve their academic performance. Our students speak most directly to our impact – Milad, from one of our San Mateo sites, says “Since doing yoga, I feel more at peace with myself.” Another student shared, “Yoga made me feel good and whole as a person. It made me feel self-aware and positive. Balanced.”
Our growth and impact are only possible because of the dedication of our team of staff, volunteers, and teachers, and through the incredible generosity and support of the broader Bay Area community. Each year we raise vital funds at the Yogathon Event to support our programs that bring yoga and mindfulness programming in our low-income program sites. Because of your support, we have been able to sustain and grow our programming in our most under-resourced schools.
If you live in the Bay Area, please join us for this year’s 5th Annual Yogathon — it is an amazing event that brings our entire community together to celebrate and support our work. If you don’t live in the Bay Area, you can still partner with us to empower the next generation by making a donation to our online fundraising campaign and helping us reach our $50,000 goal to sustain and grow our programs.
So let’s come together again this April 7th to grow RISE’s impact even more. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a part of our work to empower the Bay Area’s most vulnerable underserved youth through our transformative programming!
Founder and Executive Director
RISE Yoga for Youth
For many of us the idea of a yoga class being “violent” and “triggering” can be a foreign concept. Yoga is perceived as something relaxing and therapeutic– but for many, a typical ‘studio yoga’ class can often be re-traumatizing, especially if the instructor does not hold space in a way that feels open, inviting and safe.
In order to take a trauma-informed approach in your yoga classes, it’s important to first understand the physical and emotional manifestations of trauma so that you can become aware of how your words and actions in your yoga teaching could potentially cause more harm than good.
Individuals with unresolved trauma often suffer from a mind-body disconnect, where they find it difficult to feel safe in their bodies and connect to their physical selves in a healthy way. Bessel A van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, explains: “Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”
Yoga then, can be a transformational modality of healing for individuals who are living with the aftermath of unresolved trauma. The practice of yoga and mindfulness teaches us how to observe and notice the sensations in our bodies and mind with compassion and non-judgment. Through these practices, we are able to restore a sense of visceral safety within our very own beings, and re-cultivate a loving relationship with ourselves. This is no easy task — the act of simply showing up for who you are and what you feel in the moment requires tremendous vulnerability and courage, especially if that self is still working with a high level of trauma. If we as yoga teachers are asking of this vulnerability from our students, we have the responsibility to create a safe, brave, and reparative space for our students who trust us with their practice.
As a teen yoga teacher who works with underserved, at-risk teens, I design and structure all my classes with a trauma-sensitive approach. Here are some basic ways you can make your yoga classes more trauma-informed and safe for all your students, including those working with trauma, anxiety, and depression.
Ask before you touch
I cannot even count the times a yoga teacher has touched me without my consent — and this is a hugely problematic trend I see in typical ‘studio yoga’ teaching approaches. Physical touch is so, so powerful. It can also be incredibly triggering, especially for those who have a history of being abused or assaulted. While some may love physical adjustments (like myself), this is not the case for all of your students. In fact, for some students, uninvited physical adjustment from a yoga teacher can feel like an invasion of their space and assault on their sense of safety. As a yoga teacher, you simply never know what personal history and background your students are bringing onto their mat – never assume anything. Always ask for permission if you are offering physical touch.
How to ask for permission: There are several ways to do this – and each teacher will have their own way of making this work. I like to ask at the beginning of the class: to protect students’ privacy, I usually set students in a pose where they can’t see each other (ex: child’s pose or savasana) and ask, “If you prefer not to receive physical adjustments, please give me a peace sign with your right hand.” I also remind my students that if they change their minds in the middle of class, they can throw me this peace sign as a gentle “No Thank You” whenever I approach them to make an adjustment. I’ve also seen some other teachers and studios provide two-sided yogaflipchips to their students, one side is for “YES – I am ok with adjustments” and the other side is “NO – I prefer not to be adjusted.” Students can simply place this chip right next to their mat, with their preferred side facing up so their teacher knows their preference. This is a more subtle way to let your students indicate what they are comfortable with. You can also make your own chips at home, if you want to organize a craft night with your fellow yoga teachers 🙂
*For teen yoga classes, classes in a correctional facility, or classes with survivors of domestic violence / rape /assault, it is recommended that you AVOID making any physical adjustments. Stick to using your words if you need to make any adjustments for safety.
2. Invite, don’t command
In my 200HR yoga teacher training I was taught to have a “commanding presence and language” in the room so that everyone in the room would follow my exact directions. I personally find this to be quite ego driven and insensitive to your students’ unique needs and backgrounds. If you were taught this way in your yoga teacher training — it’s time to unlearn that. Everything in your class is an invitation, and you want to use languaging that makes it clear that your students are ALWAYS in full control of their practice. Don’t be offended or get hurt if students don’t do as you say — it’s not about you — it’s about what feels right in their bodies and in their minds. Here are some words to use when you are teaching:
“I invite/encourage you to…”
“When you are ready/ when it feels right to you…”
“When you find the right breath…”
3. Give Options
Photo by Maria Allocco
I don’t care what Bikram says — ALL asanas have many, many variations and modifications that can fit people’s individual needs. If you are encouraging your students to honor their needs and be present with themselves, it is your job to share constructive ways in which your students can listen to and respond to what their bodies are saying to them. If you are not sure about modifications, look them up online, or work with your student one-on-one (during or after class) and try different variations of the pose until you find something that works for them. It’s important that you work WITH your students on this. By that I mean you are checking in with them and getting feedback from them on the suggestions you’ve made for modifications. You don’t truly know what it’s like to be in their bodies, so the information they give you is so so valuable in figuring out a practice that truly serves them (remember this is not about you being the “all-knowing” yoga teacher, it’s about being open to new ways to fully support your students.)
This also goes for closing the eyes. I’ve been to yoga classes where the teacher says “let’s all close our eyes.” For some students, especially if they’ve experienced a traumatic episode in the dark, the act of closing their eyes can make them feel unsafe. I recommend saying something more along the lines of:
“If it feels safe and comfortable for you, I invite you to close your eyes. If closing your eyes does not resonate with you today, you can try softening your gaze, closing your eyes half way, or looking down at the floor.”
4. Teach from the mat
This one depends on the specific population you are working with. If you are working in juvenile detention center, prison, or domestic violence center, your students are likely going to be hypersensitive to your movements and physical presence. If you are sharing yoga in this type of environment, refrain from walking around the space. It can make your students feel on-edge and uneasy if you are constantly moving around the space, because they’re not sure what to expect from you. Consistency and predictability is KEY to teaching a trauma-informed yoga class. Stay on your mat and teach from there, so that your students know where you are at all times. If you are teaching in a studio space, it will probably be ok for you to move around, but maybe inform your students that you will be moving throughout class.
5. Create predictable, stable environment
Individuals who come from a traumatic background have often been robbed of a sense of consistency and stability. To best support their healing journey, try to create a sense of predictability through these simple methods:
If possible, teach in a circle. This is the easiest way to remove the potential discomfort and uneasiness of having someone behind you while you practice. As a student, when you practice in a circle you are also able to see everything that is happening within your surrounding, which helps to give a sense of increased control and safety.
Follow a consistent pattern in your class — it’s recommended that you maintain a predictable structure in your classes. For example, maybe you always start class with the ringing of a singing bowl, or an opening quote, breathing exercise etc. If you are planning to suddenly change the structure of your class, make sure you inform your students of this change so that they are prepared for a shift that day.
Warn your students whenever you are changing something in the environment. If you want to turn the lights off for savasana, make sure you tell your students that you are about to turn the lights off.
These are some of the basic things you can do to make your classes trauma-informed. As you continue your yoga teaching journey, remember that the most important things is to stay open to the unique experiences of each and every one of your students. Thank you for your service in this world — may we continue to practice with compassion, humility and a courageously open heart.
Guest post by: Jaedra DiGiammarino, RISE Site Director & Teacher
RISE Yogathon 2017 with veteran yogathoners Akin and Jeff at Mission HS.
This past Saturday RISE Yoga for Youth hosted their 4th annual Yogathon. Nearly 100 members of the RISE community gathered at the Mission High School gym to offer the benefits of yoga and wellness education to teens throughout the Bay Area.
High School girls from Immaculate Conception Academy greeted guests as they entered the gym and invited them to register, take a look at raffle, and bid on silent auction items.
Mission High School students shared their yoga experiences from the past semester with us and then guided us through warm-ups. Hearing from these students was a testament to teacher Craig who has been leading the Mission HS students for the past two school years.
Sun Salutations leads by Astrud Castillo of Laughing Lotus Yoga Center SF.
Soon local yoga teachers were leading us through the annual 108 sun salutations. I am so grateful that Martin Scott agreed to lead a section this year. The familiarity of the traditional Surya Namaskar, as taught by Sri Dharma Mittra, flowed through me without effort. These 16 salutations were truly meditative, an easy offering. Even with few breaks and a bottle of coconut water, about an hour and a half later my muscles were getting shaky from the effort and I was noticing where I would be feeling sore the next day. Finally after two hours of movement, Darren Main completed the series with a calming savasana.
The RISE teachers (AKA our Yogi Warriors) bringing love to our students every day!
A year ago I was a member of the RISE community via a single class of my own at June Jordan School for Equity. I have spent the last 11 month growing into the position of Site Director and I have learned a great deal about the administrative and behind the scenes duties that go along with youth yoga. I am even more appreciative of what this organization offers to students as well as teachers. I am humbled to work with such an amazing group of women and men seeking to bring peace, kindness, and love into the lives of everyone they meet.
Thank you to the many kind and generous donors who have helped me to raise over 200% of my original goal. While I have surpassed my personal goal for the year, RISE has a little ways left to go. If you are feeling that yogathon glow and looking for away to keep it going please visit our campaign page here to make a donation. The campaign will remain active through the end of April.
This thanksgiving season, give the gift of yoga and mindfulness to our youth. Join us for these donation-based yoga classes. Proceeds from these classes will support RISE, helping us bring this transformational practice to more teens in the Bay Area.
“The teens we serve need us now, more than ever, to be beacons of light and hope in a dark and uncertain world. We can create the world we want to live in in each classroom, fostering a culture of respect, acceptance, and celebration of diversity. We can love them unconditionally for who they are. We we can hold a mirror for them, showing them their own goodness, worth, and their own power to be agents of positive change in this world. This is my hope in our work together as RISE teachers, and ultimately my hope for the future of our world. I have faith in our youth, and their light, and their ability to change our world.” -RISE Founder & Executive Director, Erin Lila Singh