I discovered yoga a few years ago in the midst of a major quarter-life crisis. After a string of several worst-days-ever, a good friend of mine took me to a yoga class after work. I had never been to one before and was a bit skeptical, but I can say now that I was completely wrong. Yoga changed my life. For the first time ever I was able to fully unplug while also getting an incredible workout. I was hooked.
Since becoming a yogi I have found so many ways yoga is changing the lives of so many people around the world. Take a look at the five amazing yoga projects below to be inspired to try a class for yourself.
1. Prison Yoga Project
“Yoga and its emphasis on the power of a single breath has promoted for me a respect for life and a profound realization of the destructive force of violence.”
“I have a strengthened identity with self and a sense of something universal. It has given me the ability to affect my own well being and peace without dependency upon someone else or chemical substance.”
“It was mainly because of the inner peace and trust that I have developed and nurtured through my Yoga practice that I was able to respond to a potential violent situation with calm.”
Such are the words of incarcerated men and women who are lucky enough to have learned yoga through the Yoga Prison Project. The project advises prisons on establishing yoga programs as part of a rehabilitation program for inmates. As most prisoners suffer from various forms of trauma such as abandonment, hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, sexual abuse, bullying, discrimination, drug and alcohol abuse and much more, yoga provides transformative benefits for prisoners to heal and rehabilitate.
The United States has only 4% of the world’s entire population, yet 25% of the world’s prisoners. The Prison Yoga Project is committed to transforming the lives of hundreds of incarcerated women and men across the nation through the practice of yoga. Take a look at the video below to see the program in action at one of California’s most crowded prisons.
2. Lineage Project
The practice of yoga can be transformative for people of all ages. The Lineage Project focuses on youth ages 10-24-years-old to help them find alternatives to stress, violence and incarceration. The majority of the youth served are from New York City’s poorest communities, and many have suffered from substance abuse or alcohol issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, or physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
The impact is extraordinary, and the demand is tremendous.
“The class is not just about yoga and meditation. It is about how to feel good inside, try some new things and learn to be stress free.”— Amy, 16-years-old
“My home is really chaotic, and I used to get stressed as soon as I stepped in the door. Thanks to the teachings, the minute I get home I can go into a small space I set up for myself and do the breathing. Then I can face the drama in my house in a calmer way.” — Ebony, 16-years-old
3. Africa Yoga Project
Paige Elenson didn’t expect a handstand to change her life, but it did. Fifteen years ago while vacationing in Kenya she joined a group of youth doing handstands on the side of a road, and a light bulb went off in her mind. Yoga could help people deal with their lives while creating employment opportunities for many.
It was with that vision that Elenson created the Africa Yoga Project, which today has 71 employed yoga teachers who offer more than 300 free classes every week that are serving around 5,000 people each week.
The project has changed the lives of so many – not only the students who have learned yoga, but for the teachers as well.
“I feel I have a job which has given me a purpose for life… Not just a job, but a job that gives me a definition of who I should be… Through teaching yoga I have a job which serves me well. It’s a tool to keep me moving and sharing my life with others,” says one of the instructors featured in a CNN video about the project.
Watch the mini-documentary about the project below:
4. Veteran‘s Yoga Project
Nearly 2.5 million American men and women have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
For veterans returning home after duty, the transition can be challenging with many suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, physical injuries and addiction. The goal of the Veteran’s Yoga Project is to ease this transition for veterans through their mindful yoga practice. Their latest initiative is to provide support for veterans to become yoga teachers themselves.
Anu Bhagwati, a Marine Corps veteran, says practicing and teaching yoga saved her life. Read her whole story here.
5. Sola Yoga Project
After decades of violence, can peace be brought to Afghanistan by teaching yoga and meditation?
The Sola Yoga Project believes it can. Its aim is to promote peace and non-violence in the country through the practice of yoga as the country prepares for the withdrawal of international troops by 2014 and transitions to rebuilding the country. Because over 65% of the population is under 25-years-old, the sustainability of the project lies in Afghans learning to teach yoga to future generations, which the project is doing now with much support.
Take a look at the video below for more information about the project and say, “Yes yoga!”
Photo Credit: Jean Henrique Wichinoski