Practiced in the East for thousands of years, yoga has swept across the West like a cleansing downpour. It’s everywhere- for good reason. A regular yoga session provides numerous benefits to the mind and body including lowering blood pressure, regulating blood sugar, and improving mental acuity. One of the primary benefits of practice is stress reduction, which is why juvenile justice centers across America are instituting yoga programs as a form of rehabilitation.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, 22% of children in the U.S. are being raised at high poverty levels. In areas of severe poverty, children lack basic necessities like regular wholesome meals and appropriate clothing. More often than not, these children experience early exposure to violence, death, drug use, and abuse, all of which can have long-term effects on a child’s psyche, resulting in displays of violent and/or aggressive behavior, poor impulse control, and lack of self-esteem.
Juvenile justice centers in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland all have instituted yoga/meditation-based programs for their residents. By blending the five principles of yoga - meditation, relaxation, proper breathing, proper diet, and exercise, residents learn techniques that cultivate deep controlled breathing, how to release tension, and provide the ability to enter into a meditative state. Teens are given a chance to tune into their innermost being, and in turn, they are increasingly mindful of themselves and others. Exposure to yoga and its various components provides a means for these teens to cope with the daily pressures of life.
The movement to expose troubled youth to the peace, tranquility, and mental wellness associated with yoga has been tremendously successful. The Mind & Body Awareness Project, in Alameda County, California, has stood as a testament to the change yoga can effectuate in the life of struggling teenagers. Co-founder Noah Levine has stated that the young people are able to find a much-needed affirmation of self-worth and confidence, as well as real tools that help them avoid acting on violent impulses. For some of the participants, their time in the program is their first experience of encouragement, fulfillment, and self-love. In an interview with Yoga Journal, one of the participants of the Mind & Body Awareness Project stated, “My anger and other people just don't mix," he says. "So I breathe and count to get bad thoughts out of my head. My eyes are more open now, and I realize what is important.” Without question, yoga is providing the tools to help young men and women make lasting fundamental changes in their actions and lives overall.