With yoga being such a fanatically popular activity in the Bay Area, it’s no wonder that inspired philanthropic visions are cropping up around this ancient art. While throngs of urban San Franciscans squeeze yoga into their busy schedules as a way of staying in shape and shedding stress, a few quiet movers and shakers are applying their yogic aspirations to more altruistic spiritual endeavors.
One such mission, The Art of Yoga Project, leads teen girls in the California juvenile justice system toward accountability to self, others, and community by providing practical tools to effect behavioral change. One of these tools is yoga, but the other key word here is “art.” Through its yoga and creative arts curriculum, The Art of Yoga Project addresses common problems in its target demographic, including body image issues, teen pregnancy, and physical and sexual abuse.
Mary Lynn Fitton, a nurse practitioner and yoga instructor, founded The Art of Yoga Project in the Bay Area in 2002 as a pilot program to intervene in the lives of at-risk teen girls. Her vision was to “offer a multi-dimensional approach to build the self-awareness, self-control and self-respect necessary for young women to make healthy lifestyle choices.” Since then, the program has become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit extending its services as far as Oregon.
During sessions with teens, The Art of Yoga Project teachers and mentors use yoga and meditation to help ground kids in their bodies and learn to develop respect and love for their bodies and their time. They use creative projects to encourage a positive model of self-expression.
One girl whose life has been positively impacted by The Art of Yoga Project—let’s call her Jenny—had spent her teens involved in the gang culture in San Jose and living a life of violence. She began to work with The Art of Yoga Project while incarcerated at the Muriel Wright Center, and said that it helped her to learn different ways of coping. “When you get mad, why don’t you just breathe, take a deep breath, smooth it out later on. One time I was able to talk to the staff instead of getting worked up, and it saved my life.”
The Art of Yoga Project has begun to garner a lot of attention as a proactive movement that uses yoga to the true benefit of society. As such, local businesses are lining up to commit to the cause.
Alison Rutherfurd’s eco-chic jewelry line Red Haute Jewelry has consistently donated a portion of profits from trunk shows and its Merry Pop-Ins store appearances to The Art of Yoga.
The Art of Yoga Project is always looking for committed mentors (yoga teachers, therapists, artists and writers) and, of course, donations. If you are interested in contributing to this cause, visit their web site.