KYTA's Teaching for Diversity Program
by Tresca Weinstein
Last fall, when four-year-old Regina first came to Sachi Wagner's yoga class at the Miami, Fla.,YWCA, she would sit on her mat, only participating when Sachi spoke directly to her-which wasn't always possible since there were more than 20 preschoolers in the class. But she kept coming and as the weeks went by, the yoga began to do its magic. Last month, at the end of class, Regina ran up to say goodbye to her teacher.
"She just threw her arms around my neck and said, 'Miss Sachi, I like yoga,'" Sachi recalls. "She said it with such conviction I had goosebumps."
Since 1998, Sachi, a Kripalu Yoga teacher and KYTA member, has taught yoga on a volunteer basis to three, four and five-year-olds enrolled in the YWCA's preschool program in Miami's inner city. She is the first teacher to be recognized and honored by KYTA's Teaching for Diversity Program, an outreach effort which seeks to make yoga more available to minority groups, including ethnic minorities, the homeless, prison populations and others.
The program awards a $500 non-taxable honorarium meant to offset expenses incurred as a result of teaching in areas where financial recompense may be minimal. KYTA will award 10 such honorariums annually to yoga teachers who work with diverse populations, in order to support additional training and provide an incentive to reach beyond the traditional classroom setting.
"As yoga teachers we're all aware of the healing benefits and the gifts that come from the practice of yoga," said Maya Breuer, a member of the Kripalu Fellowship Board of Trustees, who spearheaded the project. "How wonderful it will be to share these gifts with those who might otherwise never have the opportunity to take a yoga class!"
The Teaching for Diversity Program is one arm of the Kripalu Outreach for Diversity Program. The program's other projects include fundraising for earthquake victims in India, providing scholarships for programs at Kripalu and creating and marketing Kripalu programs aimed at diverse populations. The Teaching for Diversity program was established through the efforts of Maya and Vandita and the support of Board of Trustees members Hansa Knox Johnson and Rama Jyoti Vernon.
Sachi says the honorarium is a wonderful confirmation from her peers of the work she does. She was first drawn to Kripalu Yoga because of its accessibility and compassionate approach. "This was something I wish I'd had when I was a young child, and that translated into wanting to teach children," she recalls.
She is now teaching her fifth group of preschoolers and in 1999 was honored by the YWCA as Volunteer of the Year. Now other yoga teachers from around the city have begun visiting her class to observe and act as assistants. "Ultimately, I would like to have a volunteer yoga teacher for every two kids," Sachi says. "I'd also like to see a network of similar programs implemented at daycare centers throughout the city."
Sachi's weekly 45-minute-long class includes breathing exercises, postures done on the children's custom-made extra-thick mats and a closing circle with music and dancing. The focus is on learning to relax, creating community among the group members and building self-esteem.
"A very important component of the program is supporting and acknowledging the children for their efforts, telling them how well they're doing and how beautiful they look doing the postures," Sachi says. "They just light up."
"At the end of class we fold our hands over our hearts and say to each other, 'May you be happy,'" she continues. "When a four-year-old looks at you and bows her head and says, 'May you be happy,' you feel like you've been blessed by an angel."