Aron S.

Changing a Culture with Yoga: Yoga-based tools are transforming a juvenile rehabilitation center into a place for growth and change.
In my personal experience, yoga has helped me to become more compassionate toward myself, less frustrated and on edge.

I discovered yoga while managing a therapeutic program for violent female offenders in a maximum security prison. I was burnt out, and yoga was my road back. I graduated in February 2014 with my 500-hour Kripalu Yoga certification, and I’m now the assistant director of the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Colchester, Vermont.

In this position, I have the unique opportunity to use yoga to change the culture of an entire facility. Woodside is the only locked facility in the state, with 30 beds for kids ages 10 to 18. My mission is to build a strength-based treatment program out of what has historically been a detention center, and Kripalu Yoga is a fundamental supporting element of this transformation.

So far, I’ve sent nine staff members to Kripalu to attend the Kripalu Approach to Healthy Living program, and they’ve come back not only with tools for taking better care of themselves, but also with a whole new perspective on how to work with the kids. They’re using breathing techniques, meditation, and mindfulness to intervene when there’s a crisis. For example, not long after one counselor returned from Kripalu, he was dealing with an agitated, explosive child, and he asked the child to try something new—to put his hand on his own belly and see if he could breathe through what he was experiencing. This simple intervention de-escalated the situation.

We also have yoga classes every week, and staff participates alongside the kids. (A Kripalu Teaching for Diversity grant funded our purchase of yoga mats and blocks.) Most, if not all, of these kids have been through significant trauma that they hold in their body. In yoga class, they can be in their body and also quiet their mind. They’re listening to themselves and learning more about their own needs and limitations. Yoga helps them figure out what’s really bothering them, so they can process their past experiences in a safe way, where they can be in control. They are actually asking to go to yoga, and looking forward to going, which is a huge thing for kids who have been conditioned not to look forward to anything.

In my personal experience, yoga has helped me to become more compassionate toward myself, less frustrated and on edge. It’s amazing to see these profound techniques that I’ve used so many times in my life being given to these kids by the people they trust most. My passion is to share these wonderful tools for violence prevention and intervention. Our world is asking, What do we do to stop violence? To me, the answer is yoga.

—Aron S., Colchester, Vermont