Yoga With Homeless Young People

News from one of our head festival organisers Cat Duval and her work with homeless young people, showing how Yoga can lead to self-empowerment, self-acceptance, and a better life….

Originally Posted by Cat Duval on 12th November, 2015

man janushishasana

“The long awaited day was today. Starting to run a yoga course working with homeless young people in Brighton, bringing yoga into their drop in centre the Clocktower Sanctuary.  The task of breaking down yoga into bite size manageable chunks and distilling thousands of years of wisdom, philosophy and practice into an accessible course that not only engages but inspires young people experiencing homelessness to believe in its relevance, prioritise it to come each week and with any luck integrate it into their day to day life.  No pressure then!

My aim with this course is to offer the opportunity to look at key principles of self acceptance and self empowerment through yogic philosophy and practice.  To offer straight forward tools and a key set of principles that these young people can apply to their own challenges and life situations, both on and off the mat.  A way to bring focus to the physical when the mental chatter is relentless, a way to calm the body when heat builds, to cool with the breath, to regain control and awareness and move forward from a place of balance in mind and body.

Yoga to me is a way of life, it reassures me when I feel lost and alone, it allows me to manage my emotions using the breath, and allows me to challenge myself and push through self loathing and into a place of self acceptance, and self love. Of compassion and warmth towards my heart and body.  In practicing myself and offering yoga to others, I have learned to love myself.  When I first got into yoga I had screaming rows in my head with a voice telling me I was a fraud every time I sat on the mat. “What the hell are YOU doing here?” “Who do you think you are pretending to be a yogi?” “What kind of yogi are you?  Ha…! You are a joke” “What do you know about peace?You spend your life running away from yourself and you had better keep running you worthless piece of ****”. Don’t you just love those inner demons! They love to make noise…. it takes a lot of fighting to taste a mouthful of peace.  So here I am, years later, teaching yoga full time. I got the last laugh on those inner demons for now, but that is not to say they don’t still try to distract. The way they do for all of us.  It is the tools we have to manage them that makes the difference.

Some tools include focussing on the love and warmth we do experience, practice gratitude, and give out our energies in service of others, to move into connection instead of shying away from it, and empowering eachother.  We are all human, in accepting we are all flawed, we all become perfectly human.

I have missed my days in youth work. Teaching yoga to well behaved adults is amazing and challenging in its own ways. But there is nothing quite like the truth and honesty of young people.  I do yoga 121 with kids and have some incredible inspiring teachers among them.  But there is nothing quite like youth work in groups. I have been looking forward to this day since a Youth Worker, Kirstie, approached me at the  Nine LivesYoga Rave in February and we organised a pilot class in April.  We did it, and the young people wanted more, so we looked for funding, since the generosity of donations on our Go Fund Me campaign that raised £220 and Brighton Yoga Festivals donation of a further £400 and finally, last month, we got the approval to go ahead from head office at the Clocktower Sanctuary, Kirstie was straight on the phone.  So now we are running a 6 week programme and today I went into the drop in centre, in the centre of town – the entrance of which has the air of hiding – tucked away as it is, behind restaurants. I am here to coach some of these brave young people who dare to duel with their demons on the mat, and give them enough challenge that will distract that mental chat, to focus their breath and body on what is happening in the moment, and hopefully get them feeling peaceful and well stretched.

There were six in the class including youth workers and on site volunteers, three of which were young people – all men.  Respect to them right there for showing up. They rocked the class, with varying degrees of focus, sometimes dipping in and out, but always dipping back after their distraction – and that is the tough part. Another person sat on the sidelines – I hope he’ll join in next time, I’m optimistic.  One guy, we’ll call him Bruce, was totally focussed the whole way through which was just great.

We focussed on trust today – we did a few simple poses; some breath awareness, bringing attention to an awareness of our bodies; practised some tools in training the mind and using the breath to manage any arising emotions; and talked about learning to trust and build a grounded relationship with our inner self;  to be grateful for all that our bodies do for us each day; present in what is and letting go of the rest, for the moment.

They all gave feedback and said they were glad they had come and that they would all be back next week.

It was an honour to be in the room with them.

More info on the background of the project can be found in my earlier blogs”: