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Focus on Philanthropy: Youth Yoga Project Keeps Kids Calm and in Class

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Focus on Philanthropy: Youth Yoga Project Keeps Kids Calm and in Class
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For many, stepping onto the yoga mat is a therapeutic necessity. After a day of stress and stimulation, going through the inhales and exhales, the flow from upward to downward dog, to table top, to child’s pose, can wipe a slate clean.

Yoga has surged in popularity in recent years, with studios popping up in more neighborhoods, teaming up with other businesses for events, and even adding non-human participants like cats and goats. Beyond studios, access has broadened for the general public, with YouTube yoga instructors bringing the practice into the home.

Furthering that effort, Youth Yoga Project (YYP) is taking yoga to a new population: students.

For the last year and a half, YYP has partnered with Central Ohio schools to introduce yoga to the region’s students. Using a variety of program structures and lengths, Julia Handelman, her partner Lauren Greenspan, and their troop of volunteer teachers provide instruction to individuals who would otherwise have no exposure to yoga.

“We always use the term ‘Calm down’ to students when they’re getting frustrated, but we don’t tell them how,” said Handelman, co-founder and director of YYP. “Yoga teaches students how to use their breath and body to calm their mind, and also focus their mind, because it has great benefits once they are regulated to focus more on what they’re doing.”

Handelman, a former teacher, and Greenspan, a former counselor, met each other at school. Both deep in the yoga world, practicing and instructing, they brought the practice to their own students. And they noticed the benefits immediately.

Using their network of educational professionals, they were able to initiate partnerships with other schools, and first piloted the program in Columbus City Schools, Gahanna, several local charters, and Metro Early College High School.

Instructing students from kindergarten all the way to senior year of high school, YYP teachers offer several ways to engage in their programming. Some schools pay for two times a week for six weeks, some for a whole year.

Others have embraced the practice as an alternative to detention.

“Learning how to cope can lead to less detention, because you’re using your self control skills,” Handelman said. “We are successful in helping students stay in class longer.”

They’ve connected with the area’s business community as well, with Balanced Yoga and Blue Spot Bexley studios running programs to support YYP and their owners volunteering as teachers. Beyond the yoga circle, Handelman said they’ve partnered with Wolf’s Ridge for an event coming up on September 24, where participants can eat brunch, practice yoga, and make a donation to support YYP. This fundraising allows them to provide materials and instruction at a lower cost to schools that may need more support.

YYP recently partnered with Lucky’s Market for their Bags for Change program. The two organizations connected at Columbus SOUP, an event that connects nonprofits and grassroots groups with funders.

Through their partnership with Lucky’s, Handelman is hoping to expand into more schools. Without much in overhead costs, and with businesses’ generosity in donating mats and other materials, most of the donations they receive goes directly into programming.

“Yoga studios aren’t in all neighborhoods, and yoga isn’t something that all people feel they can enjoy,” Handelman said. “We think yoga is great for all people. Ideally, we’d love to be in every school in Central Ohio.”

For more information, visit youthyogaproject.net.luckys-market

Focus on Philanthropy is a feature series sponsored by Lucky’s Market that highlights Central Ohio nonprofit organizations involved in their Bags for Change program. Encouraging the use of reusable bags, the program grants a $.10 credit per bag or the option to donate it to a local nonprofit. Lucky’s will also match the donation.

For more information, follow them on Twitter at @luckysmarket and like Lucky’s Market on Facebook.

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