Chicago Yoga Program Aims to Reduce Violence

Don Babwin, Huffington Post, September 1, 2014

With their brightly colored mats spread along a sidewalk, Tameka Lawson’s yoga students try to follow her instructions: concentrate on their breathing and focus on the beauty of their surroundings.

But this is Englewood, one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, where streets are dotted with boarded-up houses and overgrown lots, and residents are as familiar with the crackle of gunfire as the chime of an ice cream truck. So while the students stretch their arms to the sky, a man the size of a refrigerator stands guard over the class.

It seems odd, all these slow movements, deep breathing and talk about being centered in a neighborhood ruled by drug-dealing gangs. It’s simply the latest attempt to curb violence in a city where the number of homicides and guns seized leads the nation. The hope is that yoga’s meditative focus will help cooler heads prevail the next time violence or vengeance looms.

The students “live in an environment where everything’s rushed, everything’s pressured. So if you breathe through certain things, you are able to see clearer. You really are,” said Lawson, executive director of a nonprofit group called I Grow Chicago. “Then they can act rather than react.”

The idea has even caught the attention of police. At least one officer has made Lawson’s class part of an anti-violence program for at-risk youths.

With yoga training, “when they get in a tense situation, they can breathe and relax and make the right decision instead of jumping out at someone and hitting them,” officer Daliah Goree said.

{snip}

Lawson taught yoga at area schools for three years before bringing it to this street earlier in the year. She knew gangs might pose a threat. So before the sessions began, the man standing guard, Andres Brown, approached gang members who live nearby to assure them that the group posed no threat and sought their OK.

{snip}

The group does what she says, quietly, though some of the children get antsy and start to make moves that are a lot quicker and seemingly intended to get a laugh.

But when 32-year-old Daisy Flowers warns, “You ain’t getting no candy,” the hands of her 6-year-old niece and those of her young friends are suddenly back together in the prayer position.

Not surprisingly, just a few of her students are men or teenage boys.

“Guys think it’s for women (and) they say, ‘I’m not doing that,'” said Brown, an I Grow Chicago employee and yoga practitioner who stood in the street to remind passersby that the teacher and her class were not alone–a message made clear by his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame and black T-shirt that read “Real Men Do Yoga” on the back.

Everyone here understands that getting young men and teenage boys involved is key if there is any chance of using yoga to reduce violence. {snip}

{snip}

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.