Is there a place for yoga in homeless shelters?

Notes from different corners of the world.
July 31 2009 3:14 PM

Oms for the Poor

Can yoga help the homeless?

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So did Terry Snead, a 61-year-old formerly homeless man who showed up out of curiosity. Tall and thin, he said his favorite exercise was walking and had a clarifying question for the instructor. "I've seen on TV a guy who fits into a box. Is that yoga, too?"

Taylor, tan and muscular, led the group through a series of increasingly difficult positions, from warrior pose to sun salutations. Joints cracked and bodies hit the floor behind me as the stretches grew more intense and the balancing more precarious. At one point, a large woman who had never done yoga before got up to leave, defeated. Taylor sweetly enjoined her to stay, and she did.

Participants brimmed with ideas for bringing yoga back to the people they served. Shirley McKee, a case manager for the homeless near Detroit, said her clients—often overweight and defeated, living in cramped and cluttered quarters, with children running around underfoot—would benefit just from the breathing exercises, even if coaxing them onto a yoga mat might prove an impossible task. Jessica Hales, with the Alabama Department of Mental Health, mused on how it might be incorporated into a pilot project on "alternative wellness."

But Taylor's focus is to bring yoga to homeless-service providers. At the end of Wednesday's session, after we lay prone in a darkened room for what felt like a half hour, the mood was jubilant. "If you create the inner balance within yourself, you can bring it out in your work," Taylor says.

Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.