The nonprofit group Yoga Across America, in order to spread awareness of the physical and non-physical benefits of the discipline, sponsors yoga classes specifically directed to soldiers and military veterans, at-risk students, people in community centers and homeless shelters, and other distinct populations. Yoga instructors who have worked with prison inmates, victims of trauma and domestic abuse, and other members of underserved groups say that such outreach can be extremely rewarding.
People who have felt powerless in the past can become disconnected from others and even from their own bodies. They may only have the ability to focus on a few basic postures and relaxation practices at first, and may display extremes of hypervigilance or detachment. Instructors must demonstrate patience and foster a supportive, nonthreatening atmosphere, incorporating simple means, such as rolling back and forth on a mat, of helping individuals coping with trauma recover their body awareness.
The Omega Institute and the Yoga Service Council represent other organizations that focus on expanding the potential of underserved men, women, teens, and children through the teaching and practice of yoga. These groups have held workshops that bring together yoga instructors, social workers, and other professionals to share information and best practices for promoting the well-being of vulnerable people through yoga. Teachers who have literally taken their yoga mats to the streets have reflected on yoga’s ability to heal not only individuals but also neighborhoods facing crime, violence, and the multiple stressors inherent in today’s society. Through a focus on serving those most in need, these instructors have become a force for positive change in their communities.