Urban Yogis: Yoga for Peace and Compassion

How can you help the teenagers in a community that has endured a history of drug and gang related violence? How do you support teens struggling with the loss of their parents and family, surrounded by poverty and anger? Could something as simple as yoga practice improve their conditions?

These are kids who have had to fend for themselves in a volatile neighborhood where they are often forgotten about or ignored by a scared public. Led to a life of anger and retaliation, many teens resort to gangs and violence.

Juquille Johnston was 6 years old when his father was shot and killed in the streets of New York City. It’s frightening to imagine how exposure to such violence at a young age could affect this young man’s life. How will he ever come to terms with his fear, anger, and pain when those are the same feelings that are felt in his community every day? This is the reality facing many young people around the world, including young Americans confronted every day with gun violence, gang activity, poverty, and abuse.

Check out this video, in which Juquille tells his story of struggle and how the teachings of yoga and meditation have helped him in his healing process.

“The first lesson was about Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. It grasped my attention because it was talking about how they had won a war without actually taking heat into the war and fighting things.”

Juquille learned through slowing down his tendencies to act quickly and removing his mindset of retaliation, he was suddenly able to act with a clear mind and better his own situations. Just as the great teachers he had learned from had done, he was winning his battles without weapons or violence, drawing his power from a balanced mind.

“I used to have a short temper, but I don’t really get mad anymore. I’ve actually come to a sense of peace with myself. I’ve learned that if I’ve done something wrong not to take an action to make things worse. I just deal with and try to make it right.”

How could this be? By simple acts of reflection upon one’s self, through control of body and mind, these teens were suddenly able to look past their hardships and approach life in a different way.

“It just feels like your mind is clear of anything else. You’re just focusing on that one position. It’s easy to apply that back to life.”

Erica Ford co-founded LIFE Camp in 2002 in response to growing violence in New York City. Through mentoring, media literacy, service, and more, teenagers involved in LIFE Camp become empowered to invest in their futures and their communities. Yoga is one of the powerful tools these teenagers engage with, and the practice has a profound effect.

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