Changing Bodies Changes Lives: Yoga for At-Risk Youth
Bidyut K. Bose, a former IT professional, worked in Silicone Valley for years before he found his calling: teaching yoga to at-risk youth and juvenile offenders. Now based in Berkeley, CA, he runs an organization called Niroga which offers classes to approximately 2,000 people a week at homeless centers, juvenile halls, group homes and low-resource schools around the Bay Area.
“I realized there are major signs of system failures—one in two children in urban schools are dropping out and three out of four youths who are coming out of juvenile hall are going right back in,” Bose said in an interview with New American Media. “These are significant indicators of major system failure with a tremendous cost to our society. So I started thinking about solutions, major system solutions that work from the inside out.”
“In most of our inner city schools, most of the children coming in are dealing with major abuse and trauma…they’re so traumatized that they’re not really able to study. They’re not able to learn. So in our rush to teach them, we forget to heal them. When kids act out, we try to penalize them…the system isn’t working.”
In 2008, Niroga received a grant from The California Endowment to assess the impact that the yoga program had on young inmates. Using isometric scales, they were able to show that it lowered stress and increased self-control.
Increased self-control is a major focus of Bose’s program: it’s one of the most significant risk factors for a variety of personal and social problems, and, unlike family background or economic station, it’s possible to change it. In fact, a Richmond, CA, police chief and supporter of Niroga called increasing self control on the streets “a matter of life and death.”
“Those breathing techniques are really good,” said probation officer Frank Lozano. “When a kid gets really upset, we tell him to use his breath to overcome that emotion. And it works.”