Local Yoga Studio Wants to Bring Mindfulness to 20 Philly Schools

verge logoVerge Inspire, a new nonprofit helmed by Verge Yoga founder Cara Bradley and instructor Cheryl Nichols, plans to teach yearlong mindfulness and yoga classes in Philadelphia schools. The idea is this: by teaching simple mindfulness techniques to kids, they’ll be better prepared to cope with the stress brought on by school and often-difficult home situations. Sounds awesome, right?

There’s a catch. They need to raise $25,000 to get their program into 20 schools in the city. So far, they’ve raised about $8,000 total (just over $3,000 online, the rest privately) , with just a couple months to go before the start of the school year. You can donate to their Indiegogo campaign here.

I chatted with Cara to find out what the program’s all about, and how it can help students in Philadelphia.

Tell me a little bit about the program and how it got its start.

Our nonprofit, Verge Inspire, teaches mindfulness practices to youth in urban schools. We take qualified yoga teachers that have been trained to work with urban children and set them up to teach in a Philadelphia school for an entire school year. We’ll be paying these teachers to go in once or twice a week for the whole year, so they’ll get to teach a full curriculum.

We’re focusing in our first year on grades four through six. Middle school age is when the stress can really start to ramp up for these kids, academically and socially, so we want to give them tools to deal with it. We’re taking the program to parochial and charter schools to start, and hopefully expanding to other schools in the city in the future.

My yoga center, Verge Yoga, turns 10 this September, and instead of celebrating being in business we want to give it back to communities who might never have the opportunity set foot in a yoga studio. We just want to go where we can make the biggest impact.

How did you determine that there was such a need for this program?

It’s one of those things that I’ve always known. I’ve been working with kids for years; I used to teach at Agnes Irwin and I saw how much those kids benefitted from it. And just knowing how much stress kids are under, both at school and at home, it’s obvious that it’s needed. Our co-founder, Cheryl Nichols, has been working with kids in these schools for the last four years and she’s really seen a change in the kids she’s worked with for an entire year. It’s where we need to be.

What are some of the benefits of mindfulness practices for kids in urban schools?

Mindfulness, whether through breathing exercises, stillness, or simple movement, helps these kids to settle down their nervous systems and show up and actually be present for the moment. It allows them to sit with what is right in front of them, whether it’s a test, a teacher, or a situation at home.

How do you go about teaching mindfulness and yoga to kids so it’s accessible? What would a typical class look like?

It’ll probably be between 30 and 45 minutes long. It’ll start with some quiet time, like a child’s pose. They’ll move a little bit, really simple; it’s not a structured yoga class like an adult would take. But at the same time, it’s not all fun and games; it’s really trying to get kids to stabilize and be present. They’ll also learn how to set intentions, like gratitude, slowing down, and loving themselves–things that they can carry with them once class is over, too. Then they’ll do some balance poses and strength building poses, and some breathing exercises.

The breathing exercises are really important. Cheryl found with her students that they really help the kids to relax, and they get really into them. Then they’ll do a mindfulness exercise. It could be a simple meditation where they’re listening to the sounds around them, or a mindfulness-based walking meditation, or working with stones. There are a lot of options.

The last thing they’ll do is what we call star pose, which is really savasana. They’ll rest for a good five or eight minutes to get rid of some of that stress from school and at home, and help them manage it in the future.

So you’re trying to fundraise $25,000. If you meet the goal, how many programs do you think you’ll be able to start?

If we meet the goal, we think it can get us 20 programs. It’ll pay for the teachers for those programs, equipment like mats for schools that don’t have them and might not be able to afford them, and possibly a small fee for an administrator to organize all of the teachers and schools. Paying the teachers is key: It really helps keep the program and teacher in each school consistent.

We’ve raised about $8,000 already and we still have a good month and a half left. We’re really looking to the community to support us this year. If we can get launched this year, we’re hoping we can look into grants to sustain us and help us grow in the future.

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