Ahimsa Activism: Yoga Foster
Karen Schwartz. Tell us what your organization does.
Talar Keskinyan: Yoga Foster gives teachers in public schools yoga supplies to use in the classroom. We also provide teachers with training, curriculum and mats.
Our programs are completely free for teachers in Title I public schools -- schools that have 70 percent or more free or reduced lunch programs. We’re in 125 schools in New York State, 100 of which are in New York City, and many others across the country.
Our teacher training is online. It’s called Yoga Foster Fundamentals and it’s a self-paced training. That way, no matter where they’re located and no matter what their schedule is, [teachers can access our material.
Obviously, teachers are the people that know their students and that work with their students the most, so we wanted make sure that we were giving students access to yoga in a way that was really accessible.
We offer in our curriculum things called “Yoga Bursts” -- those are quick, 10-minute yoga flows that teachers can do that right before a math test or right after recess when kids just need a way to calm down a bit.
Empowering the teachers this way makes sure that kids get the chance to practice yoga even if there’s not an hour-long chunk in the school day.
We have students who’ve come back to their teachers and said, “ I went home and my family was fighting and instead of fighting I practiced “Flower and Candle Breathing.”
We're giving students an alternative to violence and anger. Research shows that yoga creates more cooperative and empathetic students. Promoting kids that are less impulsive and hot tempered promotes an entire generation of people that have alternatives to violence.
KS: Can you give us an example of someone whose life has been made better by your work?
TK: We work with a school in Corona, Queens, PS 19Q. They are at 167 percent capacity so a lot of teachers and students have been forced out of classrooms and into trailers. Being in a trailer is a really chaotic setting for learning and prevents students from using the playground to move around.
A first grade teacher there told us the the only activity she can give the kids are things like standing poses and breathing activities. [Teachers] found that their students were spending more time in class discussion after doing yoga...for the teachers and the students, that’s huge.
KS: Who inspires you and why?
Non-profit work is really hard and sometimes demoralizing. Our donors and our volunteers inspire me to continues because they believe in this mission and the impact that Yoga Foster can have helping children.
Another person that inspires me is Scott Harrison, founder of a nonprofit called charity: water. He is so committed to giving proof and reporting on the work that charity: water is doing. It re-instills in people a faith that there are organizations out there that are actually doing good and making an impact in the communities they serve.
KS: How can someone get involved with your organization?
TS: We would love everyone to get involved! First, they can donate by clicking here.. $20 pays for one student's yoga for an entire year. We do a mat drive with lululemon athletica stores in New York City, so if they have a gently used mat, lululemon will accept a mat and then will ship it directly to a classroom that we work with -- there is information on that here.
People can also volunteer with us. We get a lot of our staff from volunteers so if they want to volunteer their time and their skills they can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have events which we post, These are often donation based yoga classes. if people want to attend a yoga class and practice with a greater purpose, they can join us for those events.
Talar Keskinyan is the Director of Development for Yoga Foster