“If you can take a moment to step back your anxiety decreases, and we truly believe people can feel empowered to make safer decisions when they are feeling more in control.”
On Wednesday, April 18, the Criminal Justice Caucus in collaboration with the Men’s Caucus invited Beth Navon, LMSW, RYT, Executive Director of The Lineage Project to Columbia University School of Social Work to talk a bit more about what their work entails and why they do it. The Lineage Project teaches yoga, meditation, and awareness-based practices to empower youth to find alternatives to stress, violence, and incarceration, helping them become vital and contributing members of their communities. The result? In 2011, a structured assessment and evaluation of The Lineage Project was conducted and findings conclude that students, by participating in the classes, developed an increased capacity for self-awareness, self-knowledge, and a more compassionate response to events in both their internal and external environments. In addition, the study found a significant reduction of perceived stress among participating students in the fourteen-week group.
To really understand the group process, Rebecca Bateman, first ever Social Work Intern at The Lineage Project (from Fordham University) led workshop attendees in an abbreviated version of the class, using the same practices and tools she uses with the youth. Every class starts with ringing of chimes, and participants were asked to count the number of rings in their head, increasing the level of awareness and mindfulness as they begin. A theme is then introduced – ours was “stress” – and Rebecca explained what happens in our bodies when we react to stressful situations. The chemical reaction that produces stress only lasts for 60 seconds, so, she asked, “Why doesn’t that feeling only last in our minds and bodies for 60 seconds?” This is due to the connection between the physical reaction and the mental response, which allows us to replay the stressful incident over and over and over again. The purpose of these workshops is to break that cycle of stress and bring participants back into the moment with mindfulness.
Each participant in the room then said their name, where in their body they hold their stress, and what coping strategies (effective or ineffective) they use to help rid their bodies of that stress, followed by a clink of the chimes. To ring the chimes takes stillness and focus and therefore becomes a sort-of mini-mediation as went around the room. We then practiced some chair-yoga and upper-body stretching poses, as well as some mindfulness and meditation practices, leaving everyone in the room noticeably calmer and more alert than when they entered.
The Lineage Project currently offers awareness-based programming in detention centers, alternative schools, subsidized housing complexes, alternative-to-incarceration programs, and Boy’s Clubs. Feedback from students paints a clear picture of the impact their work has had on the lives of many at-risk youth in NYC:
“I feel like someone put a new life inside of me. At this moment I’m feeling calm and relaxed. Nothing is really bothering me and I feel some of my anger melting away. I got in touch with my inner self. I know who I am on the outside but really never knew who I was on the inside.” — Eduardo, age 17
“My home is really chaotic and I used to get stressed as soon as I stepped in the door. Thanks to the teachings, the minute I get home I can go into a small space I set up for myself and do the breathing. Then I can face the drama in my house in a calmer way.” — Shawna, age 16
“Well, I can honestly say that me being incarcerated for 11 months, this yoga program is very helpful. I have grown accustomed to my new coping skills, which is learning a lot of multiple methods to stay calm and a new way of expressing myself.” — Roseanne, age 14