Yoga for You!

Yoga with strap

About Yoga For You:

In collaboration with the social service and housing agency “BOSS” (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency), the Rosa Parks Transitional House, and Piedmont Yoga Studio Community Programs, Marty Fleetwood has been teaching free yoga classes designed for homeless people in Alameda County, many of whom live with disabilities, guiding them on a path to health and well-being by teaching them the basics of yoga. These Yoga for You classes started in the fall of 2008 and will continue through 2009 in three-week sessions.

Marty Fleetwood, who has served as both the impetus of this undertaking and the instructor of the course, has been a recognized national leader on homelessness issues for over 22 years. Always at the forefront of efforts to expand the resources available to assist homeless people back into housing and self-sufficiency, Ms. Fleetwood has played a major role in promoting “mainstreaming” holistic strategies that enhance homeless people's access to a full range of means-tested public programs.

As a complement to her legal career, Marty has practiced yoga for over four decades. Her journey with yoga began at age 17, with meditating, breathing, and asana practice from books. She was initiated in transcendental meditation (TM). While in attendance at Harvard Law School, Marty took her first yoga class, providing her with a formal introduction into the practice of yoga. From then on, Marty sought out yoga classes in the many communities in which she lived from New York City to Saint Croix. Yoga at Wall

A regular Piedmont Yoga Studio student, Marty enrolled in the Advanced Studios Teacher Training Program 2007-2008. While apprenticing with Richard Rosen, Marty came up with an idea to incorporate both her career pursuits and her passion for yoga by creating a course that would cater to the local homeless population. Marty contacted BOSS, an organization that works to realize self-sufficiency for the poor, disabled, and homeless populations in Alameda County, to join in their efforts. boona cheema, Executive Director of BOSS, was thoroughly supportive and willing to set aside time and space, offering a new program to clients and staff. HomeBase’s Board of Directors and staffers also got on board, many being yogis themselves. Beth Theriault, the administrator of the office, offered both her time, volunteering as assistant, and services, designing and creating the PR materials, safety waivers, and yoga journals for participant feedback.

With enthusiastic partners lined up, the nascent idea came to fruition. BOSS arranged for the space while Marty developed the curriculum and Richard provided review and oversight. With generous donations from Funky Door Yoga, Yoga Tree of San Francisco, Piedmont Yoga Studio and a start-up grant from The Yoga Dana Foundation, the program commenced. PYS Advanced Studios 2007-2008 graduates Joanna Harris, George Lamb, and Laura Prives signed on as teaching assistants. yoga twist

Our efforts are not the first of its kind. Various other facilities and organizations have been teaching and offering yoga to those who may not be able to afford it, but would significantly benefit including the homeless, victims of domestic violence, recovering drug addicts, and the elderly. Across the country from non-profit organizations to private yoga studios to the National Alliance to End Homelessness annual conference, yoga practitioners have been teaching yoga for its proven function as a stress relief. As noted by Sat Bir Khalsa, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who studies the medical effects of yoga, “Yoga and mediation do several things, and perhaps one of the most important is that they allow individuals to cope with stress better.” Organizations that have been teaching yoga to the homeless and others who need it most, include YogaHope, which teaches yoga at eight Boston-area women’s shelters, substance-abuse treatment programs and domestic-violence safe houses, and Niroga, located right here in Oakland, CA that teaches yoga to formerly homeless veterans and victims of domestic abuse as well as to people in drug rehabilitation programs and juvenile detention centers.

yoga smiles

Our program is designed as a three-week, one night a week series that instructs homeless participants in the basic vocabulary of yoga. Marty is formulating a yoga tool kit that can be used to cope with and alleviate the stresses of homelessness. As she puts it: “Giving tools to nourish and empower them…by gaining awareness of their own capacity and bringing them to themselves in a deeper way.” The idea was to allow the students to be able to walk into any yoga class and effectively and comfortably move about the room and for those who practice alone to have healthy self-nourishing habits.

HomeBase is working to formulate a manual that could be used by prospective instructors in the program. We encourage others to participate, including future participants in the PYS teacher-training programs and other agencies, organizations, and non-profits that believe in our efforts.

To find out more information, please feel free to contact Beth Theriault, Administrator of HomeBase and coordinator of Yoga for You! by email at beth@homebaseccc.org or call her at (415) 788-7961, ext. 323.

To inquire about assisting in the Yoga for You! series, please contact Marty Fleetwood by email at marty@homebaseccc.org or call her at (415) 788-7961, ext. 312.