Founder of Yoga Shivaya in Tarrytown, New York, Kathleen Hinge received a Teaching for Diversity grant this spring that supported her in teaching a 10-week series of yoga classes for Hispanic immigrant children attending the after-school program at RSHM Life Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
"Yoga has taught me that I am whole and that I am part of something larger than myself," says Kripalu Yoga teacher Kathleen Hinge. It was this understanding that inspired Kathleen to bring yoga to the children of her community. "I wanted to serve these children so they could experience their wholeness, their birthright, and their connection with others," she explains. "In essence, I wanted to offer yoga as a path toward union both within each child and within the community at large."
Kathleen opened her yoga studio, Yoga Shivaya, in Tarrytown, New York, in April 2007. The studio offers Kripalu Yoga classes, workshops, and retreats for beginners through experienced yoga students, and Kathleen also teaches private yoga classes. In the spring of 2008, she applied for and received a Teaching for Diversity grant to teach a 10-week series of classes for children in the after-school program at RSHM Life Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The center serves more than 300 immigrant Hispanic adults and children who live in the area. The incomes of 98 per cent of these families fall below the poverty level.
"My home community contains a rich diversity of people, including a significant Hispanic immigrant population," Kathleen says. "This diversity is the greatest strength and greatest challenge for this village. The challenge is in seeing past superficial differences to the fundamental worth of each individual and the connection that we all share."
Kathleen took only one piece of equipment with her to the classroom at the Life Center: a CD player. The kids didn not use mats; instead, the group did yoga together on a large rug. Over the 10 weeks, more than 90 students experienced yoga.
"When Kathleen first approached me about the prospect [of teaching yoga at the center], I was excited but rather skeptical," says Susan T. Gardella, Executive Director of the RSHM Life Center. "But for the most part I found the children quite attentive and much calmer by the end of each session. Today children are quickly labeled hyperactive and placed on medication. Wouldn't it be better to try alternatives like yoga and meditation before resorting to that? I believe this experience is one that will enhance the lives of the children and contribute to their well-being long-term."
For Kathleen, who says this experience sparked a new interest in serving marginalized populations through yoga, the most rewarding aspect of the classes was the infectious energy and joy expressed by the children, both physically and vocally.
"What a joy it is to teach children!" she says. "They are spontaneous, in the moment, full of energy, willing to try new things, and very expressive. These kids have so many stressors in their lives. To see them release utterly and with deep trust during savasana brings such a sense of tenderness and reward to me as a yoga teacher. I see the effect that the yoga has on them, and I am utterly awed."
The Teaching for Diversity Program provides grants and scholarships to members of the Kripalu Yoga Teachers Association (KYTA) and the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers (IABYT). Members receive grants and scholarships to teach in disadvantaged schools or to diverse populations such as ethnic minorities and those who are socially, economically, or physically challenged. Through the Rachel Greene Memorial Fund, established in memory of yoga teacher Rachel Greene, scholarships are awarded to yoga teachers or elementary school classroom teachers for curriculum designed to bring yoga into disadvantaged public schools.
For information and an application form for grants to bring yoga to diverse populations, go to kyta.org.
Our heartfelt gratitude to the following KYTA members, whose donations to the Teaching for Diversity program have helped to spread yoga everywhere.