Yoga4Change: A Kripalu Alumni Creates Transformation in Her Community

As someone who has personally struggled with PTSD and ADHD, Kripalu Yoga teacher Chaucey Perreault understands that trauma comes in many shapes and forms. Yoga4Change, her not-for-profit based in Meriden, Connecticut, takes that into consideration when teaching to a wide range of populations, including preschoolers, elementary school children, urban teens, adolescents healing from addiction and mental-health disorders, low-income seniors, low-income families and Spanish-speakers.

“There’s a documented higher incidence of trauma among low-income communities,” Chaucey says. “There’s the trauma most of us think of in the form of traumatic experiences, but there’s also the low-level trauma of living in impoverished communities with the daily struggles of keeping a roof over the family’s head and worrying about neighborhood crime.  And we have to acknowledge the cumulative, daily trauma of being treated poorly by the systems you seek help from simply because of the color of your skin, your socioeconomic status, or the language you speak.  This more insidious trauma affects our sense of trust in others and the way we interact. It’s important for teachers to be aware of this and incorporate trauma sensitive and culturally sensitive strategies into their instruction.”

For Chaucey, “Yoga was about finding trust in myself. I had a successful career and family for decades, but I often felt like I was putting on a front.  My inner world didn’t match my outer world, and it left me unable to trust myself and my own intuition.” She first came to Kripalu in 2011, at a low point in her life: She’d recently lost her job as a special education teacher, a member of her family, and her marriage had collapsed.  This series of unfortunate events triggered her unresolved PTSD.  “I was definitely in ‘pick up the pieces’ mode when I found Kripalu,” she says. “I came for an R&R Retreat and wandered into a workshop on grief and loss, and the teacher led the group in yoga nidra. I thought, this is yoga.” Within a year, she was enrolled in Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training. “I realized how important yoga was for me, and I knew teaching would keep it front and center in my life,” she says.

Chaucey founded Yoga4Change in 2013, offering classes for low-income families in her home.  Parents did yoga in the living room, while free childcare was provided in the family room. Soon parents began asking for yoga for the children as well.  “It became clear very quickly that we were going to need more space,” she says. She found an established nonprofit, Meriden’s Women and Families Center, to partner with her fledgling organization, and began offering expanded programming. In its first year, Yoga 4 Change served 420 people; this spring, it served nearly that number each week. Chaucey and her staff of five teachers offer classes and one-on-one sessions for students ranging in age from 3 to 93 at partner-agency locations throughout Connecticut.

In 2016, Chaucey—a self-described “curriculum nerd”—attended Kripalu Yoga in the Schools Teacher Training, and she has already begun to incorporate the tenets into her teaching. “It’s amazing to have a structured, evidence-based curriculum in which each module builds on the one before.  By the end, students are learning to foster compassion for self and others and implement their new yoga strategies off the mat in real life.  This is empowerment at its best, and they are having fun as they achieve class objectives,” she says.

Yoga4Change has a diverse funding stream including: several grants (including a 2014 Teaching for Diversity grant from Kripalu), private contributions, and fee-for-service partnerships with schools, senior centers, mental health facilities, City governments, and other organizations. Chaucey is the “chief cook and bottle washer – overseeing everything from washing yoga mats to developing board leadership,” she says.

Her goal—whether she’s working with preschoolers or seniors—is to facilitate individual empowerment by helping each participant learn what strategies serve them best as they navigate the challenges of meaningful change. “For some of our adults, yoga class might be the only time they feel in sync with others in an unwelcoming world,” she says. For kids, Yoga4Change classes teach parameters around personal space and safe touch, while offering positive reinforcement as they learn new stress management and self-regulation skills.

“You don’t always know what someone else needs, but you can always provide a safe, supportive space for people to show up as they are,” Chaucey says. “Sometimes, all you can impart in 10 weeks is a sense of hopefulness and the knowledge that it is possible to have an experience of calm and connection with yourself.”  Imagine a world full of people like that.

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