A View from the Edge of the Mat

Apr 28, 2017

As you’ve seen by this week’s previous pieces, Living Yoga has truly ingrained themselves in Central City Concern programming. Luckily, it sounds like our class participants have endeared themselves to their teachers, as well.

“This was my first real experience of volunteering and I am so grateful for the opportunity that Living Yoga and CCC gave me to teach yoga to some of the most engaging and committed class participants,” shared a volunteer instructor, Diane, who teaches classes at Old Town Clinic. On several occasions, she’s shared that her “weekly yoga volunteer hour is the best hour of my whole week.”

With that warmth and positivity, and in the spirit of collaboration, volunteerism, and serving those who have so much to share, we wanted to finish our National Volunteer Week celebration with a piece from Laura Walsh. One of the very first Living Yoga volunteer instructors to give her time to Central City Concern—she started at Old Town Clinic some nine years ago!—Laura’s experience, wisdom, and beautiful writing seemed like the perfect way to conclude an amazing week.

Thank you, volunteers, for helping Central City Concern do more and do better with compassion, kindness, and an inspirational sense of service.

• • •

There’s a little story about some yogis sitting at the edge of a lake in meditation. All of a sudden, one of them jumps up and runs across the lake and comes back with a shawl, puts it on, and resumes a sitting posture. A little while later, another one of the group runs across the lake and whispers she needed to check on the soup for dinner. Well, after a bit more time goes by, a more recent member stands up and says, “Ahem… seems I forgot my mala beads.” He heads out to edge of the lake, takes a running start, and quickly becomes completely wet—splashing and struggling for footing before making his way to shore again. This scenario was repeated a couple of more times before the first yogi turns to the second and asks, “Do you suppose we might tell him where the rocks are in the lake?”

A chuckle, maybe? Some recognition of one time or another continuing to use the same unskillful ways to “reach” or gain solid ground—getting a proverbial “soaking” in the process? While there are several images or metaphors to illustrate “the way” or “path,” it essentially does come back to “the journey,” yes?

In this little vignette there is the sense that each person’s intention is to travel to the other side. The teaching rests in each person finding his or her own way. For one, it may mean paying attention to how others negotiate an obstacle and what skills are needed; another may ask questions and explore the conditions of the lake; someone might walk around while another could build a raft; one possibly could find a friend with a boat or even begin an active swimming regimen. Could a map, compass, or even a guide be of help?

The yoga of “IT” is in discovering how to honor one’s circumstances and nature with a practice to live in the “ground” of life’s circumstances—the union of all in and around “the lake.” A quote from Carl Rogers, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change,” brings us again to the image of the lake.

What I have experienced in my years sharing yoga at Old Town Clinic is that there is a readiness of participants to begin the sitting and the process of travel. There is a place for each person to symbolically look into the surface of the water for a reflection of how things are at that present time. There is a quality of movement within a contained landscape. Old Town Clinic continues to provide the opportunity for offering an environment where people are supported to engage in their proverbial lakeside experience—yoga is one of the elements that assist in safe and also challenging passage.

That there is a willingness to roll out the mat and take one’s seat is one of the most courageous and affirming acts in yoga. When we begin class, yogis are reminded of the principle, ahimsa, which translates as “non-harming.” One is reminded to offer kindness and respect and to bring a gentleness to the current state of body and mind. When we link breath awareness to movement or into stillness there is a space to notice what may be present and alive and asking for attention in that moment—to do or not do…. to sit at the edge of the “lake” or to enter into the “flow” of movement.

I am ever so grateful to be a part of this community and value the time spent with the ever-positive, present, and insightful Old Town Clinic staff ally, Moira. Over the years there have been people coming to yoga as part of a treatment program or a wellness regimen, to explore calming and regulating practices, or even for a place to rest. There has been a consistent member of our yoga collective who I offer deep gratitude for his brilliance, wisdom, discernment, and generosity of spirit. He gives expression to how yoga aligns one in well-being off the mat and into the world.

To those new to the practice, to those who are curious, and to some who find it not useful or of interest… thanks for showing up and for “getting the toes wet.” Maybe some will come back or may find interest in another discipline which offers healthful benefits… or maybe not, too. All who have come to my classes, however, have been such good sports!

For your trust and good-natured spirits to try, to modify, to be patient or curious, to stay with, to be with, and to allow for or to witness—I celebrate you. I thank you. I feel touched by the quality of intimate space created by sharing breath, time, and effort together.

So, at the edge of the lake… sharing a few lines from a noted author and activist, Wendell Berry, and then “jumping” in!

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though
you have considered all the facts.

Namaste



Catching—and Finding—Breath

Apr 28, 2017

Volunteer Manager Eric Reynolds visited a Living Yoga session at Central City Concern's Letty Owings Center, our residential addiction treatment program for pregnant or parenting young women. What he saw was an opportunity for the mothers to reflect and rest in the midst of their intensive work to build better futures for themselves and their blossoming families—an opportunity they wouldn't have if not for Living Yoga's volunteer instructors. Learn more in our latest National Volunteer Week blog below!

• • •

The class began with introductions that included each participant’s name, their reason for wanting to try yoga, and their sobriety date. In a true embodiment of the “inherent honesty in communication” that serves as a Guiding Value for Living Yoga’s practice, the instructor initiated this introduction with each subsequent participant. With the most formal portion of the class out of the way, the next hour was filled with smiles, laughter, and a few well-timed groans as seven new “yogis” planked, scorpioned, downward dogged, and child posed their way to reconnecting their mind and bodies.

The young women who begin substance use disorder treatment at Letty Owings Center have a lot on their plate. They are pregnant or parenting a young child, fairly new to a recovery-oriented lifestyle, and adjusting to unfamiliar guidelines, procedures, and regulations that will best aid in her treatment. They attend groups with their peers and meetings with counselors; they take classes to fill their life-skills toolbox with budgeting, meal planning, and parenting knowledge. The attention and effort that goes into this adjusted life, while worthwhile, can be exhausting.

Do these young women ever have a moment to simply catch their breath you might ask?

Thanks to Living Yoga’s volunteer instructors who visit Letty Owings Center twice a week, they can now stretch muscles that might have previously gone ignored, unwind themselves, and find respite. With some combination of heavy substance use, homelessness or poverty, and pregnancy and/or recent childbirth, LOC participants have experienced serious stressors over the years. The patient trauma-informed yoga Living Yoga volunteers bring to Letty Owings Center is an ideal avenue through which to aid the women’s mental, physical, and even spiritual recovery.

“I have bad anxiety so I feel like this will help a lot,” stated Danielle after completing her first-ever yoga session. “I don’t really pay attention to my breathing very often but it was relaxing with the breathing techniques. It helps.”

In conjunction with the mental gains of her foray into yoga, Danielle appreciated the physical benefits as well. “The stretching piece felt really good. I honestly don’t remember the last time I stretched like that.”

Through their volunteer instructors, Living Yoga’s goal is to “create a safe environment in which the practitioner can learn to befriend bodily sensations, to increase self-knowledge, to improve self-regulation, and to create a place of refuge within oneself.” Learning how to create a bank account, budget for a trip to the grocery store, or repair a torn pair of jeans with a sewing kit make life a little bit easier once a participant graduates from the Letty Owings Center. With a little help from Living Yoga we can now add destress through breathing, strengthen through stretching, and finding inner peace to that list as well.



Detox & Yoga: An Unlikely, but Beneficial, Pair

Apr 27, 2017

Oftentimes a first step for those who are looking to make a serious change in their lives, Hooper Detoxification & Stabilization Center is, as the program’s mission states, “a place where hope is constantly reborn.” Many are surprised to hear that our medical detoxification center incorporates the practice of yoga into the program, but it has become a vital tool in helping patients finish the treatment protocol, improving their chances of better health and recovery. We sat down with Steve Mattsson, CCC’s Director of Detoxification Services, to have a National Volunteer Week chat about the unique way in which Living Yoga’s volunteer instructors have helped patients at Hooper not only find comfort but also helped Hooper improve its outcomes.

• • •

Can you tell me the basics? What prompted Hooper to bring Living Yoga on board?
Hooper is approximately a week-long program where people are medically detoxed. The first few days they’re not feeling very well but after that they start getting up and walking around and wanting to do stuff.

We didn’t really have a lot of activities for them, especially anything at all physical, so unfortunately we occasionally lost people who left against medical advice. We explored various things that they could do that were more physical to keep them engaged and we’d heard that—I believe it was Old Town Clinic—had some experience with Living Yoga and said great things about them. So we brought them in and initially did a pilot program with just the men and when that worked out well we expanded it to both men and women.

What kind of feedback were you wanting to hear in order to decide whether you wanted to move on with the pilot project or not?
Really the bottom line was, did the APA (Against Professional Advice) rate come down? Clients saying, “Hey, I really like this. Thank you for offering it.” is really important and we want to improve their experience here. But we also had to really assess if fewer people were leaving against medical advice now than before.

Did you see objective evidence that this worked?
Yes. We added several things during the same year as ways to bring the APA rate down. Overall our APA rates are down this year, and we believe that the Living Yoga instructors have something to do with that.

From what you see, besides the fact that it is some sort of physical activity, what about yoga is beneficial to the people who are here?
Central City Concern—and Hooper especially—have had a long partnership with acupuncturists. I think we’ve been doing it for close to 40 years, acupuncture in conjunction with the detox. And both the yoga and acupuncture really come together for these patients who aren’t feeling well. They are not at peace. Their body chemistry is out of whack and they are uncomfortable. And anything that gets them to calm down, slow their roll—yoga, acupuncture—it really helps.

With western-style medicine the nurses have to get vital signs and assess withdrawal levels and it’s all done confidentially with only one or two patients at a time. With both the acupuncture and the yoga you can work on the whole group at once and help reduce those withdrawal symptoms and that stress level and anxiety.

We have 30 to 45 patients at any time who are all detoxing and by and large not feeling well; they’re cranky. We want them to stay as calm as possible. The yoga and the acupuncture really help us keep the whole floor calm.

I know that a lot of Living Yoga volunteers have gotten some sort of trauma-informed care training. Is that something you would say is applicable to Hooper?
Absolutely. As an agency, and as a program here at Hooper, we’re all moving in a much more trauma-informed direction. Partnering with agencies like Living Yoga that are familiar with trauma-informed terminology and know what our clients have been through is wonderful. It’s excellent.

Has there been anything especially beneficial to having Living Yoga here as opposed to just any kind of yoga volunteer off the street?
Living Yoga is really sympathetic with our mission. Obviously they’ve been partners with CCC for a while and they really are about calming people down, grounding them, and showing them different ways to relax. We’ve really appreciated it. And they’re all volunteers, so they have to want to be here. They feel like they are—and they are—performing a service and giving back because otherwise they wouldn’t keep on coming. That tells us that they’re getting the kind of response from our patients that makes them want to come back again.



"Let all beings everywhere be happy and free"

Apr 26, 2017

Moira Ryan, Central City Concern Old Town Clinic’s Wellness Services Coordinator, works with a number of volunteers, and she witnesses firsthand what Living Yoga volunteer instructors bring to the patients of our community health clinic. In this latest National Volunteer Week blog post, Moira reflects on the many ways our Living Yoga volunteers meet our diverse patients where they are and embody the compassion, empathy, and kindness that we see across all CCC volunteers.

• • •

Starting any movement or exercise practice can be so intimidating, especially for folks dealing with limited mobility, social anxiety, chronic pain, body shame, or an institutionalized mind-set. Walking into a practice like yoga can be even more stressful—“I don’t know the right words, I’ve seen yogis on TV and I know I can’t do yoga the right way,” etc.

One of the many things that I love about Living Yoga (LY) instructors is their gentle encouragement. The teachers don’t single folks out or shame modifications, but instead take the temperature of the room and offer safe options for every body. Just as important, LY teachers don’t assume that people in wheelchairs can’t test themselves, and don’t fragilize folks out of trying new postures. This mix of gentleness and encouragement the volunteers practice allows our clients to feel they have permission to try as well as permission to let themselves guide their practice. Having permission to practice being yourself in this way, and in a room full of people, is so important.

After Gentle Yoga groups, people report feeling stronger, clearer, and better about themselves. Some do leave frustrated with themselves, but many come back to try again. I’ve seen one client practice twice a week for the last year move gradually out of her wheelchair and onto the mat. She uses a chair when she needs one, and more and more, she doesn’t. Two months ago, she successfully worked her body into a beautiful Downward Dog and held that pose for over a minute. She was so happy, so pleased with herself. When new people come in and talk about “not doing it right,” she often interrupts the instructor to let the new person know that that’s ok: “We do what we can. And we’re doing it. You’re doing great.”

LY teachers typically let our classes know how yoga has worked for themselves. They talk about their own anxiety, injuries, or recovery stories, and I think this transparency makes our groups feel less didactic and more individualized and exploratory. Group members often tell me how much they enjoy the different kinds of yoga practice they learn from various teachers. One brings in harmoniums and teaches us chants ("Let all beings everywhere be happy and free" is a favorite). One offers a quieter, more internal practice. One laughs a lot, and makes us work our hamstrings like crazy. One focuses more on balance and talks about aging. One always helps us with some really yummy neck stretches. All are unique models of some different ways to practice, helping clients move away from “shoulds" and toward finding their own yoga.

Aside from the physical practice, I know that offering folks a safe, routine, short practice of meditation has been hugely helpful. It can be really tough to walk into a 30-90 minute meditation group, but not so hard to try meditation for a few minutes at the end of a yoga group. People talk about feeling more open and more peaceful because of the minutes we spend in our final relaxation pose.

Gentle Yoga has been for years one of our most successful offerings. We’ve tried other movement modalities—gentle dance, walking, etc.—but none have caught on like the classes Living Yoga offers.

I really want to thank the behinds-the-scenes team for supporting the instructors and managing the schedules and coordinating with all the programs you serve. This includes Eric Reynolds, CCC's fabulous volunteer manager, who's been instrumental in connecting Living Yoga with the Wellness Program and continues to offer ongoing support. I’d also like to thank those who donate to Living Yoga on behalf of OTC clients, for helping us provide yoga to folks who can’t afford or access studio classes.



Seva: The Act of Selfless Service

Apr 25, 2017

As Central City Concern celebrates National Volunteer Week by highlighting our volunteer partnership with Living Yoga, we thought it imperative to hear from them directly. Avery Lewis, Living Yoga’s Events and Communications Manager, was gracious enough to write a guest blog post on the organization’s behalf in which she shares how trauma-informed yoga aligns with the needs of those CCC serves, how Living Yoga’s own volunteers are transformed by their service, and much more.

• • •

In honor of volunteer week, we want to recognize the 130+ volunteers who selflessly dedicate their time and energy to teach trauma-informed yoga at our partner sites every year, including Central City Concern’s Letty Owing Center, Hooper Detox, and Old Town Clinic. At these sites alone, 24 Living Yoga volunteers have practiced yoga with more than 900 students in the past twelve months.

In yoga, some refer to this act of selfless service as seva. Seva is the Sanskrit word used to describe an action in which we selflessly give of ourselves to promote the well-being of others. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about seva is that, more often than not, the one serving and the one served both benefit. This is something Living Yoga volunteers experience time and time again when working with students at our partner sites.

Greg, who teaches weekly at Hooper Detox, says, “My experience at Hooper has helped me grow and connect not only as a yoga teacher, but also as a human. I am always impressed by the attitudes of the students and staff—I love their authenticity and gratitude. I feel invited to causally express myself in my teaching, just as I invite the students to do so through their breath and movement. I have fun when I teach yoga at Hooper, and the students appear to enjoy themselves as well. Their occasional contributions of light-hearted banter, sighs of relief, and brief anecdotes help create a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.”

Living Yoga’s partnership with Central City Concern over the past nine years has played an integral role in the healing process and resiliency of our students. By offering trauma-informed yoga classes, students learn to create positive change from the inside out. Trauma-informed yoga acknowledges that trauma can cause individuals to feel unsafe and disconnected from their bodies. Practicing trauma-informed yoga allows the individual to reconnect with their body, increase self-knowledge, and create a safe place within themselves. It’s a powerful tool for recovery and for life in general.

Through the practice of yoga, students gain valuable skills that support their ability to realize their full potential. Students find themselves using these skills outside the classroom, contributing to their own long term well-being and to the health and well-being of the communities in which they live. Jillian, a Living Yoga volunteer teacher at Letty Owings Center, reported, “Another great class! Again these women are so open and ready for yoga. We talked a little about the classes they’ve done so far—one woman said she couldn’t sleep the other night so she got out of bed and did yoga to relax! It’s like textbook Living Yoga—awesome! It is really landing with them, and it feels so great to be part of their yoga journey.” 

Yoga is such a deeply transformational practice to share with someone. It promotes self-love, self-respect, forgiveness, healing, confidence, and growth. It teaches us compassion and how to communicate with heart and intention. And it has a ripple effect! When we realize the inherent goodness inside of ourselves, we learn to act and interact from that place with others. We learn that we are more than our worst behaviors.

For the volunteer teachers at Living Yoga, it is clear that the sharing of this experience through yoga is as satisfying, if not more so, as the practice of yoga itself.



The Numbers Agree: CCC Volunteers Help Us Do More & Better!

Apr 24, 2017

At Central City Concern, we often say that our volunteers help us do more and help us do better. We crunched some numbers, and the numbers agree! Take a look at our National Volunteer Week infographic to learn more about the impact volunteers make on the CCC community.

To learn more about volunteering with Central City Concern, visit our Volunteer page.

(Download a PDF version of this infographic.)




Central City Concern Celebrates National Volunteer Week 2017!

Apr 24, 2017

This week is National Volunteer Week! With a robust and passionate volunteer program, Central City Concern has much to be thankful for. This year we’re celebrating the occasion by highlighting a unique volunteer partnership CCC has with our friends at Living Yoga all week long. Volunteer Manager Eric Reynolds provides a proper introduction to Living Yoga, as well as some reflections on what makes CCC volunteers such an essential part of the work we do to end homelessness one person at a time.

• • •

As I felt the sweat formulate and bead on my forehead, I continued to follow the instructor’s directions and focus on my breathing. Push my belly button, diaphragm, and chest out and steadily inhale through my nose. Bring my abdominal wall towards my spine and slowly exhale out of my mouth. In… now out. My arms started to tremble as the upright push-up, or “plank,” position I maintained seemed to be exhausting every muscle fiber between my evenly spread fingertips and my firmly planted toes. With only my two hands and 10 toes anchoring me on my rubber yoga mat, I knew my body “bridge” was going to lose its support and near a similar fate to London’s before too long. I anxiously glanced around the room to see if anybody else exhibited the same anguish I felt, but alas, each member of the class seemed comfortably focused sustaining their balance. After a timespan that unpleasantly felt like the longest flight delay of my life, the teacher finally gave the instruction to place our knees on the mat. I was the only participant to audibly sigh my relief.

At this point you might be wondering where this focused, intense, and physically trying yoga was taking place. Was this one of Northeast’s trendy new hot yoga classes? Or perhaps it was one of the catchily-named downtown studios like Yoga Pearl, Jewel Yoga, or YoYo Yogi? Or maybe it was… at Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic!?

In honor of National Volunteer Week we’re excited to put the spotlight on CCC’s amazing partnership with Living Yoga, a volunteer-driven Portland agency whose mission is “changing lives by fostering healing and resilience in vulnerable and marginalized communities through trauma-informed yoga.” In collaboration with CCC’s Volunteer Program, each week Living Yoga sends instructors to our Old Town Clinic, Letty Owings Center, and Hooper Detoxification & Stabilization Center to conduct open classes for participants of those programs.

The grace, compassion, and thoughtfulness Living Yoga’s teachers share on a regular basis is absolutely tremendous. It is also well-worth noting that those are qualities shared by over 320 other individuals who have chosen to volunteer their time with CCC over the last year.

It can be easy for Portlanders to watch the evening news or read the newspaper headlines, feel as though the city’s underserved population is only growing, and fall into an “us” and “them” mindset. However, by taking the time to teach proper plank form, analyze recidivism rates, treat an open wound, or just serve a holiday meal, CCC’s volunteers have changed their focus from what is going wrong to what they can contribute to make it right. They prove that there is no “us” and “them,” but rather community.

After attending three different yoga classes throughout the agency last week I noticed a commonality between each (besides my own physical duress of course): laughter. The positivity that emanated from those classes is the same positivity that emanates from each volunteer who spends their valuable time with Central City Concern. So for that positivity, community, and work towards success, I want to THANK all of Central City Concern’s amazing volunteers on behalf of our organization and those we serve.

Although knowing how to perform a proper “plank” is not a prerequisite to volunteer with Central City Concern, knowing how to “support” the community we all share is.

 




Eric Reynolds
Volunteer Manager