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YoGirls Program: Academia-worthy Yoga for Minority Teen Girls in NYC

in YD News

By Jenn Pesce

Making yoga accessible to teens is not a new concept, but getting all of yoga into the teenage lifestyle?  Well, that’s another sutra. While there have been sprinklings of the mental aspect in the other efforts, and they are all great in our eyes (any yoga is better than no yoga, right?), up until now most efforts of helping our youth gain access to yoga have been by pitching yoga from the fitness angle, offering it as a gym alternative, all the while tiptoeing around the other seven limbs that truly make up the philosophy of yoga.

Enter Corinne Wainer. The Harvard-educated school teacher who has developed a yoga curriculum that not only meets the NYS education standards and includes the physical practice, but also makes the ancient texts digestible for the teenage mind via psychology and literature, avenues in which school administrators can relate.

Her curriculum also includes a research study to show any skeptics out there that the proof is in the padma; students that have gone through her course are showing higher test scores in other subjects along with more self-awareness and understanding of how things are the way they are despite their awkward age of pubescence and still forming frontal lobe. Her efforts thus far have been quite fruitful, with established success in both Miami and Boston, Corinne is now set on conquering NYC and creating a standalone center for the YoGirls Program, her nonprofit for economically disadvantaged minority teenage girls.

Here’s the official YogaDork E-interview:

YD: You have 140 characters to explain YoGirls, think on Twitter-ese. Go.
 YoGirls Program Inc is a 501(c)(3) non-profit created to provide New York’s young minority girls with a university-researched yoga literature and wellness course that measurably increases fitness, test scores, and psychological development.

[YD side note: so that was about 100 characters beyond the 140, but we’ll let it slide because she’s such a do-gooder.]

YD: What draws you to this specific cross section of teens? How do you see (or have already seen) that yoga is positively impacting their lives?

CW: I am drawn to these teens for the same reason they are drawn to me—we are both good-hearted people turning difficult life situations into positive, meaningful opportunities.  I enjoy being asked, “So, isn’t it crazy working withkids like that?”  To which I reply, “No, crazy is the assumptions behind that question.”

YD: What was that magical moment that made you decide to go forward with your idea?

CW: In Miami, I got away with many socially unacceptable teaching strategies until becoming a Rookie Teacher of the Year 2010 Finalist—then, I had to think of a new ways to help change student perspectives on school and life.  Lesson plans and bulletin boards were under fierce scrutiny by my superiors, so instead I challenged my students’ psychology.  We were not even physically practicing yoga yet.  By looking at community and academic-related through the eyes of Eastern philosophy, students went from, “I hate my Math teacher because she gave me this stupid grade” to “I can understand why my Math teacher wants to push me further.”  They also achieved the highest learning gains each year.  Not bad.

The magical moment I decided to move forward with YoGirls Program was when my preliminary research at Harvard suggested that immersing students in foreign literature actually does decrease certain performance anxieties and other insecurities.  Connecting the effects of Eastern philosophy in Miami with this current literary study, I thought, “This should be a course.  Better yet, this should be a free course!”

YD: Is it true, right now you are offering this curriculum in the form of classes and workshops for schools for free?

CW: Yes, it’s true. I found that by providing these free workshops, I will be able to get me the thing I’ll need most to transition into a successful afterschool program: student feedback.

YD: Do you have a hard time convincing folks that yoga is more than just fitness?

CW: On the street, it is very difficult to convince people to do yoga.  From a psychology perspective, you are not just asking someone to workout.  At its root, yoga is a mental practice so you are, in fact, suggesting they dive into years of faulty perceptions and self-deprecating behavior. And that is why I invest so much in students—get ‘em while they’re young!

YD: What has been the most rewarding moment of this adventure so far? What has been the most challenging?

CW: I know this sounds cheesy but, the best part about this is seeing the students grow.  Just yesterday my former student, Yoshi, said, “OMG Ms. Wainer do you remember poetry night at Carol City?  I was SO nervous and did terribly but you showed me a better way to look at it.”

I am challenged everyday but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Here in New York, few care about where you went to school or how much you want to do—they start listening when you produce results.  This winter I’m bringing YoGirls Program research to STUDIO:alchemy, the outcome of which statistically measures how an award-winning poetry program stimulates higher-order thinking skills in youth.  I’m anticipating some more head turning after that.

YD: Where is YoGirls today? 

CW: Today, YoGirls Program brings free workshops to numerous venues including local schools, the XX Summit for the International Day of the Girl, and with private tutoring throughout the city.  Informal yet valuable data is collected through these experiences, helping to focus our curriculum.

YD: Where would you like YoGirls to be a year from now?

CW: A year from now, YoGirls Program will have a classroom adjacent to a safe, accessible, innovative yoga studio for women.  In this way, we are not competing with mobile or in-school programs like the Lineage Project, but offering one, centralized location for students to spend time safely afterschool.  We are all in this together so the more opportunities for teen yoga the better!

YD: Are you going at this along? Or do you have a support team?

CW: Until we pursue further funding, I am essentially a one-woman band.  However, Psychobabble’s Lauren A. Urban-Colacicco offers additional support services for the girls.  MyBeauty and G.L.E.A.N. are also on board so that students who show marked improvement in YoGirls Program can attend summer beauty camps and global excursions at no cost.

YD:  Ok, ok, what you’re doing and setting out to accomplish is #awesome. How can others help and/or get involved?

CW: YoGirls Program is so grateful when someone from the community wants to get involved.  If you are connected with schools or other educational centers, invite us to come in for an hour or day to work with your girls.  Donations will come in time and are of course welcome at befitchickbody.com under the YoGirls Program tab, however a sincere effort to meet us and spread the word is most meaningful.

[YD side note: Start by liking them on facebook and following them on twitter @yogirlsprogram.]

jenn pesce loves the yoga and she loves spreading the word about it including yoga fun on a budget, yoga news, yummy eats, and lots of giggles (on and off the mat) she loves to share. to get the yogadeal from jenn on twitter @yogadeals and her blog jennpesce.com



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