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Changing young lives with Project Yogi

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Project Yogi came into being with the sole purpose of changing young lives.

We help young people stay fit and active while learning about their physical wellbeing. We teach them how to self-regulate their own emotions and behaviour and give families a chance to bond and spend quality time together.  Why we exist – Project Yogi

Project Yogi is a not-for-profit organisation that uses yoga, mindfulness and social emotional learning to help children, teenagers and their families live better, learn better and make better choices. Project Yogi offers self-development and self-empowerment programmes, including teaching yoga as an alternative to school sports, and reaches out particularly to vulnerable and disadvantaged young people and families that cannot afford to go to a yoga or mindfulness class.

Amani Eke founded Project Yogi in 2015. She’s a certified Egyptian Yoga instructor and has also trained with Youth Mindfulness, Teen Yoga UK and Kidding Around Yoga. She works as a yoga teacher to children, teens and adults. Yogamatters got in touch with Amani to find out more about her personal yoga journey and the work of Project Yogi.

How did you first come to yoga for yourself and how has it affected your life?

I first tried yoga in 2008 after reading a book about it, which left me captivated. A few months later, I found a yoga class, which I started attending regularly for about a year and a half. I noticed a big difference in my physical and mental wellbeing.

In 2014, I decided to take a course to teach yoga. The certification was in Egyptian Yoga (known as Smai Tawi) which is actually an ancient form derived from ancient Egypt, North East Africa. Not many people know that different forms of yoga have been practised and taught all over Africa for hundreds and thousands of years.

My yoga teacher training consisted of a strict, 5-month training regimen and required extreme focus and discipline. I had to get up before 6am every day to mediate and do an hour of yoga amongst other things. The overall process helped me let go of a lot of negative thoughts and feelings I had been holding onto.

A few months after taking my 200hr certificate, I decided to take another course to teach yoga to teenagers. I was already teaching in a secondary school at the time. Since then, I have taken additional certifications to teach yoga to children under 11 and to teach mindfulness to young people. I am currently doing a level 4 certification in yoga teaching with The British Wheel of Yoga.

When and how did Project Yogi come about?

I had been working in education since 2009. After doing my 200hr qualification, I decided to do another course to enable me to teach teens. At that time, I was teaching in a secondary school and I could see how it could be really beneficial to the teenagers. School can be stressful in addition to the usual troubles teenagers go through. The schools that I had worked in were located in deprived areas with some children coming from very difficult backgrounds. Taking into account all these factors made me really want to start providing sessions for teenagers.

I set Project Yogi up in 2015 to teach yoga to young people in and outside of schools. I wanted to target children, young adults and whole families. I really wanted to show young people a different perspective of what yoga was. Most young people have a certain perception of what yoga is and the type of people it is for. I really wanted to change their opinion.

In 2016, Project Yogi became a not for profit organisation to enable me to target more young people and families. The organisation was set up to connect young people to the benefits of yoga and mindfulness as well as teaching them the principles and practices. Both mindfulness and yoga have been proven to have a profound effect on both the body and the mind. We wanted to make sure that these benefits were able to reach more young people in need.

We deliver our services to schools, pre-schools, colleges and youth/family organisations. We are currently putting a large focus on working with disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, centring on literacy, mentoring and social emotional wellbeing.

Why is it important to have an alternative to school sports?

Young people are very inactive. For some, the only type of physical activity they do is during PE at school. Many schools provide the usual sports such as football, basketball, netball, rounders and athletics. Not every child is sporty and most are not athletes. I think having other physical activities available such as yoga is needed to give more options. It’s also great for young people who play competitive sports, as it can help to complement the sport they play.

Yoga can be adapted according to the audience you are teaching. The class can be delivered as something more relaxing and restorative for children not so sporty or it could be delivered as more of a fast flow to some up beat music from their favourite artists.

There is a government initiative to get more young people active. Yoga is one of the best things a child can do to aid their physical development and emotional wellbeing. It has countless physical and mental health benefits and is calming, relaxing and can be fun. It is an excellent option for children who don’t like competitive sports, but still need something to do to keep them active.

How have you seen yoga, mindfulness and social emotional development change lives?

Sometime progress can be slow or quite small but generally, we do see a change in children. We try to monitor progress at the start, during and at the end of a project. It can be hard to track when we run short projects, but sometimes when you have children that have been attending sessions for the majority of the school year, you do notice a difference and you can pick up on how much they have actually learnt.

There have also been times when we have had emails from parents about a change in their child’s behaviour or that they are using breathing techniques at home or even teaching yoga to their siblings. We get a lot of great feedback from teenagers who can recognise specific emotional, social and physical changes in themselves where younger children may not. Many children say that they feel that their confidence improves and they are able to relax better and manage their emotions using techniques they are taught.

The overall progress is long term and we are teaching skills that children can use throughout life.

How would you define wellbeing specifically for children and young people?

More and more young people are suffering from mental health issues, obesity and are very inactive. Low levels of wellbeing can have a severe impact on anyone’s life, not to mention the life of a child or teenager. This can have a huge impact on the way a child grows into an adult and can even impact their life chances, family and community.

Wellbeing for children can include teaching them about healthy habits such as nutrition, mental health, self-care and keeping active. We need to make sure that more young people are learning what these things are and how they can help them get through life a lot easier.

Children are the next generation and it’s important that we teach them wellbeing skills because they are skills for life. Self-care and wellness are now at the forefront of many adults’ and employers’ agendas as they are so important and that’s why I feel that we should be making them just as important for children too.

What is the role of community in your work?

The reason I wanted Project Yogi to become a not for profit organisation was so I could reach more young people and work within underserved communities. While there are other organisations in London providing yoga and mindfulness to children, Project Yogi is not just a business teaching yoga to young people, we are a not-for-profit that gives back to communities. There are a lot of yoga studios and teachers that run classes for children, teens and families, but there are still many families that cannot afford to attend those classes.

I felt that some of the young people most in need of yoga and mindfulness were from low income families or living in fairly disadvantaged communities. A lot of these children have a lack of knowledge on wellbeing, but are usually very interested in finding out more about yoga and mindfulness once they have more information about them.

In the past, we have partnered with charitable organisations and community groups to deliver sessions for young people. We have offered free and very low cost classes funded by ourselves and with grants to deliver sessions for children, families and teenagers. We currently offer a discounted rate for families on very low incomes so they can still attend our regular paid classes.

It can be difficult to target hard to reach groups of young people in communities and to get consistent attendance from them, especially when they know nothing about yoga or mindfulness in the first place. We are planning on doing a lot of fundraising and gaining some sponsors to help us raise money so we can target and work with more young people that can benefit from our services.

Why are literacy, mentoring and social emotional wellbeing a part of your yoga business?

We believe that yoga and mindfulness are very important steps that help to improve wellbeing, but sometimes this is not an important agenda or focus for many schools and even parents. I wanted to look at other ways we could work with young people who needed our support.

I have recently put a big focus on working with schools. A lot of the time, yoga is looked at from a physical aspect or as a physical activity by many teachers. Yoga is not just for PE and we want parents and teachers to understand this. Priority are exams, attainment and after school employment, but there are so many children in school that need our support. I designed some programmes that combine yoga and mindfulness with other things that would benefit young people in schools.

I looked at how we could combat other issues school children may be facing such as behaviour issues, lack of self-esteem, mental health, anxiety and low attainment. I then designed new programmes that help support these issues as well as still teaching the principles and practices of yoga and mindfulness as well as general wellbeing. We currently have two main projects we are delivering to schools to help students improve their confidence, motivation, social emotional wellbeing and raise their attainment.

Can you explain a little about your ‘Donate a Mat’ scheme?

Some schools and community organisations that we have worked with in the past have not had the resources to purchase yoga mats for sessions we have run. Many of the families that use the services of the charitable organisations we have partnered with usually do not have the money to buy yoga mats for them or their children. I thought that it would be a good idea to set up a scheme for people and businesses to donate yoga mats that they no longer needed to enable a young person or school to make use of them. A lot of the young people, especially the teenagers, are really happy to be given a mat to continue their practice outside of our sessions. I used to get continually asked by younger children if they could take my mats home and bring them back for the next session. We’ve had many donations from yoga studios, corporate organisations and individuals. We always welcome mat donations as they all go to good homes.

Amani Eke and the team at Project Yogi are doing a fantastic job of spreading wellbeing to those that need it most. It may be a slow process, but Project Yogi is changing lives. It’s great to hear about yoga teachers reaching out to children and young people with the transformative power of yoga and meditation so thank you, Amani, for talking to us about Project Yogi.

If you would like to find out more, visit www.projectyogi.com

If you would like to donate a mat, visit www.projectyogi.com/donate-a-mat/

 

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