- 63% found that the yoga practice helped them understand their physical health better
- 62% found that the yoga practice helped them understand their mental health better
- 77% reported that they felt better after yoga than before
- 77% reported that they would like to continue practicing yoga while at Shuman
- 44% reported that they would like to practice yoga after leaving Shuman
- 61% reported that the atmosphere of their living unit was improved by practicing yoga
- 60% said in an open-ended response that there was nothing that they disliked about the yoga program
- 27% said they liked everything about the yoga program
- 30% said it was very relaxing
Winner of the Program of the Year for JDCAP (Juvenile Detention Centers and Alternative Programs) 2010
Name of Program: Youth Yoga
Detention Center: Shuman Juvenile Detention Center- Allegheny County
Name of Staff Involved: Joanne Spence, Raymond Robinson, Nicole Gartz, Rhonda Carpenter, James Adams, Denise Downey, Lisa Stevenson, Tyrone Norman and youth care workers
Ms. Joanne Spence, Executive Director of Yoga in Schools, approached Shuman Center with an idea to introduce yoga into the detention setting. The aim of the program was to lower the number of incidents of aggression by teaching the staff and residents the benefits of yoga, while creating a more peaceful environment on the living units. This would be accomplished through decreased stress, better sleep, more energy, and better mood management.
In order for the program to succeed, staff buy-in would be critical. Accordingly, all staff attended a yoga course during their monthly training prior to any work with the youth. Through the training, all staff gained an understanding of the youth yoga program because they had the opportunity to experience it for themselves. Staff were encouraged to utilize the yoga techniques during their workday as a way to manage their stress.
The youth yoga program was implemented as part of our regular recreation schedule three days a week. Each week every unit would have 45 minutes of yoga instruction. All residents were given the opportunity to participate, but the program was not mandatory. Recreation staff and youth care worker involvement encouraged many youth who were hesitant to participate. Yoga mats and blocks were distributed and soothing music was played in the background. The sessions involved a brief discussion of the benefits of yoga, instruction on the yoga postures for that day, and then a relaxing cool down. On numerous occasions, youth who initially refused to participate, would eventually join the group after witnessing how the other youth were enjoying the program. Many of our most disruptive youth welcomed the program, with some even coaching other youth to participate.
After each session, the youth were given surveys to complete. An overwhelming majority of responses indicated the youth felt better after the sessions, had a better understanding of their physical and mental health, and would continue to participate in the program. Most of the youth also stated the program led to a better atmosphere on the unit.
Since the program ended, we have had two or our recreation staff trained as yoga trainers so we can continue the program on our own. An independently funded documentary is also being produced about the program to show the benefits of introducing yoga into detention centers.
During the staff trainings, it was clear that some staff were more interested than others, in how yoga could benefit them on the unit. However, I didn’t see as much carryover to the job from the training as I would have liked. A few of the staff actively participated in the program with the youth, serving as great role models for the youth. Some of the staff used the program as something for the youth to look forward to, for example, “hey everybody, you know we have the yoga program later today.” Some of the staff used the program as a way to help manage the unit as well. Staff would encourage the youth to keep the tone of the unit the way it was during the yoga program, namely calm and peaceful. I hope to get to the point where the staff will encourage the youth to utilize yoga, or at least the breathing techniques, when they see that youth are upset.
As for the youth, I noticed that certain youth would take on positive leadership roles when it came to getting the unit set up for the program, and in dissuading other youth from being disruptive. A couple of the youth mentioned how using what they learned during stressful situations would be wise; however, I am not aware of them actually using yoga in those instances. It also must be stated that I’m not on the units most of the time, so I would be unlikely to see them use yoga in those situations if they had. Now that several months have passed since we implemented the program, unfortunately several of the residents who participate in those earlier sessions have returned to Shuman. On occasion, we have had youth that were in the program before, ask about when they could do yoga again. At the time, we had not had our recreation staff trained as facilitators so we were unable to run the program. Now that recreation staff have been trained, we are looking forward to having the yoga program as a permanent fixture in detention.
Raymond Robinson, Social Services Manager
Shuman Juvenile Detention Center