Teach Yoga to Special Populations

Many yoga teachers are drawn toward teaching yoga as a way to offer healing to people in disenfranchised communities.

Some have personally benefited from the healing power of yoga in regards to challenges they have faced, such as pregnancy, being incarcerated and dealing with high stress levels and wish to give back to others facing similar circumstances.

Teaching At-Risk People

There are several organizations that teach yoga to at-risk communities. The Niroga Institute offers a Yoga Corps training to yoga teachers to wish to teach yoga to at-risk communities in Oakland, California.

Niroga founder Dr. Bidyut Bose says of this work, “We believe that the teachings of yoga are vitally important throughout society, not just in the culturally and economically elite settings the practice is normally taught in. Teaching yoga in at-risk communities helps people in these environments significantly reduce their stress levels, while helping them regulate their minds, bodies and emotions in a positive manner.”

Yoga of Recovery is an organization that teaches trainings in New York, California and the Bahamas for counselors and yoga teachers interested in offering yoga classes in rehabilitation settings. The Prison Ashram Project offers yoga programs for those in American prisons.

In terms of funding for working with at-risk populations, Niroga Institute provides its teachers a salary for their work. Many other organizations offer volunteer teaching opportunities for special populations. The Usha Yoga Foundation, Iyengar and Kripalu Yoga Schools offer grants to yoga teachers who want to start programs in underserved communities.

To prepare for teaching in at-risk communities, it is helpful for yoga teachers to read Prison Ashram Project founder Bo Lozoff’s book We’re All Doing Time and take an appropriate available training. It is a good idea for yoga teachers to watch Doing Time, Doing Vipassana, a documentary that demonstrates how meditation is decreasing recidivism rates in India. Dr. Bose recommends that the key to teaching at-risk students is to be grounded in your own yoga practice, so that you can be calm enough to support people who live under extreme levels of stress.

Working with Youth

The Lineage Project, based in New York City, offers a teacher training for those interested in working with at-risk youth, particularly those in juvenile halls. Y.O.G.A. for Youth is based in Los Angeles, California and is similar to the Lineage Project in that it provides training to yoga teachers interested in serving youth in at-risk communities, including juvenile halls. Yoga Ed is a Los Angeles based organization that offers training for yoga teachers interested in serving underprivileged schoolchildren. Street Yoga, based in Portland, Oregon offers training to yoga teachers interested in working with homeless youth. The Mind Body Awareness (MBA) Project in Oakland, California offers paid teaching positions for those who wish to serve in San Francisco Bay Area juvenile halls.

While many of the opportunities available for teaching yoga to youth are volunteer ones, organizations like TerraMundi World Wellness, the Usha Foundation and Satya Foundation provide grants to yoga teachers interested in creating programs for youth.

It is helpful to take an appropriate training for working with youth. Yoga teachers who serve children have to be mindful of introducing age-appropriate yoga poses and offering classes in a language that is appropriate for the population.

Yoga for the Elderly

Most yoga teacher training programs include teaching elderly people as part of their curricula. Many yoga studios offer opportunities to teach paid classes for elderly people in the community. Yoga teachers can also offer classes in retirement homes, nursing homes and hospitals on a paid or voluntary basis.
When teaching the elderly, yoga teachers need to be particularly sensitive to the aches and pains that afflict this population and to be skilled with the use of props in yoga classes. Classes for the elderly must move at a slower pace.

Prenatal Yoga

Almost all yoga teacher training courses include information about how to teach pregnant women. Like they offer classes for the elderly, many yoga studios also offer paid prenatal yoga class opportunities for yoga teachers.

There are additional training programs that provide yoga teachers the tools necessary for working with pregnant women, such as Mamaste Yoga, Yoga Fit Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training and Yoga for Two.
There are many yoga poses that are specifically designed for the needs of pregnant women. These classes also utilize more props and go at a slower pace than normal yoga classes.

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