Reach Out Yoga

Where does your £1 go when you rent a mat, towel or book?

When you put your pound into our charity jar do you know what happens to it next? Perhaps you know that it goes to charity, but what does that really mean? Today’s post is all about how your money goes to make Sheffield a better place.

After you drop your £1 in, the money in the jar gets counted and then deposited into a separate bank account. Impressively, you’ve given over seven thousand pounds, £7388.53 to be precise, since we opened in January 2014. And all this money funds yoga classes for people in Sheffield who can’t afford yoga classes, yet would really benefit from them.

A big part of what we do at HYS is giving back to Sheffield. One of our aims is to make the world a better place, one class, one person, one breath at a time. If you’ve been to one of our classes or are a member, then you’ll know what a difference even one class a week can make in your life. How you can come in feeling stressed, anxious, angry or depressed from your day and leave feeling calm, relaxed, focused, happy and energised having almost forgotten what you were like before.

However, not everyone can afford regular yoga classes, so we work with a variety of other local charities to provide yoga for people who are in recovery programs. Why recovery? Well, when people are in crisis their focus is on other more immediate goals, such as finding a safe place to sleep or making sure they have food to eat and yoga is not a priority. And if people have an addiction, but aren’t seeking help, then they can be in denial or blame others for their problems and haven’t yet taken responsibility for their life. But when someone is in active recovery, they have acknowledged that their life needs to change in some way and have taken steps to move toward a life they want. And it is at that point that yoga can play an important role.

You may have already experienced this in your own life. For example, you may have decided to stop smoking, drinking coffee or alcohol, or have gone through a separation or divorce and found that regular yoga classes can support you in these times. And maybe going to yoga made it possible to make these changes in the first place because you discover strength inside that you didn’t know was there. You see the habits that are no longer serving you and are able to let them go and make new choices instead.  

Some of the charities that we’ve worked with are with people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, domestic violence and human trafficking. One of our teachers, Jo Hunt, has coordinated all of these classes. She’s made connections with the charities, she’s explained how yoga can help their clients, and lead the classes for them.

Being able to do these classes means a lot to Jo and this is what she says, “I get to travel with people on their journey of recovery. To know what they have gone through and to see how strong they are inspires me and I learn from them everyday. The power of these classes is that people come in with their own stuff and there's a heavy feeling and then we start and get in touch with our bodies. We stand and breath and move and things start to shift inside. You can feel it. It’s magic and I'm so lucky that I get to be a witness to it.”

And it’s not just Jo that benefits, here’s what Aby*, one of the participants says about her experience, “Six months ago, if somebody said to me "You're going go to rehab and do this yoga and it'll change your life", I'd have been like ‘Yeah right, that's not happening.’. Physically I was really, really restricted, I was using a walking stick, but since Jo's been coming I've taken part in the yoga and I'm not taking any prescribed medication other than a couple of paracetamols maybe once or twice a week. After you've done the whole session you're just like ‘Wow, that was amazing!’. Physically you feel the difference, but also mentally and emotionally you feel a big difference as well. It affects everything. Not just stretching your muscles, but your mood, your attitude to things. You feel relaxed, you feel calm, but equally you feel as if you've had a workout.”

If you’ve done yoga, you’ll know firsthand the huge impact it can make in your life, but other people, granting bodies for instance, need proof that its effects are real. Which is why Jo is working with Chris Fitzgerald from Hallam University to collect research data on how yoga can benefit people in recovery. Two of our students, Sini Kuusisto and Rosie West are helping out as interns to transcribe the interviews and analyse the data, as well as doing all the work necessary to register it as an official charity called Mind Body Connect. A big shout out also goes to our teacher, Hilary Jones, who arranged the funding for them to assist with the project because without them the research side would be going significantly slower.

They will be publishing at least two journal articles on their work so far and based on preliminary data, they’ve found the following trends:

Every time someone arrives feeling angry, confused, tense or depressed, they leave feeling less so.
After every class they report feeling calmer and more energised.
And every participant says that the yoga sessions are helpful to them.

This is really obvious when you read how they report feeling both before and after class. Here are what a few participants have to say…
Before the yoga class After the yoga class
I feel very confused and stressed and very sad. All in the mind. Body wise fine but tense. I feel more relaxed. Body feels great and feel much happier than before.
I need to chill and sort my head out. Well chilled. Love Jo's class. Highlight of the week!!!
A bit lost. Motivated, relaxed, warm. Many good things to say.
Mixed feelings. Fairly intense sadness. Feel more balanced. Feel warm. Feel better. Interested to improve. Focused
General ok. Wow!! Great!!
Tired. Stronger, fresh.
Pretty pissed off. Fed up, angry, lonely AAAARGHH! Wow! that was amazing definitely found something great in this.
Mentally uncertain + sense of impatience. Physically, low in energy, aching. Mentally, much calmer + relaxed. Physically, exercised and released, thanks for showing these yoga poses + helping greatly. Appreciated.
Feeling physically good but tired emotionally - concerned about my future. Mentally thoughtful - now and future. Best session yet. Sunny day out in the garden!! Hi 5s all round. Jo is fab and we all love Jo and yoga!!XX
I feel quite ok and relaxed. I feel brand new right now and really peaceful. Thanks Jo.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely experienced that same transition. That no matter how great or awful I feel before class, I always feel better afterwards. And it means a lot to me and the rest of the HYS team that we can share the benefits of yoga with others. You may have already heard the story ‘The Star Thrower’ by Loren Eiseley, but let me remind you of it.

An old man was walking on the beach after a storm and there were starfish littering the shore as far as he could see. Up ahead he saw a small boy walking his way and every so often he’d bend down and pick up something and through it into the sea. As the boy came closer the man called out, ‘Good morning. May I ask what you are doing?’. The boy looked up and replied, ‘Throwing starfish into the ocean because they can’t get back by themselves and when the sun gets high they will die.’ The old man replied, ‘But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. You won’t be able to make much of a difference.’. The boy bent down and picked up another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the sea. Then he turned and said, ‘But it made a difference to that one.’

And that is what your £1 is. You are throwing that one starfish back into the ocean. Although you may not see the impact you are having, know that there is someone in Sheffield, such as Aby*, who is having a better day, a better week, a better life because you borrowed a mat, a towel or a book. So on behalf of them and all of us involved, a great big huge thank you!

*name changed