The Gift of Presence

Inner Oasis
Inner Oasis

Four days per week, twenty high school students from the James Baldwin School on 18th Street walk to Integral Yoga on 13th Street to get credit in Health/Physical Education. They receive what every high schooler needs more than anything: the gift of presence.

In this clean, calm environment, the students learn exercises that not only stretch and strengthen their bodies but also serve to calm the mind’s chatter and reduce stress. They are taught respect for themselves and others, and they begin to foster a unique community among themselves. Most importantly, they have the opportunity to find a quiet place within, which is where all true healing begins.

It is tough, if not impossible, to get that experience in a typical high school environment. It is a challenge to get it in everyday life for anyone. I suggest that some of my patients go to Integral Yoga. They find a place to exercise their muscles, joints, and bones, but they also learn how to breathe in ways that can calm down or invigorate, learn to accept their limitations, and discover ways they can move beyond obstacles—both physical and mental—that they previously thought were impossible. Every Integral Yoga class ends in a deep relaxation. The teens in the program particularly like having the time to let go like this.

Adults, just like teenagers, need a place and activity that give us the proper balance between quiet and action. We need an experience of seeing ourselves in our world from a fresh perspective. We can get caught up in the business of our lives and enmeshed in how ‘connected’ we are with our phones and computers. We need to disconnect and find our centers again.

Chandra-Jo Sgammato of Integral Yoga engineered the Yoga at School program. It has been taught at over 50 schools in five boroughs since 2003. Certified Integral Yoga instructors have taught students, teachers, and parents in lower to upper grades. Integral Yoga was the primary provider of physical education for pregnant teens in one high school. The current semester-long program for the James Baldwin students is different: it brings students out of the school and into the yoga studios that occupy six floors of the Integral Yoga building on West 13th Street. It is co-taught by Chandra and Marie Lewis, a certified yoga instructor and teacher at the James Baldwin School. Students take a yoga class three days a week. The fourth day is reserved for workshops in anything from nutrition (where they tour and taste at the Integral Yoga Natural Foods Store next door), to basic training in emotional health, which includes anger management techniques. The day I was there, the students were learning awareness of sexually transmitted diseases. Each semester includes one full retreat day, when they are cooked a delicious and nutritious meal, practice yoga, and have time to be heard.

I sure wish I’d had a class like that back in high school. Hopefully, this will teach young people different ways of looking at health. Integral Yoga is where I try to go a couple of times a week. It is like finding an inner spring garden in the midst of our hectic city life.

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