Yoga: the relaxing, zen-like practice of stretching, posing, meditating, and generally finding peace with oneself.
Gangsters: Pretty much the opposite of all that.
So when we saw a flyer for an event benefiting a group called Yoga Gangsters, we couldn't help but giggle. The name may be silly, but their mission is serious: to "empower youth by addressing the symptoms of trauma and poverty such as limited education, addiction, violence, incarceration, teen pregnancy, HIV, physical/mental disabilities and more using the science and practice of yoga."
Based in Miami, the non-profit organization offers free yoga classes in tough South Florida neighborhoods, partnering with CityYear, Jackson Memorial Hospital, Strong Women, Strong Girls, and other organizations to bring the practice to kids. Teachers enter schools, youth centers, hospitals, and even jails to bring yoga to the kids -- over 1,200 of them since October 2011.
But is yoga really what disadvantaged kids need most -- more than better schools or safer communities? Perhaps not. But according to Yoga Gangsters founder Terri Cooper, yoga can serve as a kind of emotional therapy that can help kids -- or anyone else for that matter -- better navigate their daily lives.
"Yoga develops the ability to get grounded and to get centered and to be calm, and for me it was a really transformational practice because it allowed me to stop being reactive in my life and to start to learn how to be more responsive," Cooper told NBC6 earlier this year. "So what yoga does is it slows the nervous system down and allows us to make more conscious, mindful decisions."
(Hell, we could use a little of that clarity ourselves.)
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Yoga Gangsters is one of six U.S. charities selected to benefit from the Yoga Aid World Challenge, an annual event taking place in cities across the globe to benefit local yoga charities. This year's Challenge takes place Sept. 9 with more than 500 yogis converging on the seventh floor of the 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage for a series of sun salutations. But this isn't just the biggest yoga class you've ever taken; it's also partly a fundraising competition, with prizes like Caribbean vacations and spa treatments awarded to the people who bring in the most cash. The event also serves as a social event, with food and snacks, yoga studios, shopping stations, raffles, and more.
Registration for Miami's Yoga Aid World Challenge event costs $25, or free with at least $108 in fundraising. Doors open at 9 a.m.; sun salutations start at 10:30 a.m. Visit yogagangsters.com.