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A Healthy Partnership Brings Yoga & Meditation for Teens
to the Boys & Girls Club of Easton and the Easton Teen Center
"Denise Veres, founder of Shanthi Project "The awesome B&GC Girls Drill Team "Double tree pose... beautiful
using a yoga balancing pose balancing in tree poses." team work"
to demonstrate focus and calm."
  • The sessions are split and take place on Monday evenings at Cheston School 723 Coal Street between 6:30pm until 7pm and on Thursday evenings at the Easton Teen Center 1101 Northampton Street from 6:30pm until 7:30pm.
  • "Shanthi Project conducts research and teaches yoga, meditation, and life skills to community-based organizations, incarcerated juvenile and adult prison populations, and at-risk and under-served groups in the Lehigh Valley."
"The B&GC Boys basketball teams, like most NBA teams, will have a yoga coach this season!"

  • "Shanthi Project teacher leading boy’s basketball team in strength, flexibility, and balancing yoga."
  • "Meditation helps with focus and awareness giving space for strong mental basketball."

For more information about the, “Shanthi Project,” click on the link; http://www.shanthiproject.org/shanthiproject/Jan._2011_News_2.html

Patch photo gallery is live. You can see it here: http://palmer.patch.com/articles/weekly-patch-pics

Shanthi Project feature

Written by: Lauren Warner

 
On a recent weeknight, a group of teenage boys gathered for basketball practice. They were members of the Boys and Girls Club of Easton’s boys team, under coach and Club director G. Dean Young. They practiced dribbling and shooting, and the Cheston Elementary School gym was full of noise: voices carried in conversation, athletic shoes squeaked on the gym floor, basketballs bounced from the floor to the backboards. Then Miss Denise arrived and led some group exercises. The boys could be heard laughing at times, concentrating at others.
 

But the most dramatic moment came at the end of the practice, when the group sat cross-legged against a wall. Not a sound could be heard, except Denise’s voice, which was a buoy of calmness, helping the team to quiet their minds while their eyes were closed. For those minutes, the boys were encouraged to take a break from their thoughts and just be. Afterward, the boys returned to practice and the noises returned to the gym. But, as they testified, they were more rested and focused after the meditation.

“It makes your body more flexible.. you wouldn’t hurt it as much. It calms you down more,” explained Kasson Thomas, 16. Tre Parks, 18, shared: “I noticed I’ve been more relaxed. It helps us to play as a team, it calms…” Asked if he’d like to practice more, he says quickly,” I think we should do it before games and at halftime.” Denise smiles and asks, “When is your next game?”
 

The boys team plays games averaging every two weeks, and travel to tournaments. There is a team for younger teens and a team for older teens. Many of the guys have known each other for a long time, if not neighbors and classmates all throughout their childhoods. Miss Denise is Denise Veres, founder and director of The Shanthi Project, a local program which fosters fitness and self-understanding in groups of under-served or incarcerated youth. ‘Shanthi’ is a Sanskrit word for peace, rest, or bliss. It is a term commonly used in yoga practices to evoke the idea of inner peace. This is the mission of the Shanthi Project: “to inspire our students to practice yoga and meditation for enhanced well-being and to foster a mindful approach toward living.” Though relatively new – less than a year old - , the program has already gathered 12 volunteer teachers who, together, have reached over 100 students.
 

Yoga is an ancient physical discipline which unites the breath and mind with the body. Its traditions are founded in India, and each pose has a Sanskrit name. Historically, yoga was practiced only by men. Over time, women were included as practicioners. Over the past decades, yoga emerged as a popular activity in our country. Ironically, yoga is identified as more of a female activity American society. But for celebrities, serious or professional athletes, and weekend warriors, yoga is a serious part of the lifestyle of many.

Dean Young reminds the boys that every NBA team has a yoga coach. His positive attitude serves as a reminder to his teams that yoga is hip. And Denise is fluent on the coaching philosophy of NBA coaching legend Phil Jackson, who led the Chicago Bulls and now the L.A. Lakers to championships. His mentoring of Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant is on the tip of her tongue. During the final meditation, she asks the teams whether Jackson taught Jordan, Shaq or Kobe to play ball. “No,” is the collective response. Denise responds – “Right. But they won championships with him.” The focus is keeping the mind focused on the present. Games are not won by focusing on the end result, but by staying focused, and breathing right. Denise reminds the boys that during Phil Jackson’s time-outs, there is less talking. Toward the end, he brings his players together to take a breath, and to remind them to keep the focus.
 

Apart from her work with under-served community-based youth organizations, Denise also works with incarcerated populations of the prisons in Northampton County. Those communities are considered at-risk. For those classes, the situation is more grave. The offenders have to earn the right to take a yoga and meditation class, are brought into the class with their arms bound behind their backs, and are monitered by two guards. “Not all of them want to be there. But it didn’t take long for them to be there with heart,” Denise says. The Shanthi Project curriculum, especially, is aligned with non-harmful, peaceful solutions.

Easton’s Shanthi Project has just begun the process to work as a non-profit Pennsylvania corporation, and is setting up its inaugural Board of Directors. Denise is pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support she has experienced. Easton Yoga has donated proceeds from community yoga classes to the organization. A Philadelphia public defender, who also practices yoga, recently contacted Denise to organize a donation of 40 gently-used yoga mats. Following a positive experience with the boys’ juvenile prison, Denise is preparing to set up a curriculum for the girls’ unit. The Shanthi Project is beginning work with the drug and alcohol treatment unit at the mens’ prison.

“People ask me, do I feel safe [working in the prisons]?” Denise explains that she has never encountered a situation, where she felt threatened or unsafe with any of her classes. In fact, she recently held a teacher training with her volunteers. One teacher explained that Wednesdays at 4:00 were becoming her favorite time of the week, because that was the start of her classes with the juvenile offenders. Denise knows that feeling, because she too looks forward to connecting with that group and the good feeling she experiences after finishing classes at the prison. She says that of all her students, it is the incarcerated group that gives her the best feedback, with the deepest, most insightful questions. She recently met with a former student who was released from prison. She wanted to know: “Did I help you?” The response was overwhelmingly good, she is happy to report. Denise admits, “It’s hard not to always feel better when I leave.”
 

“I thought it would be boring at first,” says Kalil Ellis, 16, of the Boys and Girls Club. “But I got better. When a ref calls a bad call, I watch myself…. I like it,” he says, as he stresses the word ‘like.’

If you’d like to help The Shanthi Project, contact Denise through the project’s website to make a donation or look into attending an event at Easton Yoga or Kula Heart Yoga. On May 1st, Shanthi will hold a fundraiser qi gong/t'ai chi class taught by Rene Navarro (www.renenavarro.org), a martial arts and qi gong/t'ai chi Master.

For more information, go to www.shanthiproject.org.

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