Reaching out to homeless, delinquent and incarcerated youth through yoga.
Photo: Niroga Institute.
Objective: Make yoga available to those who need it most but don’t have access to it.
In a Nutshell: Niroga conducts yoga classes for incarcerated, delinquent and homeless youth. The organization also researches the scientific application of yoga therapeutics for many common chronic conditions and special populations. The organization’s name is a Sanskrit word meaning either “freedom from disease” or “health of body, mind and spirit.”
Where and When it Happens: In juvenile halls, schools and homeless shelters in areas including Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties. Its largest and longest-running program is at the Alameda County Juvenile Hall.
Who Started it and Who Runs It: The institute was founded in 2005 by Executive Director Bidyut (“B.K.”) Bose. Bose learned yoga as a child from his father. He later worked in Silicon Valley doing advanced research, development and strategic planning in computers and communications. Bose brought his research skills to Niroga to study the science of flexibility and the scientific application of yoga therapy for chronic conditions and for vulnerable populations.
The organization has four full-time staff members, one part-time employee, eight contracted yoga teachers and a few volunteers.
Obstacles: Finding enough qualified yoga teachers. Bose created Yoga Corps, a two-day training that certifies yoga instructors to work with at-risk youth. All Niroga instructors must complete it, and Bose also makes the training available to instructors from other programs. About 75 teachers have completed the training.
Cost: This year’s operating budget is $400,000.
Who Pays: The primary source of income is fees-for-service paid by partners, including the Alameda County Probation Department and school districts within Alameda and Contra Costa counties. About 25 percent of the budget comes from individual donations.
Youth Served: Niroga serves around 600 people every week, with 40 weekly classes in the various venues. The institute works primarily with 12- to 18-year-olds. About 60 percent of the participants are male, and most are African-American or Latino.
“Most of these youth are dealing with post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression, from chronic exposure to extreme violence, family dysfunction and social alienation,” Bose said.
Youth Turn-On: “Youth find that yoga calms them and helps them slow down to make better decisions in tough situations,” Bose said.
Youth Turn-Off: Many youth think yoga is not cool, and males often think it is a feminine practice.
Research Shows: Research analysis from the Alameda County Juvenile Hall program has shown that Niroga’s yoga classes produce a statistically significant decline in stress and an increase in self-control among incarcerated youth. Bose hopes to get some grant money to measure more outcomes, including recidivism rates, in the near future.
What Still Gets in the Way: “There is a lack of awareness among adults of the power and potential of transformative life skills, which often translates to inadequate institutional support and financial commitment,” Bose said.