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By Heather Wise

For the past year, boys involved with the Department of Youth Services (DYS) have experienced the transformative effect of yoga. A new yoga program has become an integral part of residential life at Casa Isla, one of DYS’ secure residences for adolescent boys located in Boston.  In just one year, the pilot yoga program has shown some very positive outcomes. After a month of the program’s inception, not a single incident of assault or restraint has occurred for any of the yoga participants. Testimonial from all DYS clients at Casa Isla reflect participants’ greater self-awareness and the belief that yoga practice has been beneficial and tremendously useful — both on and off the yoga mat. They also indicated an interest in continuing their practice once they re-integrate into their communities.

According to Theresa Conti, Program Director at Casa Isla, DYS clients have noticed changes within themselves.  Many have shared that they have discovered an ability to slow themselves down, clear their minds and/or be able to calm themselves more readily.  More recently, Casa Isla residents practicing yoga have begun making a point of coming to yoga when angry or frustrated and found that when they do, they say they feel better and recognize the value and calming effect of yoga practice. Clients also report that after doing yoga stretches they experience a kind of release –  a positive feeling – and that they are using yoga more to alleviate bad moods.  They also say that the practice helps them feel that they can get through something difficult, ultimately building their self-confidence. Kids who participate regularly notice that there are days when they can do more and days when they can’t. Alluding to greater self-awareness they say they are, “noticing differences in themselves.”

Overall, the experience of offering yoga to boys at Casa Isla has been overwhelmingly successful. The program was made possible through a generous grant from the Romano Family Foundation DYS recently learned that this grant has been extended through 2012, and the agency looks forward to continuing to offer these opportunities to clients at Casa Isla.

Heather Wise recently completed a Communications fellowship at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services

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