Healing Through Yoga

A volunteer-led yoga program helps MacLaren youth reconnect with their bodies.

Every Monday evening at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, a handful of youth head over to The Station treatment mall with their yoga mats.

Sometimes only one shows up, and sometimes it’s closer to 10.

But for those who do come, they get an hour of relaxation, movement, and connection with their bodies — led by skilled teachers from Living Yoga.

Living Yoga is a Portland-based nonprofit with a mission of fostering healing and resilience through trauma-informed yoga.

They provide yoga classes to hundreds of students each month, many of whom are in correctional facilities or reentry programs. They’ve offered classes at MacLaren for a number of years.

“Yoga can be pretty physically demanding. It can be hard,” says John Estrem, one of the volunteer teachers. “We focus more on the meditative side, the breathing side, and it tends to be calming and grounding.

“People who have experienced trauma, especially physical trauma, can become very disconnected from their bodies. We help them reconnect. We tell them, ‘Look at your legs. Look at your hands.’ We give them ownership of their body, and we always give them choices in what they do in class, so that they are empowered.”

Estrem has only been teaching at MacLaren for four months, but he says he’s been impressed with the students.

“When I first arrived, they were coming up, shaking my hand, welcoming me. They were so respectful,” he says.

“Incarcerated people tend to be a traumatized population. We try to be compassionate and non-judgmental. Everyone deserves help. These people have been through a lot, and we give them a chance to find some peace in their bodies and minds. Yoga is a good tool for becoming centered amongst all the mental chaos that is common to their experiences.”

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