Yoga helps addicts, homeless find peace
When I first met Sylvia Rascon she told me that what drew her into yoga was her own struggle to find balance in her life. When she found out she could treat people overcoming trauma she knew she wanted to become a teacher, and that’s what brought her to the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center.
When you walk into the center it’s hard to imagine where they would hold a yoga class.
Medical supplies are off to the right, and immediately ahead of you is a small common area where visitors can watch TV, use computers and talk with friends. Signs advertise free and quick HIV testing, counseling sessions and community events.
People walk in and out of the common area as the day goes on, but at 4 p.m. every Friday someone will pull across a metal partition that closes off the room from the rest of the clinic.
Participants get there early to clean the floors and get the bag of yoga mats from a back closet.
Sylvia hopes the class, which she teaches free of charge with Jocelyn Stern, helps the participants focus less on life’s problems, and more on the solutions they can find in themselves.
As the ring of a chime marks the end of the class, the participants sit in a circle and share snacks and stories from their week.
They have a diverse background - many of them struggling with drug addiction, homelessness, or unemployment - and in this room they find common ground.
One of the participants, Dorila Morales, struggled with domestic abuse and drug addiction. For her, yoga is not just exercise. It is an integral part of her life. Dorila told me she’s watched the people in the class change. They let go of their anger and fear and they become her friends. They watch out for each other, whether it’s a yoga pose or life’s daily struggles.