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Linn County Juvenile Detention gets grant to expand yoga program

Program aims to help participants deal with stress, feelings of impulsiveness


Yoga instructor Allison Ordman opens a yoga class for a group of youth offenders and staff with some breathing exercises
Yoga instructor Allison Ordman opens a yoga class for a group of youth offenders and staff with some breathing exercises at the Linn County Juvenile Detention Center in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Allison Ordman sat on her mat, slowly stretched her arms above her head and gave instructions to her yoga students.

“If you can, try to slow down your breathing,” she says.

Five students sit in front of her. Three of them are teens currently housed at the facility where Ordman’s lesson was taking place: The Linn County Juvenile Detention Center. The other two participants are staff members at the center.

A year ago, Ordman — with permission from LCJDC director Dawn Schott — introduced trauma-informed yoga to the youth at the detention center. This week, the county announced that juvenile detention was the recipient of a $5,350 grant from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation that will help expand the yoga program.

“We’re super excited,” Schott said.

The plan is to use the grant to send three staff members to training in other facilities to become certified trauma-informed yoga instructors, as well as purchase yoga mats and equipment for the program. Currently, the center relies solely on Ordman, who provides instruction on a once-a-week volunteer basis.

“What we want to do is expand this by having our own staff in house,” Schott said. “We also want to ingrain it into our program. We have kids who can’t sleep at night ... We’ve got kids who don’t know how to handle anxiety or they get escalated quickly. Staff can use the principals of yoga.”

Ordman, a registered yoga instructor who came to yoga after studying dance at the University of Iowa, said the difference between traditional yoga and trauma-informed yoga is that trauma-informed yoga “aims to help individuals empower themselves.” She explained that victims of trauma often suffer from anxiety, post-traumatic stress or a feeling of anxiety and retain those feelings of trauma. Trauma-inspired yoga seeks to help participants regain a sense of control while being sensitive to the participants’ vulnerabilities.

“We create a safe environment for them, a sense of safety in their own bodies and comfort in their own bodies,” Ordman said.

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Ordman said her program at the center was created through “trial and error” and involves relaxing stretches and “basic movements and flows to increase awareness in the body.” During a session on Wednesday, she encourages the participants to only do poses and movements that they are comfortable with while focusing on breathing and relaxation.

The ultimate goal is to teach the youths skills to deal with stress and feelings of impulsiveness and reduce their chances of reoffending. Schott said because the average length of stay at the center is only two weeks, they don’t have a lot of evidence of the long-term effects of the program, but she has heard from juveniles who say the yoga helps them sleep better at night and feel more relaxed.

“You get kids that have a lot of behavior issues, but they will say to you, ‘I really like yoga and it makes me feel relaxed,’” she said. “It’s comments like those that motivate us to make this bigger.”

One participant — whose identity is being withheld in accordance with juvenile center privacy policies — said she has been doing the yoga on and off since last year. She said she’s noticed an effect that yoga has had on her.

“It just makes me more relaxed and more peaceful,” she said.

The teen said she’s applied the weekly yoga sessions to other facets of her life, such as when she got a frustrating phone call at the center.

“It calmed me down,” she said.

She said she plans to continue with yoga once she is out of the facility and praised the work Ordman has done.

“I thought she was going to be weird and stuff,” she said. “But, she’s cool, she’s fun to talk to.”

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