|Virginia Hoeck of Yoga Neighborhood leads the yoga class at Angel House|
“Take a deep breath in,” Virginia Hoeck says, pausing briefly before continuing. “And take a deep breath out.”
Ten other women, mostly Angel House clients, but some staff, follow Hoeck’s lead, seated cross-legged on yoga mats inside the shelter’s family room. Joining the mothers on this September day are their children, ranging in age from a few months old to over one year old.
“Now raise your arms out wide,” Hoeck says, before instructing them to bring their arms back in “and give your babies a hug.”
Since June, Hoeck, owner of the nonprofit Yoga Neighborhood, and her fellow instructors have been bringing yoga to Angel House roughly once a week, using it to help clients find peace internally and with the world around them.
“I love it,” said 24-year-old Alicia Morgan, who explained that yoga has helped her “be more aware of my emotions. I feel really relaxed and it has helped me with my anger management.”
Yoga, which is deeply rooted in meditation, has allowed Angel House’s Ashley Cabral to better “regulate my emotions and feelings.”
Ashley, who graduated from Angel House a little over a month ago, planned on continuing it once out of shelter. “I will do it just to meditate and stay grounded,” she said, relying on yoga as she takes the next steps towards independence which will include holding her first job in years. “I’m very excited, very nervous and scared. At the same time it is a healthy scared.”
Angel House clinical director Christina Russell said that yoga has been “tremendously helpful” to clients who use it as a part of the shelter’s holistic approach to recovery – each mother at the shelter has battled substance abuse issues in their lives.
And it has allowed Angel House clients the opportunity to participate in an activity together, something that is difficult given the facility’s relatively small space. In nicer weather classes have been held outside while the Cape and Islands chapter of the American Red Cross has offered up its space for indoor sessions.
The sessions are catered to the types of clients Angel House treats. “We’ve developed a trauma-sensitive curriculum based on the training we’ve had,” Hoeck said. “So we’re creating a safe and empowering environment no matter what one’s experience in life has been.”
Hoeck, who worked at HAC for nearly seven years, used her time here as inspiration for forming Yoga Neighborhood in order to benefit those who need it the most. “Seeing people cross that threshold at HAC, certainly with housing issues and hearing about their physical and mental health issues and seeing the stress they were under, it was clear yoga could be a wonderful tool to help reduce that stress and improve the quality of their lives,” she said.
Since 2010 when she left HAC, Hoeck has been using Yoga Neighborhood as a mechanism for introducing the discipline to people who otherwise would not be exposed to it.
Her experience has shown it to be an effective means to improve one’s life in small and large ways. And that has been the case at Angel House, where one client has expressed interest in becoming a yoga instructor.
“I taught the very first class and since then I’ve seen an incredible difference in the women, particularly in their interest in yoga,” Hoeck said. “They tell me it is helping them relax. Particularly at night when they are trying to wind down they go back to some of the yoga – breathing exercises, in particular, we teach in those classes and they are using that for self-regulation and self-calming.”