In an effort to provide stress relief and relaxation to people dealing with homelessness, University of Dayton social work professor Jennifer Davis-Berman and yoga instructor Jean Farkas have started teaching a yoga class once a week at St. Vincent de Paul Gateway Shelter for Women and Families.
Davis-Berman has volunteered at St. Vincent for 20 years and wanted to do something to help people at the shelter. Both women said they planned on teaching the class for six weeks, but due to the success of the class they plan on teaching it indefinitely.
Davis-Berman said she believes yoga brings peace to the lives of the guests and teaches them tools for managing stress they could use both in and outside of the shelter.
“Yoga is used in the shelter to increase flexibility, reduce physical pain and especially meditate and relieve stress,” Davis-Berman said.
The exercises for each class vary based on who attends the class that day.
According to Davis-Berman, the women planned on mapping out the yoga routine in advance, but decided against it based on the different physical characteristics, ages and skill levels of the guests.
Davis-Berman said guests were a little uncertain about the project when she came up with the idea, believing they would not be able to do the moves since most have not participated in yoga previously. However, they now embrace the hour of peace and quiet and the program has received an extremely positive reaction.
While the program is able to provide relaxation to the guests, Davis-Berman said she acknowledges that this does not solve the problem of homelessness.
She said she believes that more attention needs to be brought to the structural problems of poverty.
“These are people that are no different than anyone else and are often times the working poor who have fallen through the cracks,” Davis-Berman said.
She claims the best way for people to get involved is to become educated on the structural issues of poverty and address what aspects create these problems.
“Some people have the wrong idea on who is homeless and in poverty,” she said. “Making changes in healthcare, education and housing could be addressed to solve these problems.”
Davis-Berman said she believes this program has made a positive impact on the guests and that they have felt they are important and have fun in the class.
When Davis-Berman thought of the idea, she contacted Farkas. Farkas is a professional yoga teacher who volunteers her time for free to teach the class at St. Vincent.
Davis-Berman said she and Farkas have found themselves very attached to the guests that they work with at the shelter and have developed a mutual respect with them. Their presence at the shelter has allowed them to get to know the guests who don’t participate in the yoga classes as well.
Leslie Picca, a sociology professor at UD, said she believes the work Davis-Berman and Farkas are doing is very admirable in terms of their commitment to the community.
Picca said she thinks the project helps create a space for part of the population that is often ignored to tend to their bodies and souls.
“I hope this program helps create awareness and shows people that homelessness impacts the whole community,” she said. “It creates a new perspective to helping those in need. We mutually benefit when we assist each other.”