Standing on Their Own Feet

Photo courtesy CSP Youth Shelter Youth Shelter staff member Niki Smart leads residents in a yoga class.
Photo courtesy CSP Youth Shelter
Youth Shelter staff member Niki Smart leads residents in a yoga class.

Yoga instructors Christy Miele and Niki Smart know the powerful part yoga plays in helping at-risk Orange County teenagers attain much-needed mind-body peace. Through yoga sessions for Community Service Programs’ (CSP) Laguna Beach Youth Shelter residents, these ladies have provided mental and physical relief to thousands of homeless, runaway, abused and at-risk youth that have stepped foot on its yoga mats.

Founder of YogaMinded and a CSP donor and volunteer, Miele, is passionate about helping others through the power of yoga. She teaches yoga to teens and works with elementary, middle and high school students throughout the nation, bringing yoga to athletes as well as youth with stress and anxiety issues. Over 10 years ago, she volunteered to start CSP’s Laguna Beach Youth Shelter yoga program for at-risk teens and has since bestowed her knowledge onto Smart to continue the benefits of yoga for its young residents.

A local resident and 15-year CSP Youth Shelter staff member, Smart has been teaching yoga to residents for seven years, and enjoys being able to help teens help themselves whether its through showing them a child’s pose to reduce anxiety, tree pose to center themselves or Shavasana (corpse pose), where teens lie on the ground with their eyes closed and allow everything to let go.

Yoga is a means for these at-risk youth to connect with their bodies and to realize what a difference treating one’s body kindly can make. “Even on the days where the teens start yoga with a negative attitude, usually by the time we are done the whole mood of the room has changed to a more positive energy,” Smart said.

Through breathing, stretching and meditating, she takes Youth Shelter residents through yoga exercises each week that help strengthen their body awareness and ability to focus. Going inward and experiencing inner peace is arguably a vital skill for at-risk teenagers to navigate their stressful lives. The benefits have proven to be life-changing and carry over to life outside the shelter when youth leave after three weeks.

These exceptional instructors have gone above and beyond to teach teens how to breathe, stretch and live a life with more positive energy while connecting them – both spiritually and physically – to their own bodies.

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