Tameka Lawson is changing her Chicago neighborhood one yoga pose as at a time. Lawson, a yoga enthusiast for only a year, is the executive director of I Grow Chicago, a non-profit organization in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.
Lawson said she started practicing yoga because she needed to learn how to slow down and relax, and she thought the idea of bringing it to her community would bring people closer together.
Not long after she took up yoga, the student became a teacher as she began to lead classes for youth in Englewood through her organization.
Initially, the classes took place inside the five area schools her group works with as a means of helping the young students cope with the stresses of their environment. While Lawson does go through basic yoga poses and breathing exercises with her young students, the lessons she hopes they will take away from her work extend far beyond the practice of yoga itself.
Built into each class, she says, are elements of art therapy, motivational speaking, mentoring and job skills. Yoga is simply the gateway to that information.
“There are lots of elements causing these youth to have stress,” Lawson said. “We want to get at the center of these youth and give them a moment to breathe in a way that will change the way they react and process things.”
The classes have been such a hit that Lawson and her group have taken their show on the road — or, more specifically, to the street. They’ve held regular, free community yoga classes on a blocked-off stretch of 64th Street, and are also offering free lessons the first Monday of every month at Kusanya Cafe.
“If we can prevent one 8-year-old from growing up to become a person who could potentially pick up a gun, we’ve succeeded,” she said. “If we can intervene for a 14-year-old who has made bad choices from making another bad choice, we’ve succeeded. If a 28-year-old who says he wants to stop selling drugs and just needs the opportunity, we’ve succeeded. We don’t have the answers, but we’re trying to come up with creative solutions.”