Serving everyone from age 3 to 103
By Molly Callahan Record-Journal staff August 2015
MERIDEN — Nonprofit group Yoga4Change is looking toward expansion following a successful first year.
“We started out with this idea that you could bring the best of what yoga has to offer and what mindfulness practices have to offer to folks who would never have the opportunity to access them,” said Chaucey Perreault, the program director.
As interest in the classes grew, Yoga4Change started offering “two-generational classes,” with programs geared specifically for children, and then their parents afterward, Perreault said. “It just grew from there,” she said.
Now the organization has expanded to offer classes for school-readiness programs as well as to senior citizens and victims of trauma.
“We like to say that we serve everyone from age 3 to 103,” Perreault said.
At the beginning of the year, organizers estimated they’d serve 200 people, she said. They ended up serving 420 in this first year, many of whom either didn’t have to pay or paid on a sliding scale based on income.
Yoga4Change is funded partially by those fees charged to individual participants as well as fees to other organizations, and partially by private funding from partners including the
Meriden/Wallingford United Way, the Cuno Foundation, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Meriden’s Community Development Block Grant and the local Area Agency on Aging.
They’re operating with a roughly $70,000 budget this year, Perreault said.
With five instructors as well as Perreault and generally at least one class per week, the budget is tight, but Perreault says the goal is to determine the best way to serve the community.
That’s the monetary goal. The bigger goal though, as Perreault said, is to deliver to the community the tools to deal with either everyday or traumatic stress.
“It was important to us to dispel some of the misconceptions that yoga is physically challenging or that it’s religious or spiritually based,” Perreault said. “We’re focusing on mindfulness or movement rather than those spiritual aspects of it.
“We want people to be able to go home with those tools, and with adults especially it’s so often not about the pose at all but the mindfulness with what’s going on in your body,” she said.
Lupita Gonzalez and her two children, all city residents, have been participating in the program since its inception. She says it’s changed how she deals with stress and relates to her children.
“I love this program. I have two little kids, so sometimes with that and working, I’ll try my best but I get so stressed out,” Gonzalez said. “I go over there (to Yoga4Change), and I feel like the world is different now.”
Perreault says she and others at Yoga4Change track other stress indicators in class participants, all of which consistently decrease. Gonzalez’s resting heart rate for example, went down by 30 beats per minute since the beginning of her time with the organization, Perreault said.
According to an end of year report by the organization, 85 percent of adult students reported “significant gains in balance and flexibility,” as well as in the use of “strategies to manage stress.”
While Gonzalez’s decrease in resting heart rate was outside the norm, the average decrease in adults was 15 beats per minute. Eighty-five percent of participating youths reported the ability to “self-regulate and sustain focus,” and 87 percent of seniors reported that participation in yoga class “helped them get to know their neighbors better.”
“This isn’t just something people can practice on their yoga mats,” Perreault said. “This is something where they can take some time and have a strategy to calm themselves so they’re in a better place when they have stress.”