Today I am really excited to share this conversation/Q&A with one of my teachers, Amy O’Brien. I met Amy first while I was teaching on self-care and vicarious trauma for the local volunteer Victim Advocates for the Crisis Call Center. I soon discovered that Amy is also a yoga teacher for Midtown Community Yoga among many other hats. Amy has done so much for Urban Lotus Project and has been instrumental in its growth. Amy was also instrumental in helping bring Street Yoga to Reno and training local yoga students and teachers on trauma informed practices.
Jenn Olsen/Board of Directors: Thank you so much for teaching with ULP. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Amy O'Brien/ULP Teacher: I'm a UNR graduate and Reno native that came to yoga seriously as a young adult to increase my well-being both physically and mentally. I am interested in becoming a clinical social worker so that I can continue to bring the type of changes that I believe yoga provides to the individual out into the world - self-awareness, balance, flexibility, and grace.
Jenn: How did you hear about Urban Lotus Project?
Amy: I was introduced to Hannah and the Urban Lotus Project by Andrea Moore at one of the Eye Opener classes held at MCY in the Summer of 2015. I had expressed to Andrea the work I was doing with the Crisis Call Center as well as my interest in taking a trauma-informed yoga teacher training and she immediately responded by telling me about the efforts of ULP.
Jenn: What about ULP made you want to get involved?
Amy: I wanted to get involved because I see mindfulness practices as an untapped resource for youth in our community. ULP was beginning to provide yoga and meditation to kids that would otherwise have no access to them and I was inspired by the commitment to bring these tools, free of charge, to as many young people as possible.
Jenn: As one of our founding teachers, can you share with us a moment or memory where you feel you may have impacted a young person?
Amy: Its the small moments that mean the most to me. The kids that come in to class full of energy, fidgeting, interrupting and later find themselves breathing deeply, completely in stillness, finding safety in the practice of yoga, of getting to know their body and taking care of themselves.
Jenn: Looking back over the last year, how have you seen ULP grow or change?
Amy: It has grown tremendously! When I was first meeting with Hannah she was self-funding and teaching all the classes. A few months later I was hired and for awhile was the only additional staff. It is wonderfully wild how quickly this organization has transformed to a more formal and much larger operation. We have been fortunate enough to receive grant funding, to have been community partners in hosting a Street Yoga training, to have hired many more teachers so that we can continue to provide this practice to more and more students. Its amazing.
Jenn: What is your favorite part about teaching for ULP?
Amy: Golly, its probably selfish to say but I really enjoy the feeling I get when ending a class and the students check in with a word to relate their experience. Hearing that they feel "calm" and "relaxed" gives me great satisfaction and I often carry a smile on my face for the rest of the day.
Jenn: How do you see yoga effecting the students? And how have the students had an effect on you?
Amy: Its a mixed bag but for the most part the students seem to enjoy the time for self-care. Its a notion not many of them have had the chance to consider given the circumstances of their daily lives. The students challenge me to stay grounded! I could not possibly walk into these classes with a bad attitude or with my head in the clouds. They remind me that I have to take care of myself, that I have to keep doing my own work.
Jenn: What is the biggest gift that you share with your students?
Amy: I frequently do a guided meditation at the end of my classes and even the most distracted students slowly melt into the floor in sweet relaxation. If there is any gift I can give them it is a safe space to relax in their own bodies.
Jenn: Can you tell us a funny story about something that has happened in class?
Amy: Nothing like a calm, quiet moment, deep in a stretch when someone lets out a fart to get the room laughing! I tell them its totally natural and par for the course as we move around. Sometimes being vulnerable and "letting go" can happen in more ways than one.
By Jenn Olsen/Board of Directors
Recently we shared about the first yama, or restraint of yoga principles as ahimsa. Ahimsa is a way of honoring non-violence on and off the yoga mat. The second yama is Satya. Satya is also defined or understood as truth. Simply, when we look at the word truth and think of this as a restraint, we may consider how we speak to others and we may ask ourselves, “Are we truthful with our word?” In many ways we may feel that truth is clear. That it is black or white. That when I tell you that the sky is blue, that I am being truthful. If I were to tell you that the sky is green, I am not being truthful.
For the yogi, understanding our own personal truth is a practice and a path towards peace. For yogi’s we use the breath, the meditation, the asana to peel away the false layers, stories and outside influences to find our center. The truth. Baba Ram Dass said “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” For those of us on this eightfold path, seeking our truth, this reminder is powerful.
Oftentimes, we seek comfort and truth outside of us. We may seek others approval. We may seek the comfortably numb feeling of drugs, alcohol or foods. We may think that if we have that brand new car, clothes or house that we will be enough, we will be happy. We will be free. What we discover is, that the more we seek outside of us, the more we crave. The deeper we fall into this pit of “want” and the further we find ourselves from truth and from peace. The amazing gift of yoga, when we start with ahimsa and we honor our truth, is we find freedom. We find peace. We may feel a sense of safety that we never experienced before we stepped onto our yoga mat.
The Urban Lotus Project brings these principles, and this practice to our young people who can benefit from this gift the most. ULP provides yoga to young people in recovery from addiction, to young people who may be considered the “bad kids” and to many kids who may feel unwanted. They may have internalized the messages that their peers, family’s or communities have labeled them with. With the principle of truth, the guiding of the breath and the practice, these young people are given a powerful gift. For many students, they may finally find a sense of safety, peace and connection that they never experienced before. They may discover their own truth and realize that they aren’t the labels or the stories. We believe in this gift and are excited to share.
By Jenn Olsen - ULP Board of Directors