New Lantern House yoga class offers hour-long diversion for homeless

Friday , November 10, 2017 - 5:15 AM1 comment

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Amanda Ballenger says life as a homeless person comes with a bundle of anxieties most people never even think about.

“There’s an incredible list of things they have to worry about that most of us take for granted,”  she said. “Food, warmth, where will they sleep? Then if they have kids, it’s multiplied incredibly.”

A new program spearheaded by Ballenger at Ogden’s Lantern House homeless shelter aims to make those thoughts disappear for at least an hour. 

RELATED: No one should go hungry on Thanksgiving

The Upper Ogden Valley resident has volunteered at the shelter (and at the St. Anne’s Center before it) for years. She’s also a devout yogi, with 20 years of experience and has taught the practice at the Utah VA and the WayPoint Academy anxiety treatment center in Huntsville.

One day it dawned on Ballenger how beneficial the therapeutic elements of yoga could be for residents of the Lantern House .

“I really believe in yoga and meditation — I believe in what it can do for a person,” she said. “But in a lot of places, it’s become expensive and exclusive. I just think our sort of compromised populations should have access to it.”

So a few months ago, she started working to provide that access. She works for Summit Powder Mountain in Eden and approached Summit partner Nicole Davis about her idea. Davis worked out a deal to secure 30 yoga mats from a California-based company called Manduka.

Ballenger then connected with Allison Berlin, an instructor at The Front Climbing Club’s YogaLoft. Berlin reached out to a network of yoga instructors from around the Ogden area, recruiting a rotation of volunteer instructors to teach the class.

RELATED: North Ogden offering up old public works building for homeless families

“(Davis and Berlin) were both instrumental in making this happen,” Ballenger said. “And the instructors are doing this out of the goodness of their own hearts. This really has been a true community project.”

With equipment and instructors locked down, the class has been held every Wednesday for the past five weeks. Michelle Wertz, a social work case manager at Lantern House says the class has been an overwhelming success so far.

Story continues below image. 

“It grows every week,” Wertz said. “It gives them a chance to get a break from their brain for an hour. They can relax and just be present. It’s not something they’d normally have the opportunity to do.”

For its first few weeks, the class was open only to women, but positive buzz around the center created a demand for men to join too. Jeremy Niles and Chris Harsha have participated in the class for three weeks, since it was opened to men.

“I’ve been into martial arts all my life, so I learned early the importance of meditation,” Niles said. “It’s been good. You come in and stretch and move and it just makes you feel good.”

Ballenger said instructors try keep sessions gentle and introspective, moving at a slow pace and emphasizing mindfulness and relaxation. 

RELATED: Ogden veteran who overcame homelessness and addiction dies at 65

“The goal is to do a slow, low-key style of yoga,” she said. “We want it to be beneficial physically, but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”

Ballenger said instructors also try to leave attendees with something they can use on their own time — a pose or breathing technique they can go to in times of stress. 

“Just something very simple and quick they can use to re-center themselves,” she said.

Angie, a 20-year-old from California who did not want to be identified by her last name, said the class has helped approach life in a more positive way.

“I have depression, anxiety and just a lot of things on my mind throughout the day,” she said. “But this helps me calm my nerves and deal with things a little bit better. It’s been really good for me.”

The class is held every Wednesday at 9 a.m. Ballenger said volunteer instructors are still being sought. Those interested in volunteering should contact her at aballenger@powdermountain.com.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer/.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.

×