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The Atlanta Yoga Movement: Proof of the Paradigm Shift

“Have the audacity to be authentic.” That’s Cheryl Crawford’s advice to anyone inspired to impact positive change. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Cheryl is a colorful, charming, conscientious worker with a heart of gold. As a mother to triplet girls, 3 cats and 1 dog, her dedication and determination not only stabilizes her busy household; it’s also bringing her dream to life.

Her dream?…To get yoga into any schools that want it; and thus far, her dream is becoming a reality. 12 years ago, what started as a yoga club for 30 kids at Fernbank Elementary has now ballooned into the, rapidly growing, Atlanta Yoga Movement servicing over 1,100 kids at over 22 schools in the Metro Atlanta area. When asked “Why yoga?” Cheryl replied, “Because it’s a study about yourself. When you get on a yoga mat, you cannot be anyone other than yourself. Kids need to learn about themselves.”

Atlanta-Yoga-Movement_Loyall-Hart0124The community agrees. Through her partnership with the Newark Yoga Movement, Cheryl’s movement to incorporate yoga into schools has garnered the attention of media networks such as NBC, CNN & Scholastic News, athletes like Chris Draft, and donors like the United Way, Kroger and AT&T.

A key component to the success of the movement is her innovative Grounded yoga methodology. The curriculum is designed to make yoga more teachable and accessible to kids. As if that’s not good enough, the training program is also capable of turning both adults and kids into yoga teachers! By teaching children basic light and dark themes, the kids develop healthy ways to manage their emotions, improving their overall capacity to independently overcome life’s obstacles.

Cheryl says “You can’t get to light without going through shame or fear or doubt.” Their slogan: Yoga. Laughter. Elevation. The kids are encouraged identify their issues, find their triggers, laugh about it, and elevate their thinking.

Over the past 13 years, Cheryl’s refreshing approach produced dramatic improvements in student behavior causing word to travel quickly around the Dekalb County School Community. It wasn’t long before administrators began to seek Cheryl out The Druid Hills Middle School principal asked her “Can you make my school more positive with yoga?”

While principals may appreciate Cheryl’s efforts, troubled youths have benefited from her work more than anyone else. When schools struggle to improve the behavior of troubled children, Cheryl’s yoga class seems to do the trick. On one occasion, a girl stole Cheryl’s daughter’s cell phone. The girl struggled with obesity and hated P.E so much that she hid in the bathroom. While the school principal wanted to press charges, Cheryl had another idea in mind. She made the girl return the cell phone and join her yoga class.

Atlanta Yoga Movement_Loyall Hart0142When the girl entered, Cheryl said, “I’m so happy you are here” and partnered the girl with her own daughter to assist one another in partner poses. After the class, the troubled girl told the assistant principal, “No one has ever said that to me before”. There was an energetic shift. For the rest of the semester, the girl was front and center at every yoga class and happier because of it. Word made its way to the school principal, who at his retirement party, said to Cheryl “You changed that girl’s life…Guess what I’m going to do now?…Yoga.”

The movement came together organically for the open-minded Yogini. She said “The way it got organized was we listened to the wisdom of the kids.” She’s not Atlanta-Yoga-Movement_Loyall-Hart0013kidding around. A 4th grade student is responsible for the word “Elevation” in the Grounded slogan. Another student created cartoon-like drawings of the yoga poses making the images much more accessible to children. Another student writes for Cheryl’s blog. The entire Grounded methodology is based, empirically, on the way children had received the yoga tutelage most effectively. The Atlanta Yoga Movement works because Cheryl listens to the voices of the children.

From the genesis, Cheryl intuitively followed the lead of her own children. Yoga flowed into her life after she delivered triplets and began suffering with back pain due to a misaligned spine. A friend invited her to a yoga class; she attended but wasn’t very impressed. Nonetheless, she signed up for another class. After many yoga class, she was hooked. She couldn’t believe how much better her body felt and more importantly, how she felt.

The growth of the Atlanta Yoga Movement flowed just as organically as Cheryl’s initial entry into the transformative world of yoga. As one of her keys to success, Cheryl stressed the importance of starting in places where you already have a real relationship. Fernbank Elementary was where her kids attended school and as a result, Fernbank was the birthplace of Cheryl’s yoga movement.

Now more yoga teachers are joining the movement. Awilda Rivera joined the movement after reading a heartfelt post on Cheryl’s blog written by 2 high school girls. Awilda was amazed at the deep connection Cheryl had established with the kids, through yoga. Inspired to help underprivileged children ever since she can remember, Awilda realized that yoga is an effective way to make a meaningful change in their lives. She reached out to Cheryl and they hit it off immediately. Awilda taught her first set of yoga classes to 90 children from Druid Hills Middle School. She sees the profound impact the various yoga shapes have on the children; “Through something so simple, so much introspection and growth happens.” After her class, she overheard the 10 -11 year old boys talking. One of them said; “This is really good quiet time for our minds and our bodies.”

The program works. Cheryl’s authenticity and openness to the children’s guidance made all the difference. The kids Atlanta-Yoga-Movement_Loyall-Hart0043have led her to an effective way to integrate yoga into American education in today’s society. “Offering something like this in school provides [the kids] with the opportunity to get something they would otherwise not get at home, especially those who come from marginalized, low income or socioeconomically disadvantaged households[,]” Awilda maintains.

The schools that cannot afford yoga likely need it the most. Now, through the Atlanta Yoga Movement, the goal is to get yoga into any schools that want it without making the schools pay for it. As improbable as that may seem, Cheryl Crawford is already making it happen; the United Way is one of her most notable supporters.

In a world where people often speak fondly of positive changes to come, the Atlanta Yoga Movement is evidence that positive change is happening here and now. Let Cheryl’s efforts remind you that your dreams are possible. Cheers to those who have the audacity to be authentic.

~ Wendel Mathews for the Aquarius Magazine 2014


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