D.C. Homeless Men Take Path to Serenity, One Yoga Lesson at a Time

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009

Rainbow just took his clothes off. Again.

A large man in a red sweat shirt keeled over, right in front of his scrambled eggs and grits -- thunk, onto the linoleum floor. So the paramedics are here.

Mr. C keeps asking me what the seventh deadly sin is. Aaron is showing off the blue anklet he made to match his toenail polish, the woodworking table is crafting seahorses, and Travis's razor is buzzing loudly -- it's haircut day.

Amid the pandemonium, four homeless men on purple and pink rubber yoga mats have their eyes closed, faces heavenward, in four nearly perfect cobra poses.

"Feel how your breath moves through your body," says their yoga instructor, a remarkably serene woman named Julie Eisenberg, who led the class in a church basement after free breakfast was served at Miriam's Kitchen.

Yes, homeless yoga sounds nuts.

Eisenberg is in on the joke: "Trust me, when I first started doing this, people just laughed."

I wondered about it, too. But I had visited Miriam's Kitchen while writing about the city's homeless and was surprised to find an arts program at the soup kitchen to rival any top-flight Florida senior center. So when Catherine Crum, the unflappable deputy director of the place, invited me back to see the yoga program, I couldn't resist checking it out.

The permutations and sub-genres of yoga are easy to make fun of, for sure. There's hot yoga, cold yoga, street yoga, hip-hop yoga, Broadway yoga, rock yoga, prenatal yoga, postpartum yoga, naked yoga and dog yoga (yes, yoga with your dog, the very beast that was doing "downward dog" long before yoga mats were invented). I totally admit to subjecting my children to baby yoga. Which was cute. And a bit silly.

But these are people who are hungry and tired. They might be mentally ill, and they are certainly downtrodden.

Theirs can be a feral world where survival is the only order of the day. They need housing, medicine, counseling and jobs. Not hobbies.

So, no, it doesn't seem that a few kundalini poses are going to fix things, and it would be easy for me to snark at the concept.

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