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JoAnn Jaffe: Founder, CEO, and Instructor at OG Yoga

OG Yoga works with adults living in poverty, homeless individuals, those who are incarcerated, youth, and disabled communities to bring the healing power of yoga to everyone. They offer classes, teacher training programs, and bring yoga on site to bring yoga to marginalized populations. OG Yoga attracts people from all walks of life who have a common goal of wanting to heal trauma. Their trauma-informed approach is a unique way to build confidence, acceptance, and compassion.

How did you decide to start OG Yoga?

All roads led me here. After I pursued my education, I worked in community banking for almost 2 decades, where my job was to meet with local nonprofits and give money away. It was a fun job that made me aware of all the amazing work going on around me. When the bank closed, I transitioned to consulting for nonprofits. After a decade of that, one of my nonprofit clients asked me to come work with them in-house, where I got my boots on the ground and gained experience working with senior citizens, homeless, youth, disabled, and incarcerated populations. As I worked there I realized it didn’t matter how much money I raised, the problems were only getting bigger. I took a sabbatical to really dive into the problems I was seeing. Why was youth experiencing the same level of anxiety as ex-felons reentering society? I utilized yoga to reflect on this. In that quiet time, I realized that the core of homelessness, abuse, and incarceration is trauma. Nobody was addressing overcoming this trauma, and I decided to show people how yoga is the best way to address this. In Western culture, we think of yoga as a form of exercise, but it’s so much more than that. The 8 limbs of yoga are truly a roadmap for life.

How can we make yoga a more inclusive practice?

Yoga can transform healing, build resilience, and ultimately improve social justice. To make yoga more inclusive, I hope that all yoga teacher trainings implement a diversity and trauma section. Everytime we don’t have a say in what happens in our lives, it’s trauma. OG Yoga was formed to remove all barriers to accessing yoga to turn the focus on healing. Part of that is offering our classes for $10 and providing free classes to those who can’t afford it. Our membership program includes pay-it-forward classes to fund free classes for others. At OG Yoga, we also practice conscious relationships, which means that we approach each individual with empathy in regard to their age and life experience. We consider the fact that you may be a senior citizen experiencing homelessness and have empathy for what that means in the context of practicing yoga.

Can you explain what trauma-informed yoga entails?

Trauma-informed yoga involves very specific training to create a safe space for everyone to heal. If we trigger someone who has built up the courage to come to class, it can deepen that trauma. To make yogis feel safe, we don’t ever put our hands on anyone in our classes. We set up in a circle so that everyone can see each other at all times, and the instructor never leaves their mat. We always offer multiple variations and show yogis how to utilize props if they’re comfortable. It’s about building a noncompetitive, safe, inclusive environment where our yogis can reconnect with their bodies and accept themselves with love. When an individual experiences trauma, there is an alienation from the physical body that occurs. As we get people back into their bodies through yoga, they are able to build up a tolerance for the traumatic sensations that caused them to leave their bodies in the first place. We empower them to release that trauma by utilizing breathwork, rhythmic movement, and choice. They are in charge of making decisions about their body.

Where do you hope to take OG Yoga in the future?

I hope to increase awareness of the radical change that 8 limb yoga can have in our lives. It’s about making yoga accessible and giving individuals a second chance. The overarching goal here is to have a cycle of giving back. Many of our students go though the teacher training program and end up teaching in the communities that they once came from. I hope to continue removing obstacles to accessibility and inspiring yogis to share the joy of healing trauma with others.


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