Yoga changed Quail Hollow Middle School art teacher Kelsey Cash’s life.
At a time when she felt lost in the midst of life’s responsibilities and the stress of the day-to-day was becoming too much to handle, Cash needed an outlet – something new and inspiring to help bring joy back to her life. When she attended her first yoga class in 2009, she experienced a sense of calmness and peace like never before.
Now, about four years later, yoga is a way of life for Cash. It’s part of her routine and a place she goes to find happiness.
“It’s changed my life. There is something that yoga does where it creates a space inside of me to ignite my creativity,” Cash, who has been a certified yoga instructor for about a year and half, said. “To look at the person I was before – unhappy and very lost – yoga helped bring me back to myself.”
Cash feels so strongly about yoga that she started sharing the practice with some of her art students and athletes at Quail Hollow Middle School. The informal practices quickly proved to be even more successful then she could have ever imagined. So, Cash came up with an even bigger idea. Why not start a yoga empowerment program to help middle school students deal with their crazy, busy lives?
Cash contacted her friend and fellow yogi Courtney Schaub, who attended the yoga instructor training class with Cash a year before. The two, with the help of other yoga friends, parents and students at Quail Hollow, came up with the idea to launch their own nonprofit.
Called Yogarteens, the organization combines Cash’s love for creativity and meditation. The program launched in October with its first eight-week session, which officially wraps up next week. The session also includes two trips to area yoga studios.
About 31 students have been part of the first group of yoga-practicing teens who meet at 7 a.m. once a week at Quail Hollow Middle to kick-start the day. In addition to learning yoga, the students also received a journal for participating in the program, where they can write down all of their “crazy thoughts” from throughout the week to help better deal with stress. Cash and her team also created a curriculum to accompany the program that covers topics like “Dodging the Drama” and “Compassion with others” – topics that help teens deal with everyday life.
“Yoga has helped me in the stressful moments. I go to yoga and leave happier. It’s helped me to think before I react – that’s something I want to teach the kids. I’m such a fast-paced person, and yoga has taught me to just slow down.”
Currently, the program at Quail Hollow is a pilot program for what Cash and her team hope to grow and spread to other middle schools in the area. And with the support from Charlotte’s vibrant yoga community, such as Flex and Fit Uptown and the Be Yoga South studio in south Charlotte’s Carmel Commons, Cash and Schaub both said other instructors are eager to get involved.
Eighth-grader Katie Harris started yoga when Cash worked with the Quail Hollow girls soccer team.
“I have a lot of things going on in my life, so it helps me relieve stress,” she said. Other girls chimed in that, although the program requires an early start to the school day, it’s worth it because of the relationships they’ve been able to make, and the way it’s helped them cope with the pressures of being in middle school.
It’s an effect that is noticed by Quail Hollow Principal Rachael Neill, who also isn’t surprised that the informal club has grown to be so successful. Between the expression of creativity, the value of distressing, the healthy lifestyle and important life skills the students are learning, Neill said she’s excited to see Cash’s program grow.
The next Yogarteens session will kick-off in February at Quail Hollow. Cash and her team are working to incorporate more of the art piece into the February session, in hopes of finalizing the program to be ready to launch at other schools next school year. Find more information on the program at www.yogarteens.com.
Additionally, the group recently won a $1,000 grant to purchase new mats, blocks and journals.