Just Breathe... Men in May Residence Practice Yoga Among Friends


Centuries ago, the Indian sage Patanjali said that yoga is the practice of quieting the mind. Today, yoga has amassed a devout following. Some of us dabble in it here and there. Others, like newcomers William, Sokha, and Raymond, are finding truth in Patanjali’s words.        

These three men with intellectual disabilities live in one of May Institute’s adult residences north of Boston. They’re guys who enjoy the outdoors. They take in the evening sunsets from the backyard. And now, twice a week, they are rolling out their yoga mats and coaxing their bodies into Downward Facing Dog and Lotus poses, performing Sun Salutations, and doing a lot of deep breathing. It’s becoming somewhat of their ritual—doing yoga with housemates who have become best friends.

Jeremiah Rop, Program Coordinator of the home, joins in the sessions, as do other staff members.

“Nothing is normal right now,” says Jeremiah. “With the temporary closing of the men’s day program, and the current restrictions and stay-at-home orders, staff expected there would be a level of distress in the home that would cause an increase in behaviors. We were prepared for a lot of questions from the guys about why they can’t go here or go there.

“These are really active men. They participate in a lot of activities and are used to being out in the community with staff. It’s not typical for them to spend much time at home. We could see that the situation was becoming stressful for them.

“We asked them what they would like to do. How they would like to spend the time,” says Jeremiah.

William suggested yoga. Jeremiah, unfamiliar with the practice, began by searching on YouTube for videos. “At first, the guys would just watch William as he followed along with the poses on the videos. They’d smile a little, but they continued to watch. They looked interested,” says Jeremiah. “I encouraged them to give it a try. They did! And, ever since, they‘ve been enjoying it as well.” The men now watch yoga lessons offered through the YMCA, some of which are streamed live.

Yoga has been touted as a way to strengthen the body, bring about mental well-being and inner peace, and improve overall health and happiness. Jeremiah agrees.

“Yoga is definitely helping them. I’m so happy that something positive is coming out of these difficult times. Yoga is something we probably would have never thought of trying.

“We want to share what we find exciting with others. But we need to be more conscious of giving others – including the adults we serve – a chance to share with us. To let them tell us. To give them the opportunity to make even more decisions. Just like yoga. We should never underestimate what people with special needs would or could do. The guys have picked it (yoga) up and are enjoying it more than I would have ever thought.”

According to Jeremiah, the men appear to be feeling more independent. They are enjoying learning something new and are doing it at their pace.

“They’re more relaxed. They are happy and smiling, and aren’t even asking about going out into the community,” shares Jeremiah. “We’re enjoying planting flowers in the backyard, some of which we’ll donate to other May residences. Sokha has picked up photography and is teaching the guys how to take photos. He has a good eye. And we’re doing typical exercises as well. We have found other activities in and around the residence to keep us occupied. Their routine has since normalized.

“Staff who care for them at the day program can’t believe it,” says Jeremiah. “The guys are just so relaxed now!

“Personally, I’m enjoying the deep breathing exercises that are part of the practice of yoga,” said Jeremiah. “Life these days is stressful. The yoga is calming me. Even staff say they are feeling better now because of it.”
Indeed, life has thrown us all one huge curveball. Sometimes, we need to stop and just—breathe.

Photos below (L-R): Raymond in his yoga pose; the three friends practicing yoga; Sokha in his yoga pose; Jeremiah, practicing outside