Gang Members Explore Benefits of Yoga

Midnight basketball, weightlifting, kick-boxing--many of the programs meant to keep young men off the streets also feed the machismo of gang life. Now there may be an exception.

A community center in South-Central Los Angeles sent out fliers last week seeking gang members for “Yoga in the Hood.” It was not an easy sell, according to Debrah Constance, founder and president of A Place Called Home, which runs a dozen programs in addition to the yoga, including dance, music, basketball, even a high school. “None of these guys had ever heard of yoga before,” she says.

In the first class, 18 current and former gang members and friends found themselves in the tree pose, the cobra, the upward facing dog and Lord Vishnu’s couch. Constance says their favorites were sun salutations, in which you alternately reach for the ceiling and then drop down and slide your stomach along the floor; and balancing poses, which she says can teach the young men and women how to “breathe through anger and find balance, even when they’re in a horrible situation, in a gang fight or even at home.”

At the end of the class, lights were dimmed, candles lighted, all eyes closed, with muscles tensed and released, to achieve savasana--the relaxation pose. Many fell asleep. “They just loved that,” Constance says. Classes are from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with an added session on Wednesdays from 2:30 to 4 p.m. The organization is at 2830 South Central Ave. in Los Angeles; (323) 232-7653.