University News

Founders of QC Yoga Foundation Have COEHS Connections

June 9, 2021


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MOLINE, IL - After three years of steady growth, the Quad Cities Yoga Foundation, founded by alumni from Western Illinois University's School of Education, is seeking to grow their professional development and yoga in classrooms services in the Quad Cities for those who would benefit from yoga, and have the need for the services — such as those exiting jails, drug rehabilitation centers, and those who cannot afford to pay for yoga classes.

The QC Yoga Foundation was founded to bring life skills and yoga to underserved QC citizens of all ages, and believes in the power of yoga to transform lives physically and mentally. This transformation has already been seen in current work with children in schools and adults working toward better lives in jails, alcohol and drug treatment centers and through yoga therapy. Many people can benefit from deep breathing and movement, so yoga instructors reach out to the community to provide easy access to yoga.

The QC Yoga Foundation is a non-profit organization co-founded in 2018 by WIU alumna Ashley Ehrecke, a 2013 graduate with a bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences, and a 2018 graduate with a master's in Educational Studies. The president of the organization is Rebecca Sebastian, who has an education in non-profit work and has been a yoga teacher for 20 years, helped Ehrecke with the necessary legal steps. Through inspiration, and a collective effort from others Ehrecke knows, she created the non-profit organization, which now operates through grants and partnerships to help the community. Additionally, instructor and alumna Lindsay Meeker, a 2003 graduate with a bachelor's degree in special education and 2008 and 2012 graduate with master's degrees in Bilingual Education and Educational Leadership, is the executive director; and WIU Education Professor Andrea Hyde is a board member.

Ehrecke is also one of the primary yoga instructors for school populations in the QC area. All three have been volunteer participants in educational and service events, and all three were behind the 2017 Mindfulness for Teachers and Student Personnel training on WIU's Quad Cities campus.

The idea for the Yoga Foundation was born of a mentoring relationship between Hyde and Ehrecke. Ehrecke met Hyde at a YMCA yoga class she was teaching and, later, Ehrecke enrolled as a graduate student and assistant, working with Hyde at WIU's QC campus.

Ehrecke also works as an early childhood teacher in West Liberty, IA. Her role as a primary yoga instructor includes modeling for schools. Prior to starting the QC Yoga Foundation, she has done programs at Filmore and Garfield Elementary, where she would assist students with any concerns from counselors or teachers, such as anxiety or outbursts.

Ehrecke started to work with small groups first; then the foundation allowed her to visit all classrooms and students equally, once the whole school got involved. The 10- to 20-minute yoga lessons include techniques in breathing, moving, mindfulness and relaxing. These techniques allow students to be able to apply them in the classroom. For example, Ehrecke has five students in her classroom who only speak Spanish. English as a Second Language (ESL) preschool students are able to benefit from yoga through the connection of movement and breathing when it is hard for them to speak up or express themselves.

"I find it rewarding to see the students find their place in this new experience of school," she said. "The goal is to also help teachers learn how it is accessible to use for their students."

Although there was a switch from in-person to virtual yoga, the foundation has still been able to adapt to this change through redesigning computer modeling, and finding accessible ways to reach large groups of people.

Right before the pandemic began, the Yoga Foundation got in touch with apartment complexes that have a high number of reports to the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) in hopes of providing free mindfulness/yoga for children and families in community centers, with the help of grant funding. There has also been a prison yoga project for more than 15 years throughout the United States.

The foundation has visited the Scott County Jail once a week to work with the male inmates, and once a week for female inmates. Bringing yoga to jails is a tool to help people create a positive mindset.

Meeker, principal of the Early Learning Center in West Liberty, IA, and an instructor at WIU-QC, works alongside Ehrecke in professional development. Their roles include working with teachers in troubleshooting and correcting any problems. Meeker works with the administration in different districts to arrange the yoga-related school work. This includes providing professional development to teachers, modeling in classrooms and coordinating schedules to have a sustainable yoga practice for Davenport schools. The first year teaching yoga in schools involves getting everyone trained and making sure it is sustainable. By the second year, there is a shift in focus on training new teachers, counselors, special education, etc.

Meeker carries out grant writing, fund solicitation and connects with other organizations that work with underserved populations. Recently she has been writing grants for Moline public schools for a prospective fall partnership, and for West Liberty schools, along with a QC Community Foundation grant.

Meeker and Ehrecke will train teachers this summer and will also put together basic kids yoga training for people who are already in the field and teach yoga. Meeker and Hyde will continue to do training for teachers in classrooms to support yoga and be accessible, regardless if their school is not committed to the full program.

Meeker, who is also a former student of Hyde, used her own ESL classroom for action-based research on mindful class management. She recalls how connections over time have built into something larger.

"Ashley and I were connecting with Andrea on an academic level, and then we started to do it in schools, which filtered out to a community level," said Meeker.

Hyde worked with an organization in Pittsburgh, PA, called Yoga In Schools, which helped develop district-wide training and program evaluation in the region. Her scholarship is centered on mindfulness and yoga in schools, and she is the primary author-editor of the recent book, "Stories of Yoga School Yoga," of which Meeker is also a contributor.

Hyde teaches students how to use yoga-based exercises for self-care, calming and reducing stress, to help students prepare for learning. She also pointed out that although having Zoom classes allows reconnection with others, people still need to move their bodies to relieve stress, to heal any traumas, and express the body's healing mechanisms. Mindfulness is connected to social/emotional learning, which is a state standard for schools in Illinois. Schools value mindful movement and breathing exercise for their personnel and students to deal with stress, create an inclusive environment and help new immigrants and language minority students feel more welcome and confident about engaging.

In Spring 2021, Hyde taught a Mindfulness Fundamentals course through Zoom in the Centennial Honors College, for students in Macomb and QC. She said would like to see these courses expand to everyone who is dealing with stress.

Hyde said some benefits of teaching mindfulness through Zoom is that she has more engagement than in a classroom. Students who feel hesitant to do a certain movement in a crowd can feel safe in their own environment by turning their device's camera off and can practice to the degree they are able.

Hyde said that the idea of starting a foundation was born at WIU-QC and filtered out to the community. Hyde, Meeker and Ehrecke started out by providing workshops in mindfulness and yoga to local educators. Together they developed and taught a Mindfulness for Educators and School Personnel training through Distance Education on the QC campus. They said the training spots filled easily and the training was well received.

"I got the idea that the QC should have some non-profit organization that can filter grants and organize researchers, community developers, educators, yoga teachers and social service workers together into an organization that supported yoga," said Hyde. "This is how the University partners with the community to get ideas connected through our academic and research lens, and then pair it with our desire to improve the community and uphold the University's core values."

The QC Yoga Foundation is now doing free community yoga in parks and round tables for different yoga topics that bring in people from all over the country, such as researchers and practitioners, to talk about yoga therapy and kids therapy to a QCs audience. All of that started with action research, in-class yoga and professors like Hyde making purposeful connections with members of the community.

Plans are underway for another QC campus training event for local educators, with consideration of COVID-19 safety protocols.

On March 3-5, 2022, at the River Center in Downtown, Davenport, IA, the QC Yoga Foundation will host YogaCon 2022. The goal is to have people from the community and other communities help spread the mission of this kind of non-profit yoga work, and offer yoga classes. This conference will create a space where yoga instructors can connect.

For more information on future events, visit the yoga foundation's Facebook page at bit.ly/2RTWLib.
To make a donation, or to express an interest in teaching, visit the foundation's website at bit.ly/3nulFko.

For more information about the QC Yoga Foundation, email Lindsay Dennison at lc-dennison@wiu.edu.

Posted By: Lissette Cavazos (wiunews@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations