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Teens sentenced to peace of mind

Pamela Dickman
(Loveland) Reporter-Herald
Vail, CO Colorado
AP Photo/Loveland Reporter-Herald, Steve StonerEric Campbell, 18, left, and Anthony Giardina, 18, concentrate on relaxing while doing the corpse pose in yoga class in the cafeteria of the Larimer County Justice Center.
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FORT COLLINS (AP) ” Eric Campbell was not particularly enthusiastic when he learned that, as part of juvenile drug court, he would have to attend weekly yoga sessions.

“I thought it was crap,” he said, quickly apologizing for his language. “It wasn’t going to help me. I was just going to go and mess around.”

Six months later, the 18-year-old feels differently.

“It’s cool,” he said. “It’s like a mental and physical thing. Right now, I wouldn’t know what to do without it.”

His concentration was evident earlier this month during the half hour he and 14 other teens followed the direction of yoga teacher Cathy Wright.

She asked her students to keep their spine straight, roll their arms in and breathe.

“You come to yoga to learn to relax your tensions, but you have to be able to perceive it to relax it,” she told the young men, who are all dealing with some form of substance abuse and were ordered to attend the class by Magistrate Mary Jo Berenato.

A year after Berenato became the juvenile magistrate for the 8th Judicial District and took over juvenile drug court, she launched the yoga program.

“She starts her own yoga practice in her life,” said Dee Colombini, coordinator of the juvenile and adult drug courts. “She finds nirvana in her own life, and hence, yoga started for the kids in 2004.”

Berenato recognized that the principles of yoga could help the teens, teaching them ways other than substance abuse to deal with life’s pressures.

“I thought it could originally start to help the girls appreciate their bodies, respect their bodies and be careful about what they put into their bodies or let other people do to their bodies,” Berenato said.

She brought in Wright, who saw benefits for both boys and girls and crafted classes for each gender. Wright also offers a coed class.

“Yoga has two basic principles: nonharming and mindfulness,” Wright said. “When we practice nonharming, we learn that hurting ourselves and hurting another is the same thing.

“This is a big fact to grasp for anyone at any age, but nonetheless, it is a truth, and it is what yoga revolves around.”

Each teen entering drug court must attend the weekly yoga class along with counseling and other classes to learn to live and succeed without drugs.

Each Wednesday afternoon, for half an hour, the teens focus on balance, inner strength and enlightenment.

Wright and her crew transform the second-floor cafeteria of the Larimer County Justice Center into a yoga studio. They move tables to the side, stack chairs and spread out their mats in front of a wall of vending machines.

Wright talks about balance to a girls’ class. She directs them to bend forward with one leg out, and tells them to hold their spine straight and proud.

“Every time you go before the magistrate, you want to be able to stand proud,” Wright said ” in the courtroom and in life outside the courtroom.

Victoria Salas, 17, said she is not sure how yoga applies to her life outside of court, but while she is there, it relaxes her.

“It’s probably going to help me have an easy labor,” said the teen, who is pregnant with her second child. “It probably does help. I just hadn’t thought about it.”

For Campbell, the benefit is evident. He said it helps with the stresses of life, allows him to relax after a day of work, GED classes and other obligations.

“I go home and do this stuff and then pass out,” he said, not from drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

That, according to Wright, is one of the goals of the class.

“We want the yoga teens to feel better, so we approach yoga poses in a way that makes the student successful and builds confidence,” Wright said.

Some teens may not realize the benefits immediately, but as they mature, the foundations of yoga will help them clear their minds and respect themselves, said Wright and Berenato.

“We’re planting a seed,” the magistrate said.


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