108 Monkeys is a movement of yoga service leaders promoting a culture of justice and peace, through yoga.
What is 108 Monkeys?
108 Monkeys is a yoga service organization with a social justice mission. 108 Monkeys trains and mentors yoga service leaders to implement evidence based yoga programs in service settings. Our partner sites, like schools, child care centers and mental health clinics, function as a laboratory of practice to better inform our trainings and improve our implementation outcomes, including increased academic achievement and lower rates of negative behavior incidents for middle and high school students.
108 Monkeys was founded by four women who believe, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, that “true peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Our Executive Director, and co-Founder, Peg Oliveira is a developmental psychologist with a career in social activism, specifically on issues of affordable child care, fair pay and paid family leave. Peg is also a veteran yoga teacher in her hometown of New Haven, Connecticut where she leads an invigorating and soulful power vinyasa yoga class.
Since its founding in 2012, 108 Monkeys has drawn a dedicated Board of Directors, composed of professionals from diverse disciplines such as education, health, psychology, law, mental health and marketing.
Why does the world need 108 Monkeys?
Stress is prevalent, in many forms. Social pressure, academic stress, trauma, poverty and violence are all norms of modern life. This is problematic because stress impacts the brain and its ability to maintain healthy relationships, receive new information and achieve a sense of wellbeing; in short it is a hindrance to living a peaceful and fulfilling life. Yoga reduces the impact of stress on the body and the brain. It increases activity in the parts of the brain that allow us to be creative, problem solve, self regulate and connect.
For example, in order for students to benefit from an education they need to arrive at school ready to learn. Yet, most students in our poorest communities arrive at school with brains and bodies impacted by the stress of trauma, poverty and violent communities. While yoga doesn’t remove the stressors, it can help grow more resilient brains and bodies, able to combat the negative impact of stress, and give students a step up toward being healthy and ready for school.
But the benefits of yoga cited are often least accessible to those who could most benefit. Barriers include culture, cost and convenience. The task of convincing urban youth that something their upper-middle class, middle-aged, white, women teachers do for fun can be “cool” is no small feat. There is little reflection of the bodies and beliefs of the men, youth and even women we work with in the yoga saturated media of Yoga Journal and YouTube. 108 Monkeys is an Equal Opportunity Engager. We try to overcome these barriers through our outreach programs and our culturally sensitive and trauma informed protocols and respond personally and creatively making yoga democratic and accessible.
What does 108 Monkeys do?
108 Monkeys trains and mentors yoga service leaders to implement evidence-based yoga programs in service settings. We are rigorous in our assessment process. Some results from our first three years include:
How does 108 Monkeys do this?
Reclaim: Using culturally sensitive and trauma informed protocol and practices, we put yoga where people need it. We increase availability of yoga practices and communal yoga classes and trainings for all, regardless of resources, gender, language, sexual orientation or other societal barriers that may currently restrict participation.
Reframe: Using an evidence based set of neuro-restorative practices that ignite the parasympathetic nervous system, we offer tools for cooling the fires of stress and trauma. Additionally, we use yoga to ignite the prefrontal cortex and strengthen the creative parts of the brain that make us most human and able to solve problems, feel empathy and make moral choices. Yoga invites participation from the part of the brain that can step outside the box, see the truth and act with compassion, to achieve justice for ourselves and for others.
Research: Using rigorous methodology, we observe, assess, refine and redefine to untangle best practices and codify protocol. This is not dogma; quite the opposite. It is an openness to new information and a flexibility of implementation, within a structured evidence based body. In yoga, our mat is a laboratory of practice; a transitional space to commit to a discipline while also trying on new ways of thinking and being. We hold ourselves to the same spirit of investigation and rigor in our implementation, as we apply to our yoga practice. Without assumptions or expectations, we investigate problems of practice, focus on outcomes and adapt our practices and protocol when new information, or a new truth, points us in a new direction.
Across many traditions, religions and cultures, the number 108 represents wholeness, or spiritual completion. There are 108 beads on a mala, 108 beads on a rosary, 108 sounds in the Sanskrit alphabet, Hindu deities have 108 names, Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter, the diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth, and there are 108 stitches on a baseball. The number 1 can be thought to represent the individual; the number 0 can represent the whole or the community; and 8 can represent infinity. Together they suggest that all things good and whole come in the complete package of 108.
Students who took yoga the first semester and not the second semester saw a decline in average GPA from 2.5 to 2.4. Students who participated in yoga both first and second semester saw an increase in average GPA from 2.65 to 2.75.
The number of student earning honors in January at the end of the mandatory yoga semester were greater for the 9th grade participating in yoga than for all other grades not participating in yoga.
The number of student earning Not Ready (Mastery Grade equivalent of failing) in at least 1 core academic class in January at the end of the mandatory yoga semester were fewer for the 9th grade participating in yoga than for all other grades not participating in yoga.
The number of cut classes was nearly 50% less for 9th graders participating in yoga than for the previous 9th grade cohort not participating in yoga. This suggests more time was spent in class, with greater opportunity for learning.
Referrals are a measure of how often students are disruptive to a degree requiring them to be referred to the Dean or Principal. Referrals for the 9th grade participating in yoga were lower than for the previous year’s 9th grade cohort not participating in yoga, over the same time period.
At our inpatient program with the Connecticut Mental Health Center we watched yoga help individuals shift from hyperarousal to relaxed in minutes. This can be profound for people who experience constant anxiety. And because yoga is nonverbal, it can help those people who experience the shutting down of their speech center after trauma.
Most of the clinicians at CMHC were completely new to yoga. The beauty of the power of yoga is in its simplicity; the simple act of moving can be empowering for numbed bodies. When we move our bodies in a purposeful way we are reclaiming our power, saying “I have a body and I am in control of this body.”
Importantly, yoga heals. It can rewire your brain stem, and change the fear system in your brain. It can regulate the balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems and activate the cranial nerves so your body doesn’t respond to everything as if it is under attack.
Stress is prevalent, in many forms. Social pressure, academic stress, trauma, poverty and violence are all norms of modern life. This is problematic because stress impacts the brain and its ability to maintain healthy relationships, receive new information and achieve a sense of well-being; in short it is a hindrance to living a peaceful and fulfilling life. Yoga reduces the impact of stress on the body and the brain. It increases activity in the parts of the brain that allow us to be creative, problem solve, self regulate and connect.
Most students in our poorest communities arrive at school with brains and bodies impacted by the stress of trauma, poverty and violent communities. While yoga doesn’t remove the stressors, it can help grow more resilient brains and bodies, able to combat the negative impact of stress, and give students a step up toward being healthy and ready for school.
But the benefits of yoga are not easily available to all. Barriers include cost, transportation, location, and even cultural sensitivity. 108 Monkeys tries to overcome these barriers by working with its volunteer teachers at a deep level on issues such as implicit bias, in order to make the physiological benefits of yoga and meditation accessible to all.
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