One in ten young people in the U.S. experience homelessness every year.

Violence and trauma impact everyone, but the most vulnerable and marginalized populations, like youth experiencing homelessness, are disproportionately affected. Homeless youth often have complex trauma histories and are at further risk for experiencing trauma when living outside, in a shelter, or in unstable housing scenarios. Additionally, the persistent impact of violence and trauma can be a major obstacle when trying to safely and successfully exit homelessness. Reducing these experiences is imperative. Yet, to date, very few programs have been able to effectively do that.

For ten years, the MyPath founders, Robin and Nick, have been bubbling around the idea of using mindfulness and yoga as a tool to strategically and effectively improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness as well as other groups that are historically marginalized. Mindfulness and yoga can be effective tools for learning how to persevere, cope with adversity, regulate emotions, achieve goals and be effective interpersonally. Inspired by their own lived experiences and informed by a robust empirical evidence base, Robin and Nick developed MyPath: Mindfulness and Yoga Peer Ambassador Training for Health.

The MyPath program recruits cohorts of young people within a social network to participate in an eight-week training program to become MyPath ambassadors. During an initial three-hour MyPath retreat, facilitators tap into ambassadors’ expertise to elicit causes and consequences of violence and other maladaptive behaviors related to impulsivity, such as substance abuse or interpersonal conflict, in Ambassadors’ networks. Ambassadors are then trained in inclusive mindfulness and yoga skills which they subsequently disseminate organically throughout their social network. After the initial training retreat, MyPath ambassadors participate in a weekly mindfulness and yoga class in which they continue to refine their skills as ambassadors and invite their peers to practice alongside them.

MyPath uses a unique train-the-trainer approach to disseminating yoga and mindfulness effectively in a non-traditional community.

Informed heavily by theories of social learning behavior, adolescent development and network diffusion, the MyPath founders believe this novel approach is the key to the program’s effectiveness and long-term sustainability as an evidence-based model that can scale to make a broad impact.

“Instead of talking to 100 people and telling them that mindfulness is great and could help them why don't we just take a select number and show them what do we do. We can select ten of those 100 people and train them to actually be the ambassadors for the community. They become the change agents. They are the ones that go out and share the knowledge of these skills and these behavior based tools.”

Our peer-reviewed pilot results found significant reductions in group level violence as well as increases in trait mindfulness and mindfulness practice frequency after program completion, which was maintained one and a half months after the program was completed.