With yoga, mindfulness programs, Project Wheel House aims to change trajectory of at-risk women

Aug 10, 2017

Shelters and prisons are two places you might least expect to encounter women perfecting a "tree pose" or "lotus position" -- two common yoga movements.

But Mattapoisett resident Jessica Webb says those are two underserved, at-risk populations that could benefit the most from practicing yoga and meditation.

The owner of Anchor Yoga in Mattapoisett, Webb is launching a nonprofit called Project Wheel House, which will bring yoga, mindfulness, and meditation to vulnerable and at-risk groups -- especially women -- who otherwise wouldn't have access to such programs.

“I’ve witnessed a lot of trauma either at the hands of an intimate partner, or being at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Webb said. “Your trauma is with you 24/7, so if you’re taking a meditation course in prison and you’re being taught how to navigate highs and lows…I feel that would be benefitting the group as a whole.”

Webb has raised funding for the initiative through donations received during free yoga sessions she hosts at Ned's Point lighthouse in Mattapoisett on Saturdays from May to September.

Webb hopes to begin a privately-funded pilot program at a women's shelter in New Bedford in mid-September and is currently accelerating her fundraising efforts.

A "Twister Tournament" is planned for August 13 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at the New Bedford Boys and Girls Club, 166 Jenney St. It costs $15 for one player or $55 for a team of four. Yes -- that's the left-hand-red, right-foot-green game that got you tied up in knots as a teenager. If you do yoga, you may have an edge!

If enough money can be raised, the eight-week pilot program will offer an hour-long program twice-weekly that focuses specifically on areas such as mindfulness and emotional resilience.

Webb said this is not the first time she’s taught these specifically focused programs before, as she’s taught classes to deal with anxiety, depression, everyday stress, insomnia and other common ailments. In all her classes, Webb urges awareness.

“Basically my teaching in yoga is about being aware, and being aware that you’re in your body and knowing what that means,” she said. “If there’s a thought in your mind, if there’s a narrative, just being aware of it and instead of judging it and fighting it, letting it run its course. Every thought has a shelf life. Nothing is permanent, and all things will change.”

Webb will administer surveys at the beginning and end of the pilot program to track the benefits and progress made. With data in hand, she hopes to be eligible to apply for grant funding to bolster Project Wheel House and its programming.

She is also participating in 12-week accelerator program, typically for start-up businesses, called EforAll, which is helping her launch the nonprofit.

Ultimately, Webb said her goal with this program is just to improve society one person at a time.

“If I touch one person and they realize their innate human potential…then I’m working toward a more awakened society as a whole,” she said. “As human beings, we’re kind of tethered to distractions…when we peel away the facades and see our true selves, that’s our true aim. It’s not about yoga, it’s about people seeing their potential.”

For more information on Project Wheel House, visit www.projectwheelhouse.org.