A HUMANITARIAN INITIATIVE BY MOMENTOM COLLECTIVE AND STUDIO CIRQUS

 

Project CirQus is a collaborative social initiative between Momentom Collective and Studio CirQus. Based in Montreal, the project works internationally; seeking to combine the benefits of acro yoga (which from hereon will fall under the umbrella of yoga), yoga and circus. Project CirQus integrates each of these disciplines, fusing them into a comprehensive leisure program to be used as vehicle for social reintegration and community development within vulnerable demographics.

We see yoga and circus as manifestations of consciousness that inspire one another. In recent years, circus arts and yoga have individually gained recognition as effective beneficial tools for social and emotional development, and we believe that by fusing these disciplines and striking the right balance between the two, we can use these combined powers of movement and meditation to support, educate, empower and inspire individuals and communities worldwide, particularly those coming from vulnerable backgrounds.

Project CirQus saw the need to develop a program that could leverage the power of mindful awareness with play as well as to promote personal well-being and individual peace. We believe self-inquiry, co-operative play and self-expression are especially effective for laying down important foundations at the individual level; foundations that are likely to evolve towards local, community and global platforms for greater impact.

OUR VISION

Project CirQus’ vision is to expand the availability of yoga and circus arts to vulnerable and marginalized populations worldwide, using these mediums as educational tools to bolster self-esteem and promote social inclusion. The project aims to increase the development of useful life skills among vulnerable population necessary for social reintegration.

OUR MISSION

Our mission is to provide social, emotional, and physical relief in communities and humanitarian organizations to those who’ve experienced social marginalization or exclusion by:

  1. Implementing yoga and circus arts at a broader level to enhance their benefits towards social reintegration of at- risk demographics.  We aim to implement our yoga and circus programs as educational tools for promoting self-esteem, self-efficacy and social inclusion;
  2. Making those disciplines more accessible by going beyond studio spaces and into communities, educational institutions and humanitarian field
  3. Harnessing the combined powers of yoga and circus arts, not only to bolster the wellbeing of at-risk populations, but also to act as a vehicle for enabling yoga and circus professionals to cultivate their crafts for philanthropic purposes.

The project thus aspires to act as a catalyst for changes by building upon established educational approaches of experiential learning and process orientation, employing methods of reflection and awareness to bolster efficacy, expression, and ownership of ideas amongst populations who need it most.

OUR PURPOSE

Working from a psychosocial perspective, our purpose is to create a platform for the fostering of partnerships and alliances that contribute to social changes within local and humanitarian contexts. We seek to use our crafts to create connections within communities, focusing on at risk population, refugee camps, conflict zones, reserves and disadvantaged neighborhoods. Partnerships and alliances of this nature include, but are not limited to:

  • Connections between the disciplines of yoga and circus arts, structured within an educational context;
  • Partnerships between like-minded yoga, circus, education, social services and humanitarian aid professionals, working together to find innovative ways to bring about social changes through such disciplines;
  • Connections between our own team members with local and global at-risk community leaders, for purposes of empowering local leaders with the tools to sustain the advantages offered by our programs.

By focusing on the development of relationships such as those outlined above, Project CirQus sees itself as a creator of spaces that enable play, laughter, risk-taking and self-awareness. In conjunction with one another, these sentiments become tools for the alleviation of trauma and stress, as well as for the promotion of attitudes of clarity, peace, and acceptance that can build upon significant life skills transferable towards social reintegration and life challenges.

OUR PHILOSOPHY

We are guided by three principles:

  1. Introspection (yoga) – Our yoga program lay the groundwork of meditation, stillness and self-inquiry to enhance self and emotional awareness. Among many benefits, cultivating self-awareness first heightens concentration, intuition and better decision-making skills. As a foundation to all yogic, acrobatic and circus activities, we work on the mind to then work on the body and the relationship between the two.
  2. Play and Cooperation (acro yoga and partner acrobatics) – Partner exercises and acro yoga teach trust, mutual support, connection and cooperation.
  3. Self-expression (circus) – We incorporate circus and clown arts to promote self-expression and practice communicating meaningful or traumatizing experience through nontraditional, non-verbal methods, in trusting and non-judgmental settings.
OUR OBJECTIVES

The overlying objective of Project CirQus is to promote the principles invoked by yoga and circus as legitimate tools in social development policies and programs. By fostering connections between individuals, as well as local and international organizations, we aim to bring together small teams of professional artists and teachers to work with disenfranchised communities. Sharing experiences, providing insight and facilitating workshops grounded in yogic and circus-play principles allow us to gear our effort towards self-healing and self-worth. We strive to create a risk-free environment for practitioners, where we encourage our students to share personal experiences, dismantle individual barriers, and discuss social and cultural constraints, thereby offering fresh perspectives and encouraging tolerance.

Specific outcomes we aim to achieve within communities we work with include, but are not limited to:

  • Promote respect for self and peers;
  • Promote the development of life skills inherent to social inclusion and cooperation;
  • Promote social integration and solidarity within communities;
  • Provide non-violent means for conflict resolution and prevention;
  • Address the vulnerability of youth in armed conflict areas;
  • Create a sense of self-efficacy, self-confidence and self-esteem among youth;
  • Promote the merits of a healthy body image and lifestyle through sport and play, thereby contributing to the prevention of malnutrition and disease;
  • Employ mindful education practices to encourage personalized, creative, and “outside-the-box” learning;
  • Alleviate trauma through play, circus, and introspection
WHERE WE WORK

Project CirQus, in collaboration with Momentom Collective, works hand in hand with schools, NGOs and community centres in Canada and in Nicaragua to develop programs for vulnerable and at-risk populations at a community level. We strive to reinforce the power of collective local, regional, national and international partnerships. By encouraging the development of alliances, we increase capacity- community building as a key role; delivering much needed support to the implementation and sustainability of sports programs.

Our partners:

  • Clowns without Borders
  • Performers without Borders
  • Red Cross –Nicaragua
  • El Barrinche- Nicaragua
  • Rights to Play International
  • Circo Fantastico- Costa Rica
  • Light up and Juggle
  • Acro Yoga Montreal
  • Cirquantique – Montreal
OUR TARGETED POPULATION

Project CirQus aim to work with vulnerable and marginalized demographics and communities worldwide with no discrimination in term of gender, ages or cultural diversity. However, we believe that youth population offer an interesting potential to bring durable social changes in the society.

 

WHY TARGET AT-RISK YOUTH DEMOGRAPHICS?

Today’s children and youth represent the single largest cohort of young people in history. There are 2.2 billion children and 1.5 billion youth in the world today. Of these, 1.9 billion and 1.3 billion respectively live in developing countries. Together, these young people represent an unprecedented opportunity to reduce global poverty and move closer towards achieving Millennium Development Goals.

Early childhood marks a critical period in the life of a child, and can set the foundation for healthy development and life-long learning. Research shows that early childhood is the most critical period for brain development, and that experiences in the first years of life have a more lasting impact on mental health and development than any other stage. At-risk youth and young adults are also targeted in the empowerment process that circus and yoga can bring to vulnerable communities.

Throughout the life of a child, sport and play can be valuable tools to promote health and prevent disease, both through sport itself, and through the participatory act of watching others play, with the associated communication, education and social interaction that games can invoke. Life skills provided to youth also enhance self-esteem and confidence, allowing them to make better life choices and giving them options to become positively involved in society, which reduces at-risk behaviours and develops healthier societies.

By providing opportunities for young people to develop transferable life skills; qualities such as leadership, perseverance, social and moral character, self-esteem, commitment to teamwork, problem-solving, and organizational ability, cooperation-based sports help participants to realize their potential as productive citizens. The invaluable measure of such skills has convinced Project CirQus of using the combination of yoga and circus arts as catalyst activities to bring social change across borders.

PUBLISHED RESEARCH

BENEFITS OF YOGA, ACRO YOGA AND CIRCUS ARTS IN THE EDUCATIONAL AND HUMANITARIAN FIELDS

We have already established that sport and play have proven extremely therapeutic in overcoming trauma, and for this reason, sport is increasingly being used as a tool to reduce trauma in post-conflict and post-crisis settings.

In recent years, humanitarian assistance has increasingly responded to the psychosocial needs of populations emerging from war and disaster. This is in addition to providing material assistance related to food, water, shelter and medical care. Attention has begun to shift from a traditional emphasis on physical vulnerabilities to a more holistic emphasis which includes the psychosocial effects of difficult circumstances. Activities such as yoga aim to build on and use the innate strengths and resilience of affected populations.

In regions affected by natural disasters, poverty or war, where trauma is widespread, sport can be a highly effective means of helping to create the illusion of life back home. Introducing regularly-scheduled activity, sport and play activities help to normalize a child’s existence by restoring structure to their lives, giving them a sense of safety and stability, and re-establishing supportive social networks. The following is a brief overview of the benefits of each of the disciplines offered through Project CirQus.

 

YOGA

In yoga, the work is introspective, the practice designed to help reconnect with yourself and face your emotions and fears. It gives priority to self-acceptance and gratitude, through creation of intention, and teaches awareness of negative thought patterns, conditioning the mind and inspiring self-discipline. Regular participation in a yoga program is also associated with measurable increases in self-esteem in children and adults.

  1. Intentional: concerned with cultivating an awareness of the present moment and the choices available to us.
  2. Experiential: focusing directly on present moment rather than being distracted by abstractions.
  3. Non-judgmental: seeing things as they are without labelling according to pre-conceived thoughts, opinions or emotions.

 

ACRO YOGA

Acro yoga reinforces this process by helping participants acquire values and life skills consistent with collaborative action, trust and mutual support.

While sport cannot replace what children and youth lose to disasters and war, it can enable them to rebuild their lives on a positive and stable foundation. Acro yoga and circus arts in general helps to reconnect them to the fundamental childhood experience of joy in play, bring structure and positive adult guidance into their lives, restore a sense of safety and stability, acquire positive values and behaviours, and help them work through the issues and emotions arising from their experiences.

Additionally, acro yoga and partner work promotes fair play, teamwork, cooperation and importance of partnership with others, respect for opponents, and inclusion, which reinforce this process by helping participants to acquire values and life skills consistent with positive social relationships, collaborative action, and mutual support.

 

CIRCUS

Since the 1990’s, circus has become increasingly accessible as a community practice, as well as a form of community outreach, offered worldwide to street involved youth and other marginalized populations, promoting an ethic of equity and solidarity. Proponents of social circus call this a transformative intervention, particularly with respect to empowering its participants with strategies to deal with the burdens of displacement and loss, building self-esteem and creating skills that result in healthier communities.

Social circus typically offers a wide gamut of activities – from aerial skills and acrobatics, to juggling, clowning and magic – allowing for involvement by people with a wide range of aptitudes. Circus offers a number of ways to express and resolve issues arising from the trauma, issues that they may not have the intellectual or emotional capacities to otherwise address. Through voluntary participation, participants use play and circus arts to overcome barriers and trauma. In this light, circus arts are tools for education and inclusivity of all ages, and encourage the development of creativity when facing challenges and resolving issues.

Juggling

The benefits of juggling are multifold. Studies in neurosciences have shown that juggling regenerates damaged parts of the brain. Moreover, juggling can enhance motor skills by increasing reaction time, augment peripheral vision, boost concentration levels and hone in on space awareness. It creates resilience in its practitioners.

Juggling increases brain matter by creating new networks. Juggling increases the connection between parts of your brain, creating white and grey matter in the parietal lobe; an area involved in connecting what we see to how we move in the space around us. Since the human brain always wants to be puzzled and learn something new, juggling is an excellent learning process for brain development and concentration. The process of learning a new skill is more important than exercising what you have already mastered.

Clowning

Laughter boosts levels of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and suppresses the stress hormones. It also increases the cells that destroy viruses and tumours.

Clowning provokes laughter; laughter reduces pain and help cope with stress. Moreover, clowning is therapeutic, using symbols, as well as verbal and physical comedy to engage audiences. Project CirQus also works hand in hand with Clowns without Borders, an organization offering psychological support to those in trauma, through performances in refugee camps, slums, orphanages and even prisons around the world, simply by making audiences laugh.

CIRCUS AND YOGA ON THE HUMANITARIAN FIELD

Project CirQus builds upon the foundations laid by the United Nations and World Health Organization mandates, insofar as we believe that the right to sport, play and education are fundamental human rights.

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that all persons have the following rights: rest and leisure, a standard of living adequate to their health and well-being and that of their family, free and compulsory primary education, and participation in the cultural life of the community. The right to play is protected by UNESCO, referencing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and stating that “access to physical education and sport should be assured and guaranteed for all human beings”. Increasingly, the role that sport plays in well-being is being recognized as an important one, and the Sport for Development and Peace refers to the intentional use of sport, physical activity and play to attain specific development and peace objectives, including, most notably, the Millennium Development Goals.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF SPORTS AND PLAY IN  DEVELOPMENT

We echo these sentiments in our teachings, emphasizing the importance of engaging with others while pursuing interactive physical and social practices. We stress the transformative power of balancing expressive circus play with introspective meditation, and the role that this can play in education, self-awareness and empowerment for youth. In line with the UN’s “Sport for Development and Peace”, we use yoga and circus arts to achieve specific developmental objectives, namely those geared towards fostering attitudes of acceptance, perseverance, and positivity.

Project CirQus’ specific purpose is to promote the use of circus and yoga as recognized tools in development of policies and programs. We work first towards the tangible manifestations of tolerance, fair play, team work, respect for opponents, inclusion, and community, standing firm on a philosophy rooted in the connections between physical and mental.  Based on conscious and social practice, these disciplines are powerful vehicles for teaching youth and vulnerable populations essential skills that easily translate into real-life situations, thereby providing students with the tools to cultivate positive attitudes, values and morals as well as communication skills for social reintegration and adaptation.

Research has shown sports and play influence physical, socio-emotional and cognitive development in everyone; especially children. We believe that their power should not be underestimated, especially in contexts where people face difficult and unrelenting challenges on a regular basis. Working with young people and at-risk demographics in today’s society presents an unprecedented opportunity to reduce global poverty, improve education and advance development. In partnership with other development actors including non-governmental organizations, Ministries of Education, and UN agencies, we incorporate yoga and circus arts as an integral part of education and rehabilitation.

SPECIFIC APPROACHES AND PREDICTED OUTCOMES

PHYSICAL, SOCIO-EMOTIONAL AND COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT

Both yoga and circus arts have evolved into disciplines that encompass an extensive range of activities, so that there is a multitude of practices to choose from. What all of these practices have in common is their capacity to train the mind to focus and persevere on any given task. By engaging in a mindful physical practice, that is, by bringing awareness to the experience one goes through when meeting a physical challenge, practitioners learn to refine attention capacities, and pursue goals with compassion for oneself and one’s limitations. By increasing attentional capacities and cultivating an attitude of acceptance for one’s present situation, both internally and externally, yoga and circus arts can help to enhance cognitive skills and ease interpersonal interactions.

LIFE SKILLS DEVELOPMENT

Playing sports and games allows for children to develop important social and interactive skills within a yoga and circus context. By interweaving the teachings of such skills with a philosophy that emphasizes an applicability of these teachings beyond the physical practice, we allow for these skills, be they those of risk-taking, pride, efficacy or hard work, to become transferrable into life skills that equip youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and marginalization so that they may create better futures and contribute to lasting social changes in their communities and beyond.

Such skills can in turn aid them in the successful completion of basic education, reintegrate into society and entry to the job market, irrespective of their gender, socioeconomic status or ethnicity. Through circus and yoga, Project CirQus program includes a training component to equip youth from disadvantaged backgrounds with knowledge, know-how, skills and competences required to prepare for communication, confidence, self-employment and basic living skills. For example, sports help combat exclusion, and foster a community’s capacity building to work collectively to address challenges.

These activities foster a sense of belonging, establish supportive social networks, and provide young people with routines and structure in their lives. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that sport and physical education programs can promote a broad spectrum of life skills and values that build on this capacity, including, but not limited to:

  • Team-building;
  • Communication;
  • Decision-making;
  • Problem-solving;
  • Sense of community;
  • Self-esteem;
  • Personal responsibility;
  • Empathy;
  • Resiliency;
  • Improved inclination for educational achievement.

By providing opportunities for young people to develop transferable life skills and characteristics such as leadership, perseverance, social and moral character, self-esteem, commitment to teamwork, problem-solving, resiliency, sense of community and organizational ability, circus arts and yoga help participants to realize their potential as productive employees and active, important citizens.

CIRCUS AND YOGA: HELPING THE HEALING PROCESS

Exercise like circus and yoga can play important roles in restoring and sustaining mental health. Sport and play have proven extremely therapeutic in helping people overcome trauma. In regions affected by natural disasters and war, where trauma is widespread, they can be highly effective tools for helping to cope with and normalize life.

Such activities, being broad contemplative practices in and of themselves, can provide an air of real life amidst chaos. Through regularly scheduled activity, children and adults can begin to regain a sense of security and normalcy, and enjoy periods of respite from life challenges and often overwhelming challenges of reconstruction and social reintegration.

Sport is inherently about drawing on, developing and showcasing people’s strengths and capacities. By shining a light on what people can do, rather than what they cannot do, collaborative sports like circus arts consistently empower, motivate and inspire individuals and their communities in a way that promotes hope and a positive outlook for the future.  Yoga, similarly, teaches its practitioners self-acceptance and the universal ability for growth. Taken together, these disciplines create the ingredients that are essential to the success of all development and peace endeavors.

CONCLUSION

Social circus shows great promise not only for promoting healthy individuals but also for promoting health equity and the social change needed to sustain it. In the same vein, yoga has intrinsic benefits on the alleviation of trauma. Project CirQus argues for the consideration of artistic activity such as yoga, acro yoga, circus and acrobatics as means for holistic human development in communities and humanitarian contexts.

With its combination of physicality, humor, artistic expression and teamwork, circus arts help people express their creativity while yoga demands self-inquiry, perseverance, acceptance and discipline that can have beneficial effects on mental and physical health, and on community well-being.

What we wish to highlight is that education is the basic right of every child and should be upheld along with its fundamental rights, which includes the opportunity to engage in recreational play, and organized sport. Both children and adults should have access to healthy activities such as recreation and sport as an integral part of their education and rehabilitation, and we believe that circus arts and yoga provide this opportunity for healing, from the inside out.

Finally, we believe that circus arts and yoga hold a valuable place within the humanitarian context. In the 2003 UN Task force report “Sports for development and peace” urged government to incorporate sport and physical activity in national and international development and policy agendas. The report further encouraged governments to consider the use of sport to achieve the Millenium Goals.  We are passionate in our affirmation that by integrating the contemplative aspects of yoga and circus arts into the Sports for Development and Peace initiative, we can further optimize its potential for social progress and change.