Chelsea first tried yoga in middle school, and it soon became a way for her to cope with the difficult emotions she was experiencing. Her father continued to battle addiction throughout her high school years, and on the night of her graduation, Chelsea lost two of her closest friends in a car accident.
“When I first started yoga, it was a great way for me to tune out of my life,” she says. “But gradually it became more of this process where I had the opportunity to check in with my emotions, and honor and acknowledge how I was feeling. It helped me feel okay again.”
After graduating she moved to South Carolina to attend the College of Charleston, where she planned to major in communications. That plan changed when a friend studying education told her about a school that had recently started a yoga program. Chelsea started volunteering and teaching yoga classes at the school, and eventually transferred to Charleston’s School of Education. The experience, she says, was life-changing.
“I found this way to connect with kids outside of the traditional classroom setting—a way to connect with them on a more emotional level. That, to me, was really powerful.”
After graduating and teaching for a year, Chelsea moved to New Orleans to teach full-time. She quickly realized that New Orleans is, as she puts it, a very unique place. “There’s a very different culture here—my students were experiencing so much more than the average child. We have 1 in 5 children screen positive for lifetime PTSD, and students experience trauma at four times the national average.”
A lot of this, she explains, comes from violence in the community and violence at home. “It creates such a drastic impact on the developing brains and bodies of children,” she says. “Trauma is the second most powerful predictor of academic failure behind special education. All of these factors come into play, and I see it in my students—that they’re really struggling and not getting the support that they need to be successful.”
Chelsea saw the impact that yoga and mindfulness could have on the lives of her students, and in 2016, she left her teaching job to start Project Peaceful Warriors.