I started teaching prison yoga months before I began to post about it on my Facebook Long Life Fitness business page. I was concerned that I might benefit, i.e., reap the fruits of my labor, which would nullify any positive effects of my actions. It wasn't until my mentor, Dr. Steven Landau, encouraged me to blog in order to inspire others to service, that I began. Here, finally, are all the posts together.
This week in prison: At Lanesboro, we had a full class of 12. We discussed the need to sanitize the mats after use, as athletes foot is rampant, and one can't always get the same mat.
Good workout--back to a led modified Primary Series.
At Brown Creek, we learned Mr McA was released. He was a dedicated yogi while in class, and I hope he continues. On the flip side, Mr S and Mr M are awaiting judgments for infractions. This was probably their last class.
I try to remember to finish class with, "Be safe and stay out of trouble."
We had a new inmate yogi, Mr D. He said he was inspired and would lose 30 pounds!
This week in prison: I gave all the inmate yogis feedback forms to complete. One thought it was for official purposes until I explained it was just for me. Everyone of them, in both Lanesboro and Brown Creek prisons, said they would continue with their yoga practice after their release. One said he wanted to start a yoga outreach program!
Some managed to practice on their own outside of class, but all wanted privacy for practice. One astute yogi said, "Most people create their own barriers when it comes to some form of training or practice."
All understood postures, breath control, and meditation were important. "The combination of them all gives me a sense of self control."
Meaningful quotes: "It [yoga] is a type of freedom." "... able to help me be successful in my plans." "learn how to control, accumulate, harness, and direct this yogic energy ..." "I am able to have the option of peaceful contentment when the day to day stress gets to affect me." "Because I'm still dealing with my addictions, and meditation helps me control my thoughts." "You can be who you are and push yourself to do these crazy positions and no one will laugh or judge you, they all congratulate you for your efforts." "I enjoy testing my body and seeing the improvements." "... I leave in peace, and look forward to the next class."
Yoga helps all, except the lazy, as Patanjali said in the Yoga Sutras.
This week in prison: at Brown Creek, Mr. S's right hand was all swollen, and he said his left ribs were sore; apparently he'd been fighting. He didn't want to do any arm balancing. His judgment for his infraction may eliminate him from class. Sorry to see him go because he was always ready to discuss anything yoga.
On a positive note, two at Lanesboro can do standing hand-to-toe, all four phases, though I suspect they're competing with each other. These two will be peer teachers for The Outlet's Basic Yoga class.
Finishing up that class plan tomorrow.
This week in prison: Due to a fire drill and resulting late count, some didn't make it to class; we had eight.
Some at Lanesboro asked me about my yoga service, who got me involved, how much I earned, etc. I practically started crying expressing my gratitude to them. I am so glad I agreed to volunteer here. I feel I'm really helping them, plus my teaching skills have improved! Yoga teachers take note!
At Brown Creek, we also had inmate yogis that couldn't get to class for one reason or another. We had 10.
Mr D became dizzy during sun salutations. When I got him to sit, he said, "I'm too fat. I have to stop eating." He was a football player and now works in the canteen. We later talked about continuing to come to yoga and reducing refined carbs.
When we practiced pranayama I noticed that several were chest breathers! Even one experienced yogi! Gotta correct that first.
This week in prison:
At Lanesboro, we have a new case manager. I christen him Mr JustDontAskMe. He's stressed by his work load and wishes he were somewhere else.
This week half of the eight inmate yogis practiced Mysore style, i.e., self paced. They did well. Then we all did the finishing sequence together. For breath control, we worked up to the tantric chakra bellows breathing. In the progression leading up to bellows, I suggested staying with wave breathing if more practice was needed. The newest member seemed to just give up and observed. Maybe that's his usual pattern.
At Brown Creek, I ran the same program, however, the Mysore group didn't do as well. Need more workshops with them. We had more chest-breathers in this group, so we practiced bellows breathing with retention.
After class, Mr LetMeHelpYou, the case manager, confessed that he was bipolar.
I decided that next week we'd have yin yoga sessions at both prisons, then two workshop-style classes, and then try Mysore-style again.
This week in prison: At Brown Creek, I noticed the energy was tense. I hear that some inmates had attacked some guards. None of my students, though.
Mr. LetMeHelpYou, the case manager, tells me eight of 15 inmates in the dog training program are in my yoga class! What does this say about these men?
We practice a flow-type class with shoulder and upper back openers. When we get to the peak camel posture, Mr. S says, "I can't reach my hands to my heels." I say, "Come on?!" Although I could not touch him physically, I grab his t-shirt at the ribs, pulling up, encouraging him to lift, lift, lift his sternum. His fingers felt his heels, then he lifted more with his next inhalation. The class applauded. This underscores to me the power of positive self talk. He faced his challenge, though, like a yogi does. BTW: Mr. S is a dog trainer.
Four long-time students didn't make it to class. Two weeks ago we had a similar problem; Mr. LetMeHelpYou said the guards wouldn't let them out to come to yoga, even though they had passes. Guards need yoga, too.
Lanesboro class was cancelled as the coordinator was in training, and no one else could cover.
This week in prison: It began ominously at Lanesboro, waiting for 20 minutes for Mr. JustDontAskMe to meet me and escort me to the gym. Mr. SmileSmile finally arrives, explaining my usual escort was off for the holiday.
Starting 30 minutes late, only three usual and two new inmate yogis show up. Mr. C said he thought all programs were cancelled because three officers had been assaulted by inmates since the night before. The full moon ...
As this week's buzzword word was "gratitude," I wanted to discuss the spiritual principle that asks us to be grateful for all experience, both good and bad, as they both teach us about ourselves. I thought it too much to ask for them to be grateful for their imprisonment, but only to understand one can find value in misfortune.
To illustrate, I told them my story: I made a stupid mistake at 18, getting into a car with a drunk driver. After the accident, I began meditating and seeking higher truth. (I immediately worried that I'd revealed too much!) Mr. C volunteered that imprisonment had saved his life; he had been "black out driving" three nights a week! One of my most dedicated yogis, he's been sober for two years. That day he turned 30.
I hope they all find something of value to take with them--at least yoga. The day was as rewarding as ever.
This week in prison: Despite the flash flood warning and the closing of the yard, we were able to have the first class in three weeks, the last class of the year, at Brown Creek C.I. Mr. LetMeHelpYou said the dress rehearsal for the dog training class graduation was postponed due to yoga, so all could attend. Thankful for an appreciative staff.
I was happy to see Mr. S there, whom I had lectured the previous class on the value of the Ashtanga method. He had admitted then, that even though he could not perform all the postures of the Primary Series, he still wanted to learn more postures in varied sequences. He's in his 20s and fit. He obviously wasn't interested in the medititative aspects, but continuing with yoga in any form was helping. Every one must find his own way.
It was raining harder than it ever had during class, so during meditation, we took advantage of the opportunity to focus on the sound of the storm. We then experienced a beautiful and peaceful silence.
This week in prison: At Lanesboro, I learned that Mr. C had shipped out and Mr W had gotten a warehouse job. I am sure Mr. C will continue his sobriety and his yoga elsewhere. He was practicing full Pigeon (a back bend on knees and elbows)! Class was fine with the remaining six; a led Ashtanga with an arm balance practice. I lost my balance forward while demonstrating, rolling out of it. Mr. B remarked, "Nice roll"! Haha.
At Brown Creek, we chatted about setting an intention to help manifest our desires. Mr. S volunteered that his was to be free. I suggested stating the desire as, "I am free," as if the desire is already being fulfilled. Cautious to stay sensitive to their situation, I wondered aloud if they all didn't share that desire. Mr. M then remarked that "This is my life now." His acceptance of his situation seemed to surpassed even his desire for freedom. Can one totally accept what is now and still desire change?
Wanting a hot, Yang-style class, we began a led Ashtanga session. Their ability to connect their breath and their movements was a beautiful sight. I was awed.
This Week in Prison: At Lanesboro, I learn Mr. JustDontAskMe is leaving for a police department job. Mr. ButImNice takes over. We have only five; I'll ask to put the advertising flyer back up. After the led Ashtanga session, we use the excellent Yoga Journal article on intention. (See here:http://www.yogajournal.com/…/keep-new-year-resolution-will…/) While in a deeply relaxed state, I ask them questions relating to their Dharma, for example, "What do I want to experience more of in my life?" "What do I want to offer the world? Where can I begin?" We practice listening to our answers.
Mr. B tells me afterwards that he believed, "... we should accept all that comes to us, instead of trying to manipulate a situation." I asked him if all starts in the mind, shouldn't we use our thoughts to influence reality? Acceptance, contentment, and intention; how to balance them?
At Brown Creek, we have ten. We also did the Dharma meditation. Mr. R thanks me afterwards, as he usually does, saying, "You're giving us something we can take with us." "I hope so," I replied.
This week in prison: At both Lanesboro and Brown Creek we did Moon Salutations with some variations. We ended with meditation to the slowly decreasing pulse of the metronome, utilizing the brain's tendency to entrain, i.e., synchronize its wave frequency to an external frequency. All reach deep states of relaxation.
At Brown Creek we celebrated one year of yoga classes! Five inmate yogis were there at that first class. I asked them to write about how they are changed from a year ago. They will receive certificates noting their perseverance.
This week in prison part 1: I should have known that last week's easy and timely entry into Lanesboro CI was an anomaly. I wasn't supposed to have been allowed in during a Code Red, but I was. A Code Red is a second count of all inmates. If that is not reconciled, then a roster count occurs; they check lists with photos. No one moves in or out. I spent the time waiting doing my practice. Nine inmates showed for the last 15 minutes. Instead of the half Primary Ashtanga I had planned, we did three Sun Salutations and practiced Victorious breathing. At least they got out of their bunks for a few minutes!
This week in prison, part 2: This week at Brown Creek C.I., we began class without Mr. R. He was one of five who attended every yoga class since we began a year ago. I have to admit, he was one of my favorite students.
For one thing, he had studied martial arts, as I do; his style was Go-Ju Ryu. Every time he entered or left the classroom he would bow to show respect. A couple of times he called me, "Sensei." (I joked that he could call me "Guru.")
Mr. R was eager to learn. Early on, he brought in a photo from a magazine of a woman doing One-legged King Pigeon Pose, saying he wanted to learn it. Although he hasn't yet attain such spinal extension that this pose requires, he mastered headstand and the twisting Marichasana C.
He loved Ashtanga. At the one year anniversary, I asked the five to write a few words about what they had learned from their one year of yoga practice. Mr. R wrote that yoga nidra, i.e., the guided meditation, gave him, "... a natural high that was so unexplainable." It relaxed his distracted mind with the "... promise of the infinite and adventure; forgetting past and future ..." He used Ashtanga yoga to purify and balance his inner and outer energy, using diet to maximize his physical performance.
He was grateful. He never failed after class to thank me for teaching him, and once said he was most thankful for teaching him how to breathe. He had been a chest breather!
In case you're wondering, Mr. R left because he got a job in anther institution, that he'd wanted for a long time.
I'm sure he's taken yoga with him.
This week in prison: I was thrilled to learn from Mr. A that The Outlet has begun at Lanesboro C.I. The Outlet is a veritable mall of classes that closed-custody inmates can sign up for; in art, music, mathematics, etc., and yoga. Mr. A, one of my most dedicated and advanced inmate yogis with over 60 hours of class time, leads the inmates through The Ultimate Yogi DVDs, and also teaches breathing and meditation. The inmates stay busy, improve themselves, and get some credit for time served. Thanks again to the Wadesboro Woohoo Yoga Club for donating the DVDs.
After class, Mr. T, the one inmate yogi who's figured out that I am a martial artist, asked if any others knew. I explained that I didn't want others challenging me; and asked that he keep it between us.This followed our discussion during class of the difficulty of keeping to the second yoga commandment of asteya, i.e., non lying or truthfulness. I asked Mr. T to promise; no lying!
At Brown Creek C.I., we had a nearly full class of 10. After a strenuous backbend workshop, we practiced "follow the breath" seated meditation. They are getting very good at stillness.
Alignment class today. Victorious breathing and Follow the breath seated meditation. (Too many are falling asleep during yoga nidra.)
This week in prison: After a week off due to the Yoga Service Conference at Omega Institute, the inmate yogis at Lanesboro said they missed me, as I missed them. From what I learned from others involved in prison yoga and trauma-sensitive yoga, the safety and relationships we develop in class, in addition to the actual practice of yoga and meditation, benefit those incarcerated. I feel that we are on the right track.
I learned that Mr. McC was feeling depressed, Mr. B and Mr. J got a temporary jobs, and the most gratifying of all: Mr. J's life sentence was overturned! Joy!
Class was cancelled at Brown Creek. Mr. LetMeHelpYou emailed the next day to inform me that the yoga program is cancelled. Brown Creek will be dissolved and become Lanesboro Minimum Security. It will be emptied of inmates, refitted, then refilled. Hope the inmate yogis can land on their feet, use their yoga training, and be ready for whatever. No details yet, but I hope the program can resume after a few months. Gratitude to all involved and to the yogis. I wish them the best.
Got a late start due to a recount, but had a good class once we started. I read about the five yamas during yoga nidra--non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-hoarding or greediness. Most could recite them at the end of class.