Change is possible.
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Fifth week of teaching one men's dorm at Rikers Island, and we had one minute of absolute peaceful silence during meditation. A beautiful young man who instantly got Ujjai breathing right, and now calms the whole room down with his breaths, commented that he definitely is going to continue with yoga when he gets out. "Some of the things I learned, like how to relax with the breath, and how to relieve the pain in my neck and shoulders, and the different stretches, is helpful. But what you said about the inner peace and finding your true self, that's what I want!" If you like what we do, please like this post.
Photo: Lee-Anne Olwage, photograph of the Prison Freedom Project at the Pollsmoor Prison in S. Africa http://www.iol.co.za/weekend-argus/yoga-rehabilitation-for-pollsmoor-inmates-2080072
Workshop in progress, at the bright, beautiful and brand new yoga studio Bowery Yoga in NYC. We had the most beautiful discussion about privilege yesterday. We expected it could be controversial, but those with the privilege simply listened. Our workshops are a glimpse in what the future can be, when feelings are understood, and compassion reigns. It's not paradise, because the pain is felt, but it is a lot more peaceful.
Hands up for #thechancetoheal
Image from @brescullark
According to the ACLU more than one million women are behind bars or under the control of the criminal justice system. Women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population increasing at nearly double the rate of men since 1985. #thechancetoheal
Inmates released from state prisons have a five-year recidivism rate of 76.6%. No matter what road leads us to that place, innocent or guilty of the crime, if we arrive in a state of pain, we all deserve the chance to heal.
Statistics from the Bureau of Justice
Photo by Suzanne Kreiter from the Boston Globe
Interview with Taylor, a former student of LPY.
"I was in a very messed up place in my life. My life has taken a lot of turns. I didn't really know where I fit in on the ladder of hope so I peeled away the layers of myself and allowed myself to be ruined. But I couldn't ruin myself, so I allowed society to ruin me, at least I tried.
It wasn't until miss Anneke walked the dorm at Rikers with her skinny little self and told her story without having to really say anything. Now when you are where I was, it doesn't matter if you're white, black, or whatever, but when you see a...what you perceive as a middle class white lady coming in and saying that she relates to you you think 'oh get outta here, yeah right, see you later!' But it wasn't like that with Anneke because I could tell that she was telling the truth. That she had a story of...I don't want to say story of abuse, I don't want to say story of survival either, I think I want to say a story of shared hope. And so I said 'okay, cool lets see what this is all about.' The first thing Anneke said was the safety of the mat was the metaphor of using the mat as an anchor, as a foundation 'You're safe on this mat, there is no judgement there is no fear'. From there the yoga was great. The getting out of yourself in order to get back into your soul. That was something that was truly truly remarkable. Within the perimeters of a really awful place. Within slammed doors, within announcements with people who didn't respect it. Anneke had an ability to actively listen and to the shut out the fear for a moment. It was the first time in my life I felt okay.
She introduced me to letting go of my fear. To me there are two emotions in life love and fear. When somebody finally admits why they did something what do they always say? They were afraid. And that was it for me. The fear of what I had been through. When I was a kid, you see, the beauty of all of this is that I'm not afraid.
Anneke says she lives her life in the context of healing. She's not a super hero, she's a real person doing heroic acts everyday."
"When you talk to people tell them, this is the real thing, seriously. I looked forward to every Monday when Anneke would come in, it was a real big deal. Because everything inside those fences is exponentially greater. Both in the negative and the positive, so when you come in with a smile that smile means more that 20 smiles on the outside, it really does."
Taylor is a former student of Liberation Prison Yoga.
Our mats were in a circle by the tables, and women came and went, as others were getting upset right around the mats, attracting C.O.'s and clinical staff and discussions and reprimands, and tears. I had to speak over the din to our students on the mat or quietly sitting at the nearby table. We connected to the place inside that is eternally quiet and peaceful, unconcerned with outer circumstances, while outer circumstances were screaming for attention. As soon as I stopped speaking, one woman left and another came. I spoke to about thinking of the mat as a safe space where we can just be, where we don't have to do anything we don't want, where we can just explore. While we moved the new student just sat still while another put herself in a perfect shoulder stand, to roll back into a plow, toes touching. We went along with her, playing on the ground, breathing and moving. She was new, and shared that she didn't belong here, that she was not crazy, and that it was very frustrating to be there. I sensed a lot of anger, and so we did plain kicks. Just letting out the energy. And she loved it. She said she had done yoga on the outside and liked running, and how it had kept her mind good and looking young. She needed someone to hear her. She needed radical acceptance. We accepted her feeling that she's there by mistake. Further checking if I could be trusted, she asked if I had ever been incarcerated, and I shared something personal that helped her to know that I understood. As soon as we quieted down the practice she disappeared again. Then came back for final relaxation. I told her it's okay if she doesn't want to keep her body still. She can do whatever she feels like. She can move. She can do vinyasa. She can take care of herself however she needs. And so she moved and breathed while I guided the final relaxation. When we left the dorm, she was arguing with the C.O. and pushing to get out together with us. She said they couldn't keep her in there. We will make sure to be back next week.
Once we make a #heart connection with our #incarcerated students, it is impossible to take anything for granted: our #freedom to march, to smell the fresh air. Thinking of our #sisters inside today, with a report from Cynthia Bueschel Svigals from yesterday's class that made me cry.
Today as we began final relaxation, one of the women called out: "Does anyone know Sanskrit?" The others chimed in they did not, and the woman (who was new to the unit) said, "I remember this one #Sanskrit thing from some classes I used to go to....the words were, Lokah, Samastah, Sukhino, Bhavantu" She and I organically began singing it, and the others slowly started to join in. We repeated the chant over and over, and a wave of emotion set over me. Here we were, on our backs, beneath harsh fluorescent lights, inside a medium security prison, creating such beauty with our voices and message. Here we were, on the day of the #inauguration for a new president I am deeply worried about, joining our voices in solidarity. This simple chant roughly translates to, "May all beings everywhere be happy and free". In that moment, nothing could've have been more powerful to experience. As I left the unit I saw from across the yard a woman who had been a regular participant, but who I hadn't seen in a few weeks. She is to be released next week, and as we got closer, it dawned on me I'd probably never see her again. I thanked her for her #kindness and all the #wisdom she'd shared with the group when she had practiced with us. She gently lifted her arms as if to embrace, and I responded with a hug. I knew it could get me in trouble, but in that moment, may all beings be happy and free.
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