Liberation Prison Yoga – Indiegogo Campaign

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I know that many of you know that every Tuesday I teach yoga to women at Rikers Island. We breathe, move, laugh, get serious, get frustrated and most of all are real. I walk the corridors and get greeted with hellos from students who can’t wait to do more yoga. There are few things I’ve ever been so passionate about.

We are looking to raise a lot of money to expand this program, pay teachers and cover admin costs. As a member of the board for Liberation Prison Yoga​, I’m asking that you consider contributing so that we may continue to train the teachers whom I consider to be warriors of peace.

They are full of love and do this because it is their calling. Thank you.

 

From Indiegogo

Who we are

Liberation Prison Yoga  organizes volunteers to bring yoga and mindfulness practices to prisons, to provide health and healing on every level, impacting not only our students, but also their communities, and our society.

Why this campaign?

We just completed a successful yearlong pilot of our unique trauma conscious yoga empowerment program at the Rikers Island Jail Complex in New York.  We are ready to implement our program and expand.

Where we come from

Child Trafficking Victim Finds Peace Teaching Rikers Inmates Yoga was the start. Anneke Lucas experienced most atrocities known to humankind before she reached the age of 12. Seeking to free herself from her past, she found yoga, meditation, therapy and other healing modalities on a long and hard journey to recovery. However, true impact came only through humble healers who, instead of presenting as teachers or authority figures, made a connection through heartfelt empathy and understanding within safe boundaries.

 

 

Please check out the campaign and consider donating.

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/project/liberation-prison-yoga/embedded

Namaste y’all.

 

Rikers Yoga

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Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone and all species. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth… This is the real message of love.

― Thích Nhất HạnhTeachings on Love

On some days I am overwhelmed by the excitement of a group of students. But this week I was humbled by the power of a simple act. It’s what yoga is all about, but it’s easy to get caught up in the shapes, like the joy in tree or the power of warrior I.

This week wasn’t about poses, it was about breathing and self-love. 

Susan (not her real name) raised her hands up in the air to say hello. Touching isn’t permitted so this is how she can give a hug. Susan lives in a dorm by herself after spending time in solitary. Last week, when I came to do yoga she was doing some work and wasn’t available. Yoga had to be postponed for another week due to a scheduling conflict but the officer who came to get her said that it would be no problem if we spent a few minutes together meditating.

I was grateful.

Sitting on bolsters we began by breathing. Though we only had a few minutes I slow down the pace of dropping into meditation. We bring awareness first to the inhale noticing how it moves through the nostrils. We explore how the air fills the lungs. I talk about the lift of the chest. Susan gently drops into breathing. I extend the pauses in between each cue. I can see that she is smoothing out the edges to her breath.

There is an easiness about her spirit yet at the same time I sense fragility.

The light coming into the dining area casts a glow that makes it feel like a school cafeteria. Susan in her t-shirt and sweatpants looks like a teenager though I have no idea of her age. I see her chest soften more with each inhale and exhale. A lovely smile floats across her face during the meditation. I can see that she is in place that makes her feel peaceful. The transition back from meditation is just as soft as it was entering. When she opens her eyes she breathes deeply and smiles.

“I felt like I was flying.”

This is what it’s about. I could go on and on about the power of meditation (And in other posts, of course I will). But on this day Susan’s comment says it all. We spent five minutes together and she was able to teach herself to fly.

That is worth repeating. In five minutes she was able to teach herself how to fly.

Namaste y’all.

 

Liberation Prison Yoga has launched our indiegogo campaign!!! Click here to see the video and read more about our mission.

No yoga. No peace. Know yoga. Know peace. 

 

 

 

Three Ways to be Mindful at Work

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There’s a lot of talk these days about being more mindful. What is mindfulness? While there are myriad ways experts define what being mindful means one thing is clear, to be mindful is to intentionally bring awareness about thoughts, actions and emotions in the the present moment without judgment.

It means letting things be as they are without changing them.

Anderson Cooper discussed his experience with mindfulness and John Kabat-Zinn on 60 Minutes. We’re hearing more and more about how meditation can not only change your life, but a Harvard study suggests that it may actually change your brain. The wonderful thing about being mindful is that you can start small. And it doesn’t require adding anything to your life, but simply opening yourself up to what is happening in the moment.

You can be more mindful at home, with your family and even at work. Here are three ways that you can bring mindfulness to your work day.

  1. Be present. Easier said than done. Mindfulness teaches us that by being in this moment we can truly accept things as they are. When this happens we can think about making real lasting change. Of course there are times when attention is divided, but it may be worth asking yourself if it always has to be. Soemtimes distracting ourselves and being ‘so busy’ is a way to avoid bigger issues that really need our attention.
  2. Breathe. I know. We are always breathing. But when we pay attention on purpose to how we are breathing the effects can be transformative. Find a place to be still and inhale for a count of four and then slowly exhale for a count of four. Do this three or four times and you may find that you are more calm and relaxed.
  3. Take a moment for yourself. Sounds like another luxury but taking a minute to stop doing and start being can improve your outlook. It can be done anywhere. Before flying out of the car to run into the office, set a timer for one-minute, close your eyes and listen to yourself breathe. You don’t have to do anything to how you are breathing. Just listen. You may be surprised what you hear.

Make 2015 your year of living mindfully. Namaste y’all.

If you would like to learn more and listen to a beginner meditation, click here

Rikers Yoga – Three Floors. Three Narratives.

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“There’s no secret to balance, you just have to ride the waves”
Three dorms. Three narratives
Today was all about finding a way to honor all my students and meet them where they are. I’ll start from the top.
On the third floor I met a new student. We chatted for about 15 minutes. She’s spent the better part of two years in the Bing (solitary). No longer in solitary she lives in a dorm by herself. She’s a reader who loves biographies and is excited to do yoga. We’ll start next week. I’m honored and grateful that she is comfortable practicing with me. We’ll start with 30 minutes and go from there. The details of whys and hows of how she got there is private and I think her story to share.
In Building 7 I was not met with shock and awe by the officer on duty. But I did walk in the the middle of commissary delivery.  Since the women there aren’t allowed to go to commissary, it’s delivered. I had a class plan ready but changed it when both students requested something more restorative. Usually they are all about moving fast and furious with a long guided meditation. Instead we did gentle yoga with therapeutic poses and seated meditation. Both said it was what they needed.
Last but not least on the rowdier 4 floor I had my new group of regulars who pounced when I arrived stating that they had been waiting. Pilates (not her real name) was the first to grab a mat, bolster and blocks. She proceeded to head to the TV. Our conversation went as follows.
Me: I’m beginning to think you’re testing me. You know our collective agreement. We practice as a group.
Pilates: (Innocently) But why can’t I do what I want?
Me: Because the mats are for a group class.
Pilates: Then I’m not doing it.
Me: That’s your choice
Pilates: Really, I’m not.
Me: Ok, but I’m starting to think you like yoga. You’ll be missing out.
Pilates: I’m too big to do the poses.
Me: You are the perfect size to do the poses.
Pilates: I’m going to sit and watch.
Me: That’s cool, but not ish talking allowed.
Pilates: Fine. I’ll practice and be quiet.
The group had settled in and I got the feeling this was not a new act they had seen from Pilates. We did a slow class but did standing poses. The entire group inlciuding Pilates was laughing and having a good time. We ended class with a long meditation. Pilates asked if I could turn off the TV. I complied. After meditation Pilates said, “I feel like I’m not in a bad mood.” Someone replied, “We’ll see.”
As I was leaving she said, “Namaste.”
I couldn’t hide my happy shit-eating grin.
It’s about balance. It’s about give and take. It’s about being kind and real at the same time. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.
Namaste y’all.

Yoga as a Radical Act

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Friday night I heard Michelle Alexander talk about mass incarceration. It was powerful and shook me to the core. What was soul shaking though was hearing Eddie Conway, former Black Panther and political prisoner- locked up for 44 years. When asked about what could people to help transform everything that is wrong with the system he replied ‘reach inside’. To go inside prisons and see the forgotten. Teach. Empower. Love.

Yoga is my radical act for revolution.

When people can breathe and see the essence of what is inside them, anything is possible. I believe that we have an obligation, a responsibility to make things better. Any small act can create a ripple that can turn into a wave of change.

Show a child that they matter.

Be kind to someone who thinks they aren’t worthy, especially when it’s yourself.

We can do better. We must

 

Meatless Monday – Spaghetti Squash with Eggplant and Roasted Tomatoes

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Pasta is definitely an easy plan for Monday but pasta every week isn’t great for your body. But spaghetti squash on the other hand is perfect. It’s easy to prepare and it takes on the essence of whatever else you are using. For this week’s meal I decided to jazz up this non-pasta pasta with roasted veggies and a truckload of savory goodness!

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Ingredients

  • Eggplant (I used Chinese eggplant)
  • Spaghetti squash – one serves 2-3 people
  • Tomatoes (sliced or halved if using cherry tomatoes)
  • Onions (sliced)
  • Italian seasoning (generous sprinkling)
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic (minced)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Juice from one lemon
  • Veggie stock 1/4 to 1/2 c
  • Fresh basil (roughly chopped)
  • Splash of white wine (optional)
  1.  Drizzle olive oil on tomatoes and eggplant
  2. Generously sprinkle dried spices and toss so that everything is coated
  3. Roast veggies for 35-40 minutes at 375°. Set aside
  4. Roast or microwave squash. Roast by halving squash removing seeds and placing in a 400° oven for 40 minutes. Let cool until it can be handled. Use fork to gently remove pasta. Set aside. If you want to microwave- halved the squash, remove seeds and place in a microwave safe dish face down filled with one inch of water. Cook for about 10-12 minutes or until tender.
  5. In a pan saute onions and minced garlic add broth, lemon, juice, wine and a pinch of salt. Reduce by half.
  6. Toss with roasted veggies.
  7. Plate on top of squash.
  8. Garnish with fresh basil
  9. Gobble up.

Namaste y’all.

Rikers Island Yoga

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I had to practically beg the CO on post at building 7 to let me in. He kept asking if I was sure I was in the right place. Seriously. He asked four times if I was sure that I was there to teach yoga. He said yoga like it was the craziest thing he’s ever heard.

I’m guessing the joke was teaching yoga in building 7 seems like a bad idea. After all, they are the ‘trouble makers’. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard comments like this. In my head I was full of non-yoga scathing snark that would make him cry. On the outside I smile and say ‘Yoga is for everyone. I bet you would love it.’
Over time I’m hoping my outside voice matches my inside one. Baby steps, yo. Baby steps. 
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I walked into Rosie’s (RMSC) I heard people saying it was a crazy day. With that kind of talk, tension is the watchword.
Tension found.
On the fourth floor I didn’t have to wait long for people and had 12 students ready for yoga. Paris (not her real name) said, ‘We need yoga today. There was a search early this morning. Everyone is a little tense.’
Movement combined with a guided meditation is a great way to get students to woosah. We moved through a gentle warm-up and built to doing modified sun salutations over and over. Forward folds let go of anxiety.
And then…. 
Another search team came into the dorm. Word was that the warden was also on the floor. The search was specific and everyone was moved to where we were practicing. The whispering was deafening. Class though remained fairly relaxed and we had our guided meditation despite the commotion. One woman said she couldn’t focus but I told her to stay with my voice instead of listening to what was being said behind her. I watched her shoulders soften.
After closing class- most of them jumped up to get the scoop. As I made my way out a captain said that everyone loves the yoga and she’s glad that they have it.
This is a pretty big deal. Lots of officers mention how women like the yoga and while I get smiles and nods from captains this is the first time one has said something positive about it.
Maybe it was because the warden was on the premises. Maybe it was because the search was happening. But the yogi in me believes she said something because it works.
I bumped into four other teachers who all said they had some powerful moments in their classes.
Like I said, the yogi in me believes this works.
Until next week.
Namaste y’all.

3 Things My Meditation Practice Isn’t

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According to Jon Kabat-Zinn , “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”  When I meditate I’m working on staying with what is happening. When my mind wanders, I draw my attention back to the present. In theory this sounds like a piece of cake or a cake of peace (ouch). The reality is every ‘sit’ (meditation practice) is different. Some days I sit and feel an overwhelming sense of calm. I leave my sit feeling renewed. On others I’m left feeling frustrated and hyper-aware of my environment.

And that’s okay. Meditation isn’t supposed to be bliss. This journey of learning to be more present has been a more difficult and rewarding journey than my asana practice. However, without my asana practice, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It’s like Pema Chödrön says everything we do is on the path to enlightenment. I get lots of questions about my practice. How long do I do it? Is it hard? Do I feel better? Do I see God?

Here are three things my practice isn’t.

1. My practice isn’t easy.

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I am distracted easily by shiny objects. This is part of the reason why I do yoga. My mind can wander during meditation. But when it does I come back to the breath.

2. Fun

On some days my meditation practice leaves me with a sense of peace. On others, not so much. There have been times that in connecting with my breathing buried emotions arise. When this happens, I’ve learned to deal with what has come up.

3. Inconsistent

I sit on most days. I feel the diffenrece when I don’t sit for two days in a row. The homework for my meditation course requires a daily body scan of forty minutes. I didn’t do that this week. But I did wake up every morning and sit quietly for 20 minutes before I started my day. That’s progress. Mindfulness requires commitment. Commitment takes times.

There are no short cuts. It’s only recently that I’ve begin to appreciate this. When there aren’t ways to get ‘there’ faster, there’s no place to be in this moment. As a woman in her 40’s I’m in no hurry to run the clock down. Paying attention on purpose provides a new respect for the notion of time. Try this experiment. Stand firmly with your arms down by your sides for 3 minutes. Resist the urge to fidget or tug at your clothes. Keep your eyes open and gaze soft. Notice the fluctuations that happen in the mind. Notice the things you begin to say to yourself. After the three minutes set the time for three minutes and resume what you were doing. It’s funny how fast time flies when we aren’t present. And listen, I get it. We are busy. It’s not possible to be present every moment of every day. But imagine the rich texture life can have when we take moments to stop and be here now.

2015 is my year of living mindfully.

Namaste y’all.

Do you have a meditation practice? Have you just started one? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Rikers Yoga – Trust Is a Process Part II

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I wandered into the new class in one of the sentenced women’s dorm a little earlier than usual. Most of the students from last week were at work or at a program. However, with most of the dorm asleep- I said I’d hang out for a bit and see if anyone wanted to do some yoga. I put down three mats and sat on one hoping I’d look pathetic and someone would take pity on the foolish yoga teacher.
Bam. Five minutes later someone came out. Maybe it was pity. I don’t care. Proud I am not. It was someone from last week and she said that she loved class but her neck and back had been hurting badly. She did however request to do downward dog and tree pose.  It was louder than the previous week but I was sure that we could create a therapeutic space to soften her body. And then…
The return of Fake A*s Pilates aka Tasha (not her real name). Last week I had a few dissatisfied customers. She was one. I thought- here we go. If I could have raised one eyebrow I would have. But instead I smiled and was met with a softness that I’d not seen from her. Tasha used to be in another dorm and while she was never disruptive during my class I’ve seen her yucking it up. She asked if she could sit with a bolster under her back because it was hurting. As she was talking her eyes were moving in the direction of the TV. I Love Lucy was on.
When you teach in jail there’s a dynamic- being tough doesn’t work, but being a pushover will also get you nowhere. It’s a delicate balance. I looked at her and said I’d be happy to have her sit if her back hurt and she didn’t want to practice but the pillow wasn’t for watching TV. We were creating a community.
Could she agree to do that? Did that seem fair?
She paused a beat and said, “Yeah, definitely.” Tasha sat with the bolster and did arm variations throughout class. No wise cracks. Three more people came back from work duty and we’re excited to grab a mat.
About midway through class Tasha  said she wanted to lay back down in bed. She thanked me and left.
The room was loud but the energy was friendly. As I was leaving Tasha said goodbye again and she’d see me next week.
This place has taught me more about interpersonal relationships than anywhere else. I don’t know Tasha’s story and may never know it. But she let down her guard a bit. I can’t imagine what it must be like. Humor is probably a great coping mechanism.  Today was interesting. We’ll see what happens next week.
Namaste y’all.