Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Rikers (Liberation Prison Yoga)

rikers bridge

 

 

 

I used to live my life selfishly. The intent behind the selfishness wasn’t malicious, but selfish nonetheless.

My yoga practice has been a gift. It’s my responsibility to give it away. The past several months have been a journey of discovery and brought the realization that in addition to teaching I need to pursue yoga therapy. I believe that learning how to breathe better can help even in the most the most challenging of circumstances.

A few months ago I got in touch with the Prison Yoga Project. After a meeting and getting cleared by the department of health and hygiene- I got my volunteer ID.

I’m on the Q100 Rikers island bus. I wonder if kids who grow up in the area look at the bus with an air of mystery. Do they think that if you get on it your headed to jail? As teenagers would they joke about it? And as adults would the illuminated Q100 sign of a bus conjure memories? That’s the kind of thing I would think. My imagination was a bit on the over active side. It’s still early and though I’ve had caffeine, I’m feeling pretty chill. As the bus rolls down the street I have a moment.

I can’t believe this is my life. I get to teach yoga for a living.

I’m headed to meet Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga. I’ll be teaching students here at the Rose M. Singer dorm twice monthly.
Here’s a bit more about Anneke and LPY:
Liberation Prison Yoga grew out of the need for an organized way to support yoga instructors interested in serving in prisons and jails in New York. Anneke Lucas started creating programs in different facilities in 2011, bringing along many teachers, social workers and psychologists, training them to use a trauma-sensitive approach while sharing their preferred yoga style. Anneke developed yoga programs according to the different needs in different settings, including discussion and free-flow writing in certain classes, and runs groups with sex-trafficked women at Riker’s Island.
On the bus, people get on and get off. After 21 St. we drive on a road that takes you to Shuttle Island. Somewhere in this still active imagination I think I expected to hear yelling or see a dark cloud hanging over the complex. I know it sounds dramatic. But it’s comes to mind when you say Rikers Island. The drive over the long bridge feels almost tranquil but I’ll be leaving on my own so clearly it’s not the same feeling a woman must have when she is on a bus there for the first time. I wonder how scary it must seem. It’s one thing to be going to jail- it must be another thing entirely to know that jail is surrounded by water on all sides.
After the crossing the bridge the reality is clear. This is prison. It’s not scary, but a heaviness looms in the air. I’m overcome with the urge to go the bathroom. There’s a fairly scary looking bathroom to the left of the entrance. After, I make my way to the guard station and I’m waved through. And I pause for a second like I’m sure most fools like me do- my eyes say, ‘Wait. That’s it? I just get waved in. Don’t you want to know anything else?’ The guard looks at me with a bored face and after our 2 second non-verbal exchange I walk to catch a bus to the dorms.
Today I met the students. Some were excited to show me their warriors. Others were thrilled that they would be coming to class. The women were friendly, kind and chatty. A lot of these women are awaiting trial and couldn’t make bail and that’s why they are there. Without too much to do- many seize the opportunity to participate in the programs that are offered. Liberation Prison Yoga incorporates writing, yoga and mediation.
I’m the one who is grateful.
I can’t imagine being confined awaiting trial and being told when to eat, when to shower and when to sleep. It would seem that in circumstances like that one thing that must be so important is the ability to breathe and to feel okay in your body because let’s face it- a system pretty much is telling you what to do with most other parts of your life.
I’m not there to judge. I’m there to teach, guide and hopefully create a space of self-healing. Anneke told me that faces will change a lot and that’s okay. I guess the more people I can talk to and teach, the better.
We are human beings, whether we are walking down the street or in the 800 bed dorm of the Rose M Singer branch of the Department of Corrections. And as Ram Dass says we are all just walking each other home.
I’ll definitely be posting more about my experiences with Liberation Prison Yoga.
If you are a teacher and are interested in volunteering your time- reach out by clicking here.
Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Yoga – Forgive Yourself

What-does-the-Bible-say-about-Forgiveness

When I was in the third or fourth grade I discovered flavored lip gloss. Fantastic! It came in different colors, flavors and tasted faintly sweet. What’s not to love?

One day, in CVS I saw some root beer lip gloss that I had to have. We learn desire and suffering so early. I had to have it. My mother said no. So my grubby paws and racing heart palmed the lip gloss. I know, I know, I know…..

 

 

In the parking lot walking next to my mother, I pulled out the lip gloss. (I said I was desperate for root beer lips, not necessarily  the sharpest tool in the shed). Needless to say my mother went f@cking apeshit  because it became clear too her that she had given birth to a budding criminal. I was marched back inside the store and required to report my crime to the manager. She was none too pleased and if memory serves (which is tricky) I got in pretty big trouble. But like all good moms- she forgave me. I went on to do even bigger and more stupid things and she forgave me these trespasses as well.

 

It always seemed harder to forgive myself. I would let the shame or guilt coat my skin. Rather than let things go and start fresh I became a series of bad things I’d done.

 

I guess we’ve all done things that make us less than proud of ourselves. Yoga has helped me let go of my past while staying accountable so I live my best life in the now. In some cases I’ve been lucky enough to be forgiven for some of my past transgressions. I’m forever grateful for the people in my life who have loved me unconditionally.

 

In other cases I haven’t been so lucky and I’ve had to lose people because I burned a bridge. Living a life through the breath helps me feel okay with the idea of things being what they are even when they are good and bad. Because even feelings or things that are bad can end up being good. I’ve also realized that a big part of this whole process of becoming enlightened is learning to forgive yourself.

 

I am more that the bad shit I’ve done.

I am more than what I do for a living.

I am not the stuff I have.

I am not the stuff I don’t have.

 

Last week in class I lost myself. I became too connected with my breathing and missed a cue from the teacher- in a effort to catch up I rushed through my flow- completely reacting to the idea of catching up rather that truly remembering why we do the asanas- to connect to the now.

 

Eddie my teacher, gently said- ‘if you ever miss a cue, don’t worry- come back to downward dog. It’s okay no need to rush- forgive yourself.’

 

There’s no perfection.

 

I felt a flash of shame. Not because of what he said, but because I still struggle with the idea of saying to myself, ‘you’re forgiven. Let it go.’

 

And then something happened- I let it go. I actually let the shame of it all go on an exhale into a forward fold.

 

Not surprisingly, the rest of class was like opening of a flower- I wasn’t stressed- I didn’t hyper focus on technique- I went with my flow. I gave myself the ultimate gift.

 

I’m forgiven.

 

Namaste y’all.

 

Adventures in Yoga – Back on the Mat

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I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live yoga. Yesterday was my first Jivamukti practice in six weeks. My abdominal myomectomy was becoming a memory and though I had been practicing a smattering here and there, I hadn’t yet returned to my regular asana practice. Truth be told, my body was telling me to take a class last week, but I was feeling a little chicken.

Thoughts loomed…whatifmybodyisn’tthesamewhatifigettiredwhatifwhatifwhatif

My ego was ruling me. Whether or not I could do a handstand doesn’t determine my worth.

Wait- I want to be say that differently- while I can measure some progress and identify certain things about what’s going on in my life based on my handstand but shouldn’t judge myself if it doesn’t go as I planned. Unfortunately, judging is what I’ve been doing. The fear wasn’t really about the handstand I was subconsciously deciding whether I was still a good person. I needed to crush that negative ego talk and get back to my practice pronto. The asana practice is the beginning- not the end.

So…I put on my big girl yoga pants and headed to the 12pm Open with Cassandra. In hindsight, this was a crazy girl move. It was like going from swimming in the baby pool to walking off a 20 ft platform to do a 4 and 1/2 somersaults in a tuck position.

But you know, that’s how I roll. Not really, but that rolled off the tongue so I went with it.

Cassandra’s classes are challenging. The first time I took her class we were kicking up to handstand 15 minutes in.

I said in my head, ‘Oh, that’s how we get down in this class? Ok, cool.’. I was hooked. And it’s not just the sequencing. Cassandra’s no-nonsense approach applies to her metaphysical teachings too. I love her realistic approach to how we live. She talks about her own struggles but then loops it back to you- how can I apply what she said to my asana practice? To my life? And so Saturdays at noon became a chance for me to push myself a little further both physically and emotionally.

So while it was jumping into the deep end after not practicing for almost six weeks- was a bit of an overreach…it was now or never.

jiva sign

I arrived to class early and chatted with Bobby and Austin the owners trying to quell jitters (silly, I know). But it was nice to be back at the studio. Certain studios instantly feel like home. I think it’s a combination of the feeling of community, the warmth of owners and the spacious yet cozy vibe of the space. I exhale whenever I’m inside. Even when I couldn’t practice my spirit was drawn there.

I digress- back to the matter at hand…

My fears were unfounded. Class was sweaty and wonderful. My body felt solid and engaged. Tears poured from my eyes a few times in child’s pose so I knew that I was okay.

Crying no longer makes me self-conscious, but it did make me wonder about living my yoga off of the mat. I know that the asana practice opens up chakras and energy lines and had thought that my daily meditation was keeping me grounded. While I’m sure it was (and is), it’s clear that moving my body is also a critical part of living my yoga. But I can’t help and wonder how I can get to a place where I feel post-practice without practicing? Is it even possible? Things to ponder.

In any event, knowing that I know so little is a step in the right direction.

I am so grateful.

Namasta y’all.

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Travel Yoga- On a Train At 2am

Listening to Tvarargen’a Everything Can Be Invented while taking the train to Providence. It’s 2:52 a.m. The guitar soundtracks this quiet moment. Most people are sleeping save for the two guys next to me
– chatting away not loudly, but in a way that’s oddly comforting despite them being strangers.

My mind wanders and as I listen. In the beginning of the song it feels like someone is leaving. Leaving. Leaving someone? Leaving something? I look out of the window and lonely streets roll by. For an instant I feel like crying- I’m swept up by this delicate moment and wish this I could capture it on film- just for me so I’d never forget it. And just as quickly I realize that if I don’t come back and enjoy it- it’ll be over sooner than I planned. 

And I listen. As the song comes to a close the leaving I felt at the beginning is gone. The end of the song sounds like a beginning- a sense of arrival…maybe it’s me.

Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe Everything can be invented I suppose. I stop worrying about preserving and I just watch the lights in the dark. It’s all happening right now- and I’m not missing a thing. 

This is yoga. 

Namaste y’all. 

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Cucumber Gazpacho

cucumber gazpacho

 

Summer weather.

It’s my favorite time of year. Not just because I can zip around on my bike without a balaclava but because summer veggies make dinner easy and delicious. Gazpacho is refreshing dinner that can double as lunch the next day. Though traditionally made with tomatoes I decided to green it up a bit with tomatillos and cucumbers.

Whaaaaat? So good. So healthy.

Ingredients

  • Cucumbers- 3 roughly chopped
  • Green bell pepper- 1 roughly chopped
  • Green chiles- 2 chopped
  • Tomatillos – 4 medium
  • Garlic- 2 cloves
  • Shallots- 2
  • Lime- 2 juiced
  • Mint- one bunch
  • Broth- 1/2 (I used veggie)
  • Balsamic vinegar (use a higher quality if you’ve got it- definitely can taste the difference)- 2 tablespoons
  • Cilantro- one bunch
  • Black pepper
  • Coarse sea salt- Maldon is my fave

*Optional 1/2 cup of white wine in place of 1/2 cup of broth

 

 

Directions

  1. In a food processor or vitamix blend the veggies, mint, cilantro, balsamic, lime juice. (You’ll have to do this in batches as it won’t all fit.)
  2. Once one batch is done pour into a large soup serving bowl- if the soup is more smoothie like- add more liquid…
  3. Refrigerate for 45 minutes
  4. Stir before serving- I garnished with mango and cilantro- but whatever floats your boat will do just fine!
  5. Serve with salad!

What are some of your favorite cold soup recipes? I’m always looking for new ones!!

 

Namaste y’all.

More Gardening Yoga – Adventures from the Community Garden

Community Garden
There’s a groundhog in the community garden. I need to build a little fence to keep this visitor away from my veggies. Not sure why this freaked me out a bit but all I could think was- how do I construct a fence? I imagined blueprints and saws lumber and overalls. I should mention that my plot is 3×5. After all, I had just come to weed the plot and water… Now I had to take a shop class.
Captain Overthink strikes again.
Fortunately for me (and you) I have a rational side.

After becoming a little overwhelmed at the jungle my little garden had turned into I looked around and smiled at how great things were in that moment.

On a Saturday afternoon I was weeding my garden where I’m growing food that I will (hopefully) be able to consume. The gardens were in their full green glory and later I’d be doing a sunset practice in Times Square with my sister and her friend to celebrate the solstice. There was nothing overwhelming.
There are a few benches scattered around the garden so I decided to meditate outside. It was tricky at first taking in the sounds of outside, but as they began to fade to a whisper in the background I became aware of the breeze rippling through the gardens and the ivy climbing up the embankment. At some point things felt very quiet and I don’t know if that was me letting go or if the breeze and chatter stopped at one point.
Bench
When I finished and opened my eyes to all some much green from the garden I couldn’t help but smile from the inside out. It’s summer solstice an all is well.
My garden is growing.
Namaste y’all.

Yoga in Times Square- Mind Over Madness 2014

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“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”
― Charles Bowden

 

I love the summer. Call it nostalgia but warm weather makes anything possible. Maybe it’s because I’m not wrapped in layers of clothes. Maybe I’m just a hot-blooded yogi. Whatever it is, it works for me. Yesterday, I celebrated the coming of summer by doing what I have done for the past few years- yoga in Times Sq. Mind Over Madness 2014 had over 11,000 yogis register.

This year I went with my sister, Ashley and friend Luanda. We unrolled our mats and prepared for a sunset flow with Ali Cramer of Laughing Lotus.

We stretched and opened our hearts as the sun began to set. Ali’s words inspired me to feel my body open with compassion and strength. Move in way that feels right for your body Ali encouraged- so I did. Flowing into to warriors on an inhale and falling into chat on an exhale I felt my belly wake up for the first time since surgery. There was no pain. My patience paid off. Being gentle can help me be warrior.

My body is recovering – I thought. Relief washed over me. No seven inch belly incision can get me down because I can show up for me. I can show up and be still when I need to. And when the time feels right I can roar with my heart, reach my hands up to the sky and send out all the love I have because I was brave enough to love myself.

When we got to the ground we put our hands behind our heads and Times Sq became our beach. With hundreds of other yogis I took in the lights at the crossroads of the world. Luanda turned to me and said, ‘I can’t believe we are laying on our backs in the middle of Times Sq.’

It’s a pretty crazy thought. Both Ashley and Luanda are in that part of town during the week. Ashley said the next time she feels stressed among the 9-5 hustle she’s going to remember how she felt doing yoga and hold onto that.

Good plan.

Happy Summer Solstice.

Namaste y’all.