Rikers Island Yoga

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“Thoughts are things, so make ‘em good ones.” -unknown

A lot of women I encounter in jail have endured a life of being told that they are less than. Being told that they don’t matter. Being told that they are nothing more than a body to be used, abused and thrown away.

In trauma sensitive yoga we find ways to take negative self-talk and replace it with positive language. Sometimes to quiet the loud external voice it requires a fake it until you feel it approach.

For instance, in a study by researchers at Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, people who used positive affirmations for two weeks experienced higher self esteem than at the beginning of the study. Also, in a study published in the Journal of American College Health, researchers found that women treated with cognitive behavioral techniques, which included use of positive affirmations, experienced a decrease in depressive symptoms and negative thinking. A study by researchers at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, had similar results, and came to a similar conclusion.
Yoga may assist in helping you feel. When you start breathing and moving there’s a chance to move up the emotional ladder from faking feeling good to actually feeling good. Affirmations and/or mantras partner well with yoga and the process of building self-esteem and mindfulness.

In the sentenced women’s dorm I used a silent affirmation meditation to open class. I had students pick one thing they loved about themselves that wasn’t physical and turn it into an ‘I am’ statement. I am brave. I am compassionate. I am smart. I am love.

If they wanted, they could come back to their phrase over and over. Every time we met in Mountain pose I invited them to silently repeat their I am statement with hands gently pressing their hearts. Before closing class an I offered the option one more time.

I heard a women whisper ‘ I am hopeful for a better life.’ It caught me off guard and I had to pause before saying ‘Namaste’ because of the huge lump in my throat. Her voice stayed with me all day, not just because it was moving but because it was honest and so very real.

I am hopeful for a better life.
I am hopeful for a better life,
I am hopeful for a better life-
I am hopeful for a better life.

Aren’t we all?

I am hopeful for a better life.
I am hopeful that one day all beings will be happy and free.
I am hopeful.
I am.

Namaste y’all.

Meatless Monday – Confessions Dressed with a Lemon Caper Vinaigrette

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Meatless Monday was on hiatus primarily because I was over thinking it. Stymied and frustrated I wallowed in self-pity because I wasn’t creating recipes that I deemed ‘blog-worthy’. Then I called bullsh*t on myself.

The thing I loved about Meatless Monday was that it was supposed to be easy and fun, Part of living a mindful life in being in the moment and accepting what is. I stopped doing this when it came to posts. This week I decided throw myself into the fire and whip up whatever I had handy.

This was inspired by a book I love, Culinary Artistry its a cooking concept book that talks about flavors and the science behind what foods and spices marry well. I’m not a cook who loves to follow a recipe to the letter, so this appealed to me. The result is what is this week’s Meatless Monday recipe.

The farmers market had asparagus on the cheap. In my fridge I spied a head of cauliflower, capers, lemons and spring greens.

Warm Cauliflower and Asparagus Salad with a lemon caper vinaigrette

  • Cauliflower florets
  • Asparagus
  • Juice from one lemon
  • Capers (2 ounces with juice)
  • 1/4 cup light tasting olive oil
  • 1 TSP dijon mustard
  • 1/2 shallot minced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • handful parsley chopped
  • one small onion sliced

 

Directions

  1. Steam florets and asparagus for two minutes until just tender.
  2. Quickly sauté veggies with garlic and sliced onions for three minutes with one tablespoon olive oil.
  3. Plate veggies on spring mix and dress with vinaigrette.

For the Vinaigrette

  1. Whisk shallots, mustard, lemon juice, capers, remaining olive oil and parsley

 

 

 

It was easy and delish. Next time I might add quinoa or brown rice or mushrooms for some heft, but a really big serving of this left me very satisfied.

Sometimes you have to step away from something to know you really want it.

Happy Meatless Monday!!!

Namaste y’all.

 

 

Rikers Yoga

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At Rikers there are lots of ‘squeaky wheels’. It  gets the grease and whatnot. But lately, there’s one student who has really been getting into yoga. She’s been taking classes with me for almost three months. Mina (not her real name) is quiet and seems pensive. During the first class her eyes would widen as her body would open. But even as her friends went home, and class got smaller she kept showing up. With each passing week she’s become stronger and started asking questions. Last week, class was three deep, after sun salutations, the crew looked a little bored. I asked them what they wanted to do.

There’s always a pause when you ask a student in jail what they want. It’s so unusual. And then….
Something hard, one said. Something fun, another said. All three were fit and demonstrated core strength and coordination so we took it to the wall for L pose and handstand practice.
Word. Go time. 
Mina was kicking up before I cued it. On her hands against the wall she was asking, ‘Like this?’ without struggle in her voice. All three were amazing and radiant. There is joy in going upside down. The other women in the dorm were proud of all of them clapping and cheering them on.
This week she was the only one who showed up to class. The call for rec had come just before I got there. With the first whiff of warm weather, I’d probably choose to be outside as well. Mina asked if we would still have class since she was the only one. A huge smile graced my face because a student who can do handstands and no other people = F.U.N. There is something shy and powerful about Mina, she smiles but is hesitant to look at you straight on. After holding her handstand she smiles broadly but it disappears just as quickly. After class she let me know that she was going home in two weeks so I’d only see her for one more time. She put her blocks on the cart and looked me right in the eyes and said, “I’m never coming back.”
I believe her.
Shout out to all the Minas.
Namaste y’all.

Rikers Yoga

Photo NYT
Photo NYT
Today at Rikers:

Building 7 was still except for Marissa(not her name) having a debate with the officer on post. It was clear Marissa wasn’t happy with how the conversation was going. There was anger brewing. Upon seeing me the officer said, “Why don’t you do some yoga. It will help you.”

Initially, Marissa plunked herself down in a chair out of protest, but I could see her eyeing the bolsters.
I must digress, bolsters are my secret weapon. After sleeping on a cot with a 3 inch thick mattress one can’t help but sneak a peak at a juicy pillow. Back to the class… 
Raquel, my other regular from 7 was having a bad day and wasn’t interested in practicing. In this ‘house’ there are about 15 women, but the group that is there now is hard to motivate. This has not always been the case. It’s a challenge because these women are potentially a step away from solitary. They really need a chance to breathe. More and more I get stopped by women who want classes in their houses or dorms. It’s tough to rally a group when I know other students would be on their mats in a second. Rocks, hard place and all that jazz.
I gave another holler for yoga and decided to head back to teach another class on the fourth floor. Marissa looked at me and said, “If you want me to take the class I will. You don’t have to go.”
“It’s your choice. You don’t have to take this.”
I made this distinction on purpose. It wasn’t that I wanted Marissa to think she wasn’t doing me any favors. It’s important to give these women a chance to say yes of no to something. While I want to get every single body in Rikers to a class, I can’t mandate anything. (Well, I wouldn’t turn people away if it was required. Secretly, I may rejoice Officers and inmates taking classes together. One can dream).
Choice matters. Marissa made the decision to come to her mat. If she is bought in, she’s more likely to see benefits sooner rather than later.
She said, “I gotta get rid of some of this anger.”
We introduced ourselves and I asked her where in her body she felt the anger. It was in her head, neck and shoulders. I had her practice some gentle head and neck movements and then we did pranayama. As soon as we finished pranayama Marissa asked me about sit-ups. She’s been doing them but thought she was breathing wrong, ‘it’s like I’m fighting myself and now after doing this I think I’m breathing wrong or maybe not at all.’ It was a really astute observation. After we started moving Raquel came over smiling and grabbed a mat. Whatever she was going through wasn’t enough to keep her away from a chance to do yoga. We talked for awhile about weight gain- both had gained 40 pounds since arriving. With one knowing that her ‘journey’ (her words) will take her a prison that reportedly has a gym and lots of classes they excitedly talked about losing weight.
After class I asked Marissa how she was…”Better but I still need to settle this issue,” she said laughing.
As I headed out, Marissa came over and said, “What’s that thing with the hands and seeing the good in someone?”
“Namaste,” I replied. She looked over at the officer who she was now joking with and said Namaste to her.
She asked if I would be back next week, because she wanted to do more yoga.
It’s not even a question. Namaste y’all.
Liberation Prison Yoga is in the middle of an Indiegogo Campaign and we NEED your DONATIONS and SUPPORT. Click here to view the campaign and give. We will be able to expand our programs and train more teachers. We are getting flooded with requests to do programs but need money to grow.
Know yoga. Know peace.

https://www.indiegogo.com/project/liberation-prison-yoga/embedded/9637391

Spring Fever Yoga

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It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!

-Mark Twain

For real.

It’s going to be 60 today and I can’t tell you how much I want to do. I feel like a little kid. First I’ll take Dakota on a long walk. And then I’ll do a walking meditation after teaching. Then a wee bit of mania sets in.

And then I’ll take a class.AndthenI’lltakeabikerideandthenI’llstopatthefarmersmarketandthenandthenandthen…. 

I kid. Sort of. Every spring I do get a rush of energy to do, do, do. I wondered if Spring Fever is a ‘thing’. Turns out, there’s some science behind why we get so revved up when the weather warms.

In an article for the New York Times a doctor breaks things down.

”Spring fever is an ill-defined quantity,” said Dr. Michael Terman, the director of the Light Therapy Unit at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan. ”By some definitions it means lassitude, by others it means energy spurts and irresponsibility.”

When spring arrives, I do get this urge to play. This is something I normally feel. We’re not talking swinging from chandeliers but I feel a more compelled to participate, accept dates and even make plans which is not in my nature. Another doctor writes in the same article that it may not all be in someone’s head.

But while this reaction was once thought to be psychological, Dr. Rosenthal said there is increasing evidence that it is actually physiological; the change in seasons prompts a readjustment in the body’s internal chemistry. 

Exactly how the body is affected is still unclear, but one popular theory is that the increasing intensity and longevity of sunlight in spring is somehow measured by the brain, probably through the eyes. This information is then transmitted to the pineal gland in the base of the cerebrum, which responds by reducing its secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences mood and energy levels.

Wow!

I did a little more digging and found this great clip on Scientific American which backs up the notion that Spring fever isn’t just the stuff of poetry.

 

 

 

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f8/1399191810

Do you ever feel feverish when the warm weather hits?

Namaste y’all. Happy Spring!!!

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.