Adventures in Yoga Teaching – Riker’s Island (Liberation Prison Yoga)

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I really like Tuesdays. However, this week I was cautiously optimistic about what would take place in 3 South A, the sentenced women’s dorm. Last week had a shaky start but seemed to end on a high note. I was hoping that I’d see some new faces in class.

I felt fantastic despite the rain and made my way to the 5th floor of the 800 Bed Annex. I was chatting with Ms. Gregory for a few minutes and headed to the dorm with the cart  packed with mats and blocks. I saw heads peeking around the corner and someone said, ‘It’s her, she’s here.’ When I got buzzed in people were waiting. This was definitely a change Normally, I come in and announce that yoga was happening. To have students waiting is a great sign.

We didn’t write this week, but we did have a great discussion about meditation being a way to calm the mind. Everyone listed ways that meditation makes them feel better. This list was a way to come back to a sense of peace and stillness when future bouts of anxiety surfaced. After our conversation I talked about pranayama. We did a few rounds of Kapalabhati and everyone commented on the change they felt in their body.

I’m noticing the level of focus increase over a short period of time. When I first started teaching we were doing some of the basics but didn’t have a full flow class. Each week the classes get longer and I’m adding a bit more. There are still lots of women who watch and do poses from their seats, but each week the floor is getting full of mats (I even see the COs sneak a look inside the class to see what’s going on). During meditation, everyone is quiet. After class a young woman asked me if there were poses that she could do that would help her relax when she had a headache. Right after someone else asked if there were poses to do for cramps. I’m encouraged that there’s a connection being made between yoga being a way to feel better and not just as a physical activity. I made a mental note to incorporate the therapeutic benefit of poses in classes from now on.

After I packed up- I took a gulp and headed downstairs to 3 South A. I wasn’t nervous, but I was bracing myself for the noise. It makes me want to cry thinking about it. If I had to live with that much noise all of the time, I’d lose my mind. Honestly.

I made my way in and announced that it was yoga time for those who were interested. Eight women came over. Someone turned off the TV. I tried to be cool and not dance around like a clown. But I was dancing on the inside.

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Yes. Yes, I was dancing like this on the inside. But back to class.

I asked everyone’s names and if they had ever done yoga before and many had. We had solid class and worked fairly hard. Meditation was very long and got a bit noisy with a spirited game of spades going on but I could feel the stillness of the group, and that’s what mattered. And after class someone asked about poses that help with back issues and cramps.

I think it’s clear that there’s a desire to use yoga for self-care and that’s great. Next week should be interesting.

Namaste y’all.

Food Yoga – Meatless Monday! (Daal Tadka)

daal

Happy Meatless Monday!!

This week you may want to try lentils. My recipe this week is brought to you by the blog Zenfully Delicious. I love Indian food and Daal is an easy way to try something new. For those of you new to the idea of removing meat from your diet creating interesting meals is good plan to keep you on track. Finding ‘meat’ substitutes wash’t something that worked for me. Generally speaking, I found that having great meals that didn’t need meat was the best way to me to enjoy a meatless lifestyle. While Daal is considered to be an accompaniment to an Indian meal, I had it as a main dish with some salad.

The key to Daal is the tempering of the spices at the end. Tempering spices in Indian cooking is an essential step and depending on the dish is either done at the beginning of cooking or at the end. In the case of Daal it is done at the end.

With Daal you can spice this up as much as you want. I added Garam Masala, smoked Paprika and a few drops of mustard oil to my tempering mixture.

Today’s Special is a cute indie flick I saw on Netflix. The scene with the tempering of the spices is particularly funny.

Anyway, back to the recipe.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
1½ cups yellow split lentils or toor lentils
½ a medium onion, finely chopped
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
4 cloves or 2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Juice of half lemon

3-4 cups cups veggie stock (or water) (this depending on how soupy you’d like your daal. More liquid = more soup)

Tempering ingredients:
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 clove or ½ teaspoon minced garlic
1 whole Serrano pepper
½ teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon coriander powder
¼ teaspoon chili powder

Directions

  1. In a large pot add 2 tablespoons olive oil ( you could also use butter or ghee but I’m keeping the dish vegan).
  2. Saute onions, tomatoes and garlic
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients except the cilantro
  4. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat.
  5. I deviated from the recipe here and added a little more spice. I like lots of flavor into the pot went more cumin, curry powder, red pepper flakes, freshly grated ginger and lime juice)
  6. Prepare tempering ingredients by measuring them out first.  Don’t mix them all together. I placed them on a flexible cutting board. The process happens quickly and it will burn if you try to gather the spices and temper at the same time.  Ask me how I know this.
  7. Simmer lentils for 20 minutes (or longer if you like them softer)
  8. Temper the spices and add to the daal as it is finished cooking.
  9. Stir in the tempered spices.
  10. Serve over rice immediately.

Tempering Spices

Heat canola oil in a pan on a stovetop till it shimmers (should be hot). Turn off the heat. To this hot oil, add the cumin seeds, garlic, Serrano pepper and dry spices. Everything should sizzle in the pan. (Watch out for splattering spices during this process.)

I added a dollop of cilantro chutney which can be found in most grocery stores. In my pantry I also had some chickpea chips. Perfect for a garnish!

Enjoy!!

Namaste y’all!!

Adventures in Teaching Yoga- Riker’s Island (Liberation Prison Yoga

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8:20 am (On the Q100 to Riker’s)

I was hesitant to write a post last week. It’s not because anything dramatic happened, just the opposite in fact. It was hot last and despite the air conditioning being out on the B side of the dorm- 15 women still showed up to do yoga. Honestly, it felt a little more like my hot yoga classes. However, I went with it. Because it was warm I actually had us move a little more. My thinking was, we’re going to sweat anyway- we may as well make it good. As luck would have it, when we got to meditation the air came back on. All in all it was a great class.

8:35 (On the Riker’s Route Bus)

Over the wekeend I spoke with Anneke. She wanted to know if I would be interested in discussing the possibility of teaching a class to the sentenced women a few floors down. The vibe would be decidedly less friendly. Of course I said- sure, why not?

So…after I teach the B side I’ll head downstairs and see what happens. I’m a little unsure about how this is going to go. Because my initial experience was so incredible I’m thinking that challenge is on the horizon.

Leap.

Oddly on the bus…Kirk Franklin’s ‘Smile’ is playing loudly.

Good Plan.

After Class…

I’m back on the bus. Smiling.

Let me take you through it- because I’m still not sure what happened myself…

With a cart packed with mats and blocks I enter the elevator and press 3. Both Carmen, the dorm counselor of the A side and Anneke offered to take me down to the third floor- but I said I’d rather go on my own. The set-up for sentenced women is different than those who are pre-sentenced. And frankly, there’s no real incentive for them to have to take class- they’re already convicted. There aren’t counselors either- no buffer. Just me and my yoga mats.

It wasn’t pride that refused the escort- I feel like these women may have snickered- the yoga teacher feels like she needs a chaperone?

 

Anyway, I get buzzed in and instantly I’m slammed by the noise. It’s loud. So ear piercingly, soul shatteringly loud.

Last night I had a dream that I was in prison- an anxiety dream no doubt. I was in a cage across from a guy in an orange jumpsuit hurling sexual slurs- there were blue earplugs on a chain just out of reach. 

My dream comes back as I wheel my cart into the dining area. People are screaming conversations at each other. It’s not hostile, just loud. The TV blares and the buzzing of the door seems louder than upstairs, though I’m sure it isn’t.

Okay smarty pants I tell myself- whatcha gonna do with this chaos?

I smile, say hi- introduce myself and ask the women sitting if they want to do yoga. One says no and looks at me like I’m an idiot. Another looks at me and turns away and two women who are having what I’m pretty sure is the loudest conversation ever don’t acknowledge me.

Splendid.

But now- I’m committed. Damn- I’ma do this, I think. Rejection?! I laugh at rejection.

So I leave the cart and walk to the dorm and say hey to the officer and introduce myself and say that I’m here to teach yoga weekly. He announces it for me- which is helpful. No one stirs but I ask again if anyone wants to do yoga. I get two takers and a third who wants to but can’t because this is the time she gets to visit her daughter.

Sitting on mats and blocks we get started. It’s still loud.

So loud.

On TV Maury talks to mother who has slept with her daughter’s baby daddy and who is also pregnant with said baby daddy’s baby.

But this is life in this dorm so I can adapt or go home. We warm up and I tell them about sun salutations. Wondering how I’m going to grab the attention of the two women talking loudly I opt for distraction. I figure if they get distracted they may unknowingly lower their voices even a half decibel.

I demo a sun salutation and jump back high, smooth and light. I float forward (with bent knees) and hover over my shoulders before landing.

‘Our practice on our mats- asana prepares us for meditation. Each week we’ll spend time together and build a practice that you’ll be able to do on your own. You guys want to have some fun?’

They’re ready.

‘Did you just see that shit she did?’ said one of the women at the table.

Silence. They begin to watch class. Phew.

The class and I do modified sun salutes over and over. They’re hooked and I’m thrilled.

(Did I see someone turn down the TV?)

In tree pose one of the women who was talking loudly says she wants to join. She sets up a mat and blocks. In the background someone else is saying that if more people don’t come to join class ‘she wont be back.’ It was still noisy but we had fun and moved our bodies.

I offered to do a guided meditation and they said yes before I could finish asking. While class was short- I did long meditation- making the noise a part of it in order to release it. This may have been more for me than them. By this time a few more women had come in to observe and when I opened my eyes for a moment during meditation I could see the woman who looked at me like I was a fool when I first entered had her eyes closed.

No one was talking and someone had closed the door to the dorm to cut down on the noise.

We close class. They say they feel good.

 

I tell them I’ll see them next week.

Other women tell me they might try next time. Another says it looked pretty cool.

Back upstairs someone asks why I didn’t turn down the TV or quiet the room.

I wouldn’t walk into someone’s home and turn the channel. Whether they like it or not this is their home- I’m an unknown and uninvited visitor. However, for an hour every week I need up carve out a corner and hope that people will respect it.

Think things are on the right track.

I can’t wait for next week.

On the PATH train I’m covered in stillness. Even with the doors open and trains pulling in and leaving, announcements pouring out of speakers- it’s still more quiet than the dorm.

Every week I become more present to the things I take for granted. Silence. Stillness. Peace of Mind.

The sentenced women’s dorm is going to be a glorious challenge and I already know it’s going to change me in ways I can’t imagine.

 

I’m so grateful.

 

Namaste y’all.

 

Please read more about  Anneke Lucas and Liberation Prison Yoga.

 

 

Meatless Monday – Baby Kale Salad with Spaghetti Squash and Ginger Tahini Dressing

S squash salad

 

Meatless Monday is more than an idea, it’s a movement. Check out the history below (From MeatlessMonday.com)

 

Meatless Monday is not a new idea. During World War I, the U.S. Food Administration urged families to reduce consumption of key staples to aid the war effort. “Food Will Win the War,” the government proclaimed, and “Meatless Monday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” were introduced to encourage Americans to do their part. The effect was overwhelming; more than 13 million families signed a pledge to observe the national meatless and wheatless conservation days.1

The campaign returned during World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt relaunched it to help that war’s efforts on the home front. In the immediate post-war years, President Harry S. Truman continued the campaign to help feed war-ravaged Europe.

Meatless Monday was revived in 2003 by former ad man turned health advocate Sid Lerner, in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future. Reintroduced as a public health awareness campaign, Meatless Monday addresses the prevalence of preventable illnesses associated with excessive meat consumption. With the average American eating as much as 75 more pounds of meat each year than in generations past, our message of “one day a week, cut out meat” is a way for individuals to do something good for themselves and for the planet.

Since 2003, Meatless Monday has grown into a global movement powered by a network of participating individuals, hospitals, schools, worksites and restaurants around the world. The reason is twofold: the simplicity of Meatless Monday’s message has allowed the campaign to be embraced, talked about and shared by participants around the world, while the health benefits of reducing meat consumption are regular stories in the nation’s news outlets.

At The Monday Campaigns, we believe Monday is the day all health breaks loose. Research shows that Monday is the perfect day to make small, positive changes. The repeating cycle of the week allows Monday, 52 times a year, to be the day people commit to all kinds of healthy behaviors.

To that end, we have launched other campaigns that leverage the Monday concept for positive outcomes, like The Kids Cook MondayMove It Monday, and Quit and Stay Quit Monday. In addition to Johns Hopkins, we’ve partnered with other leading public health schools—Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and the Maxwell School at Syracuse University—that serve with us as scientific advisors and work with us to develop evidence-based models using the Monday concept.

1. History of the United States Food Administration, 1917-1919 By William Clinton Mullendore, Ralph Haswell Lutz  (Stanford University Press, 1941)

2. Conservation and Regulation in the United States During the World War: An Outline for a Course of Lectures to Be Given in Higher Educational Institutions, Volume 2 By Charles R. Van Hise (United States Food Administration, 1918)

 

 

Here’s this week’s meal!!!

 

It’s a hearty salad. But the dressing is the star. Over the weekend someone mentioned a tahini salad dressing that was out of this world. However, the recipe is in a cookbook not yet released. So, I decided to do some homework and play around with one of my own.

 

This dressing be used on sandwiches or as a sauce for veggies and pasta.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup water
  • juice from one lime
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • splash apple cider vinegar (I used Bragg’s)
  • splash tamari (reduced sodium)
  • splash rice wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • medium hunk of fresh garlic minced

Blend everything until smooth.

 

To the dressing I added:

  • baby kale
  • thinly sliced onions (next time I’ll use red or vidalia, but white is what was on hand)
  • spaghetti squash*
  • baby tomatoes quartered
  • fresh garlic- minced
  • green apple chopped
  • sea salt
  • pumpkin seed pepita (pistachios would be a tasty addition)

 

* I steamed the squash in the microwave. I sliced the squash lengthwise and removed seeds. I leveled the squash by removing a strip of skin so it would wobble and added a little less than 1/2 cup water to one half. I placed the other half on top and microwaved for 12 minutes (1.5 lb squash). Carefully I took the squash out of the microwave and let cool. Then I took a fork to pull out the ‘spaghetti’.

I tossed everything until coated and devoured as it hit the plate. Delish!!!

 

Namaste y’all! May all beings everywhere be happy and free.

What’s on your dinner menu?

Meatless Monday – Food Yoga

Meatless Monday 9:1

 

A few years ago, my sister and I started a health and wellness blog. One of the most popular series was our selection of Meatless Monday recipes. While our site is being revamped and improved I thought that the Meatless Monday tradition should live on.

Why Meatless Monday? When I first started Meatless Monday, I was still eating meat. I’m not here to judge you if you do. But there’s no fighting some facts about eating less meat. Going meatless at least one day a week is good for you and the planet.

 

From the Washington Post

Much of the focus on the climate impact of meat has been on cattle, and with good reason. Any way you slice it, beef has the highest environmental cost of just about any food going, and the cow’s digestive system is to blame. Ruminants — cows, sheep, goats and also yaks and giraffes — have a four-chambered stomach that digests plants by fermentation. A byproduct of that fermentation is methane, a greenhouse gas with some 20 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon. One cow’s annual output of methane — about 100 kilograms — is equivalent to the emissions generated by a car burning 235 gallons of gasoline.

 

If you aren’t a plant based person coming up with recipes may seem daunting- but friends that’s why I’m here. I’m committed to making this process easier, should you choose to give it a shot. Each week I’ll post one recipe. Service. Seva. We’re all in this together. And hey- don’t be shy!! If you have some great recipes and would like to share them- let me know! I’d be happy to do a guest post with a link to your blog or social media networks!

Let’s start our own food yoga movement!!!

 

Namaste y’all.

 

Check out the recipe below.

 

Kale and Snow Pea Sauté with Rainbow Quinoa Salad

 

I used:

  • large bunch of kale chopped
  • snow peas
  • garlic- 3 cloves chopped
  • scallions
  • juice from one lemon
  • medium onion- roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (I used lemon infused)
  • quality balsamic
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Blanch veggies for two minutes
  2. Pat dry veggies
  3. Heat large skillet with olive oil
  4. First add garlic and onions- quickly cook until fragrant
  5. Add scallions and veggies
  6. Sauté for six minutes or so (a bit longer if you like your veggies cooked through more)

 

For the quinoa salad

(for 4 servings)

  • 2 cups cooked rainbow quinoa
  • medium red onion sliced and cut in halves
  • cherry tomatoes- cut in halves
  • feta (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon quality balsamic  vinegar

Toss all ingredients.

 

The veggies can be used as sandwich filling (think wrap with hummus- yum) or tossed with pasta!!

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Teaching Yoga- A Small Class Was a Blast

small class

August has been a lil funny. With no real dog days I think that most folks in Dirty Jerz have been hanging outside- enjoying the weather. I’ve been doing longer rides on my bike and have enjoyed taking Dakota on leisurely walks when typically in August, I’m keeping her inside to stay cool. Class attendance at the studios where I teach has been hit and miss. But rather than worry about small class sizes, I took the opportunity to play with my teaching style and make deeper connections with my students.

Small classes can create a mini-workshop atmosphere. Without breaking the pace or flow of a class, I’m able to make specific adjustments allowing students to have real aha moments in their body or mind. Last week during small hot class I found that one student asked a few questions about a few poses. It was a great moment for her and the other student who had the same question. But because it was just us- the conversation didn’t take long and we were able to get back to the meditative aspect of the asana practice.

After class both students thanked me profusely and said it was a treat to be able to get one-on-one time with a teacher.

It was a treat for me too.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Teaching Yoga- Prison Yoga (Liberation Prison Yoga)

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This is a teaching on a Tibetan word: shenpa. The usual translation of the word shenpa is attachment. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition was attachment. But the word “attachment” absolutely doesn’t get at what it is. Dzigar Kongtrul said not to use that translation because it’s incomplete, and it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.

If I were translating shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I’m going to give you a few. One word might be hooked. How we get hooked.

Another synonym for shenpa might be that sticky feeling. In terms of last night’s analogy about having scabies, that itch that goes along with that and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and it’s the urge to scratch. So, urge is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, the urge to have one more drink, or whatever it is where your addiction is.

 

- Pema Chödrön

 

Hooked.  It’s been a part of my dharma talks in my studio classes. But when it came up as a topic for my Riker’s students, it felt sticky and tricky. A lot of the women in my class are at Riker’s for alleged drug related offenses. Because of my hammer personality I tend to see all problems as nails. However, I thought that approaching addiction from a unique angle may bring a new perspective. To add a little more tension to the mix, the B side of the dorms had their bunks searched in the middle of the night- so needless to say things were running a little…

When I got there- everyone was still cleaning up. The A side of the dorm didn’t have a teacher that day- so instead of sitting around waiting for the B side to get ready- I decided to do yoga with the A side as well.

 

Before our practice we talked about attachment and how the asana practice can get the mind ready to meditate. Taking it a step further we discussed how meditation can help us deal with that ‘hooked’ feeling or itch that Pema brilliantly articulates. I made our practice a bit tougher than usual, discussing throughout how when we work our bodies hard it helps clear the mind and is a distraction from looping thoughts or old stories that we tell ourselves. As a class we went through sun salutations, warriors, lunges, standing backbends, balancing poses and a brief standing meditation. By the time we hit the floor everyone (including me) had worked up a bit of a sweat.

 

I brought my copy of Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön and read a paragraph before guided meditation. One of the students translates for a friend who doesn’t speak any English and I found her voice soothing as I guided the class to a place of stillness.

 

When I finished a few students helped me take the mats and bolsters to the B side where I found some students ready and waiting. A few of them told me that about the search. They were ready for yoga. With this side feeling a little more tense we worked even harder. It was a good move. Every time we came to a balancing pose I reminded them not be attached- to the pose, to expectations…to anything. Everything changes because nothing is forever. We could have gotten down and dirty with the murky shit that surrounds addictive behavior- but they have group all day. In the moment it felt right to take a yogic approach to letting go.

 

And when we were in tree the Jane’s Addiction’s song Jane Says started playing in my head. In a brief moment I thought about addiction and some of the dumb things that I did in high school and college (and who are we kidding in my twenties)…it’s a roll of the dice. I was never addicted to drugs- but easily could have been. A one bad decision can lead to another. And when addiction gets hold all the great parenting and supportive home structures can’t save you. There are less differences that one might think between people inside jail and outside of jail.

When I’m there I focus on the things that make us the same.

When I am there- we are all yogis.

We are all the same.

 

By the time we were on our mats the room was breathing differently. It still felt a little tense but it was decidedly better than when we started. I used to think energy was woo-woo- but you can sense how a room feels and that’s not bs. The guided meditation helped to dissipate more tension. And by the time we ended, things felt better. I won’t say that things were great because I can’t imagine that a yoga class can take away the fear from a late night/early morning dorm search- but there were some smiles of relief and the question that never gets old. ‘You’ll be back next week?’

Definitely.

Namaste y’all.