Rikers Island Yoga

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This post is for the introverts. As much as the big personalities make themselves seen in a place like Rikers, I also see those that are quiet.

In the summer the city gets hot but it feels even hotter at Rikers. Despite the heat students asked if they could work on the core. This made me smile for a variety of reasons. First, it’s awesome to see students feel empowered enough to ask for something. This takes courage. Second, it was HOT and I can’t believe they were looking to get even sweatier. But who am I to argue with passion? I had planned on talking about compassion for the self but instead we discussed our inner fire. How do we light it? Honor it? How does it inspire us?
Miriam practiced with a peaceful determination. She didn’t chat during class but smiled at certain points and it seemed that she was looking inward. In side plank her leg floated in the air and in half-moon she smiled to herself as she explored her possibilities by lifting her hand. This was yoga in action. Half-moon was a way for Miriam to embrace the moment rather than getting the pose right. Miriam had touched her core and lit her inner fire.
So much happens in the boisterous conversations at Rikers but it was really Miriam’s inward reflection that moved me. Sometimes I feel guilty to witness such beauty. But because o know it’s not mine I’m able to let it go and hope that Miriam knows what a powerful spirit she is. Shout out to those who are quiet. Sometimes it’s not the loudest voice that gets heard,but the most sonorous.

Saturday Yoga – Dream Big Like The G.O.A.T.

Muhammad Ali Boxer (21) (wwesuperb.blogspot.com)

(photo via The Guardian)

 

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough” – G.O.A.T.

Dreaming big doesn’t have to be extravagant- it may scare you to dream of a day when you don’t wake up stressed. It may be scary to dream of a day when you do something that honors your true self. It may be a dream for you to speak your truth regardless of what others may think.

Let’s all dream big. Let’s sit with ourselves in stillness find out what makes us scared shitless and go after it anyway.

Rikers Island Yoga

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Patty* was new to the dorm. With another quiet morning, I thought class would be light. When I asked if anyone wanted to practice she quietly raised her hand. I could see her hanging back seeing if anyone else would join her, when no one did she came out by herself. ‘I’ve worked out before but never done yoga, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ There was a hard shell around her, one I’ve seen a lot. It‘s necessary to survive the experience. I gave her a mat, blocks and bolster and told her that I would do some poses and she could do what felt right for her. I got a nod and we were off. Again I spoke about the stress response. It’s important. These women live in a state of stress every moment of every day, sometimes even while asleep. When I talk about how yoga may help that as well as the spirit, a compassionate determination rises up. Patty’s gentle movement inspired 6 others and another 3 watched. Conversation picked up. During a lull Patty burst out and said, ‘I was really shy when I first started class. It’s like being 5 at the playground all over again. But I like this’ Carmen*, another student said, ‘I’m glad you did, it’s what made me come over.’ Another said, ‘Yeah, me too.’ Others nodded in agreement. By the time we arrived at meditation Patty had to leave for medical but she looked at me and asked my name again. She’d heard it earlier but decided she was interested in knowing it. I get that. She also gave me her real name and said she’d see me next week.

She felt good.

After class there was more chatting than usual. And even though Patty had left class she was the catalyst. It only takes one. I saw her on my way out and she had her armor back on but she caught my eye and threw me a small nod. There isn’t a day that this work isn’t powerful. You hold the space. It’s not about you. You take care of yourself and your soul because this work demands it and you deserve it. But once in awhile a class can really crack your heart open and make you grateful.

This is yoga and it can quietly change the world.
May all beings be free from suffering.

Sunday Yoga

sunrise

“I’m in no hurry: the sun and the moon aren’t, either.
Nobody goes faster than the legs they have.
If where I want to go is far away, I’m not there in an instant.”
― Alberto CaeiroThe Collected Poems of Alberto Caeiro

Sometimes it seems easier to not have time. It’s easier to not have time to be healthy. It’s faster to say ‘who has time to meditate or do yoga?’

I was like that. Moving so fast that I didn’t realize that slowing down would give me the time to reevaluate what was important. Sitting still gives me a chance to be in the thick of things even when it’s uncomfortable.

I love waking up much earlier than I need to. Laying in bed just before the sun comes up is precious. It’s time to be quiet with anything that needs attention. Sometimes it’s just nice to be with the silence of my busy Jersey City hood before the activity of the day.

Time…is on my side. Yes it is. 

Namaste y’all.

Saturday Yoga

jk rowling quote

I’ve been thinking about my class yesterday at Rikers. After class a woman who had been watching asked me what yoga was all about. I told her that yoga is a way for me to unite my body and breathing so I can be in the moment. I told her that in many ways it saved my life, which is why I wanted to serve by teaching yoga to isolated communities.

‘Really? It saved your life?’ Her tone wasn’t suspicious but curious.

In that moment it really hit me. Yoga had saved and changed my life. Four years ago I was spiritually at rock bottom.

I had been shoving down feelings of loss over someone who had died.

I was avoiding feelings of confusion over my career. 

I was scared to admit that as a full fledged adult I did’t have a fracking clue who I was outside of said career. I was disconnected from myself. 

But yoga helped me connect. Now I get to teacher yoga teachers about teaching yoga inside prisons. I’m teaching yoga teachers about teaching therapeutics, mindfulness and trauma. Yoga led me to opening a massage therapy business. Yoga has given me the ability to speak to groups of people about getting and staying healthy through mindfulness and meditation.

Last week my friend Kathleen and I were catching up about yoga and life (which is thankfully these days the same thing). She said something like once you decide what you want to you just have to reach out and grab it.

I’m not saying that all I did was roll out my yoga mat and magically things rearranged. However, by being mindful and in the moment I had a better sense of who I was therefore making better decisions about following a path that honored me.

I’m grateful that I felt so miserable four years ago. Had I felt even a little bit better I would have taken another job and worked hard everyday without purpose. I know now that everything we do is on our own path to enlightenment if we are seeking a better way.

Happy Saturday.

 

Namaste y’all.

Rikers Island Yoga

Even flowers growing in rock crevices
Even flowers grow in rock crevices- via flickr

 

Had a small but mighty class on the fourth floor. Inspired by a class I took the previous evening, I invited everyone to explore moving in slow motion as a way to examine the body and breath. We gently lifted a knee and placed in back down to the floor flowing side to side with Thai Chi like movements. It was playful, challenging and fun. By the end of class everyone was ready for a deep relaxation. Bolsters were placed under knees and blocks were strategically placed for maximum comfort. And then…
Savasana Interuptus.
A CO called for medical and they had to leave for treatment. ‘Michelle’ (not her real name) said, ‘This is the best part! Ugh.’ Her friend new to class asked if they could do it quickly before lining up. But people were already making their way to the door.
‘You can’t do it fast, that’s the point. It takes time to get inside. You’ll see next week.’
I knew they had to dash but as they were rolling up their mats Michelle said, ‘When I get back I’ll do some relaxation on my bed. It’s kinda quiet there.’
Michelle empowered herself. She was going to make time to breathe whether class was happening or not.
That’s yoga. We don’t always get the class we want, but if we’re open we can find what we need.
Awwwww yeah.
Namaste y’all.

Rikers Island Yoga

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The latest from Rikers…

I teach a hot yoga class on Thursday evenings in Jersey City. There were some familiar faces and a few new ones. While balancing I talked about how falling can be wonderful because it gives us a chance to get back up and try again. 

One of the elevators at RMSC has a mind of its own. It doesn’t stop on the 4th floor going up and sometimes the doors have to close five times before it moves. On the fourth floor I asked if anyone was up for some yoga and meditation. Some said no but mostly I didn’t get a response. So I pulled out a mat and took off my shoes.

I asked again.

Class started with two but ended with seven. Wendy was on but she didn’t have her normal hold on the dorm. We had lots of conversation throughout class. That’s one of the things I love most about teaching at Rikers. There aren’t rules. One student talked about how she was feeling every ounce of the weight she’s gained since being there but was smiles and determined to be present. I offered legs up the wall at the end of class and some wanted to stay where they were with legs lifted in the air. While in meditation with eye pillows over their eyes someone said, “This is the shit.” I laughed.

Yoga is the shit. It’s all of it. It’s being comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s feeling good in relaxation. It’s about being here right now. Students have me their work schedules to see when possible could I start later so more people can come to class.

When I show up to a dorm and hear no to yoga learned to wait. If I’m patient people come. We are all worth second chances. We are all worth third chances.

It was cloudy this morning on the way into Rikers but all smiles on the 4th floor. Namaste y’all. ‪#‎LiberationPrisonYoga‬ ‪#‎YogaEverywhere‬ ‪#‎Yoga‬

New Year Yoga – Don’t Change

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The end of last year was well, quite glorious. I had two weeks to do nothing but massage clients, teach yoga and take classes. Going to school full-time was the smartest thing I’ve done but still a commitment and shit ton of work. And while I am grateful for all of the good stuff happening, I was feeling a little overwhelmed and tired.

I wanted to spend my time off doing all the yoga. My friend Kathleen and I strolled to Jivamukti to take a class with Julie Kirkpatrick on Christmas Day. Class was like wrestling a cuddly grizzly bear. When you move pose after pose after pose after pose you have choices- try to hang on for dear life or surrender to the moment. In savasana I felt myself let go.

Listen, I know that as yoga teachers we talk about letting go (and sometimes we even mean it), but in that moment if the lights went out, and I mean forever- I would have been okay. That may seem like a heavy statement but it’s true. Savasana prepares us for the biggest unhooking of all.

In a Sunday class with Cassandra Rigney at Jivamukti she talked about watching Time of Death, a miniseries that follows terminally ill patients during their last weeks. Seems grim, I know. But Cassandra said it was a powerful testament to how in the end we forget all the bad shit that people have done and only see the good. Why not live like that now? Why not indeed I wondered as I walked home. Fresh off a Serial and Marking of Murderer binge Cassandra’s mention of ToD seemed like a good move. I was wrong.

I wasn’t just a good move. It was yoga. I was riveted watching these stories of life and death. Some of the families graciously let us watch their loved ones transition on camera. Some didn’t and that’s a beautiful and noble choice as well. It got me thinking.

This is yoga. This is life.

Yoga doesn’t only prepare me for living life in the now, it’s also practice for the ultimate letting go. What stuck me most was my reaction. You can’t help but reflect when you watch people die. But instead of thinking about what I would change I found myself thinking about what I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t change a lot.

I wouldn’t change the way I love the time I spend with my family.  Or seeing my brother’s face at Thanksgiving. Or cracking up with my parents and sister at Christmas dinner. I wouldn’t change the way I laugh at Dakota’s spring in her step when she smells the air during her morning walk. I wouldn’t change what I’m doing with my life. I want to do more of what I’m already doing now.

Forget about what you would change. What are you doing right? What’s working?

Do that.

So when I think about 2016 I’m not challenging myself to rock the shit out of the new year. I’m going to fucking be more present than ever in the now.

That’s working. Namaste y’all.

 

Subway Yoga – Blackout: A virtual glimpse into the lives of strangers by Specular

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Public transit and I have rocky but passionate relationship. Though it’s anonymous, you become a member of a temporary community whether you like it or not.
You can make a million a year or live paycheck to paycheck but when you are stuck you are all stuck.
It appeals to my sense of fairness. You get to share collective groans or sneak a smile at someone when something hilarious happens. Occasionally, you witness a meaningful exchange that wouldn’t have taken place save for the fact that two random people are on a train. Last week, a guy in his mid-forties hopped on the train wearing a baseball cap. A older man in his seventies asked, ‘Is that a Brooklyn Dodgers cap?’ It sparked a lovely 5 minute exchange about baseball, college life and history. The older man ended the conversation by saying with a tinge of nostalgia, “Wow…Brooklyn Dodgers. When I saw that hat, I just had to say something.” And just like that the curtain closed. Everyone went back to reading, headphones and staring into space. But for five minutes we were all there with two people and a conversation.
Most of the time I wonder what’s happening with folks who ride the trains. I make up stories. I wonder what people think about me? I think about my ‘commuter community’ most when I tavel to and from Rikers. I try to guess how many people are getting off with me at 21st Queensbridge and taking the Q100 to Rikers. Are they volunteers? Are they visiting family? Do they know what its like to be in jail? 
Mei-ling Wong and the creative team at Specular have created an amazing experience that explores this very idea. The project is called Blackout and it’s on Kickstarter.
Check out a brief description from Kickstarter:

A Documentary Set In a Fictional Environment

Who are these strangers?

The people in Blackout represent a snapshot of a single subway car in New York. Since this isNYC, our group includes an illustrious international cast of underground performers, artists, educators and scientists.

The project began with in-depth interviews with a group of 27 people for our virtual train. Their stories and observations interweave to create a beautiful documentary portrait of a crowd of strangers struggling to find their place in the city.

Today more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. As the world’s cultures are displaced and newcomers flood urban centers, it is urgent that we not just educate ourselves, but empathize with the lives of strangers that surround us. Through immersive technology and raw documentary stories, Blackout shows how one stranded group of city commuters has more in common than they ever imagined.

What makes this project even more dope is the fact that it’s a virtual reality film. As a viewer you get to be on the train and explore 27 real stories. One of the stories is about a yoga teacher who teaches at Rikers Island (hint, hint). She talks about what it’s like have to protect yourself and your soul. I hear she’s cool.

 

All jokes aside, I love what Specular has done. They’ve found a way to take technology and humanize it. So often our experiences with technology take us out of the moment and into the land of self. Blackout does the opposite, it uses VR so people let go of ego and explore another person’s viewpoint. This is revolutionary. In a world that is being ripped apart, a group of creatives are finding ways to draw us closer together.

It gets me thinking….none of get out of this thing called life alive but we have a shot to make it a better trip.

Check out the campaign and get a peak at my thoughts.

Namaste y’all.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/specular/blackout-a-virtual-glimpse-into-the-lives-of-stran/widget/video.html