Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Rikers (Liberation Prison Yoga)

rikers bridge

 

 

 

BACKSTORY

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.
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8 thoughts on “Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Rikers (Liberation Prison Yoga)

  1. Outstanding, Oneika. Karma yoga is a powerful path. And I agree completely, whatever gift we have received is meant to be passed on. Done wholeheartedly, we become a sacred vessel. You are a fine yoga teacher, my friend.

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