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

flower concrete

 

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.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Adventures in Teaching Yoga- Riker’s Island (Liberation Prison Yoga

  1. Really loved this amazing share of you’re experience teaching in a prison! This is sooooo where we should be starting with teaching consciousness and meditation! So incredible and so grateful you shared this!!

    1. Thanks Hannah. But it’s really the women who make this experience so powerful. I feel like I’m only a guide. My consciousness is heightened because of the opportunity I’ve been given. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!! Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

  2. What an incredible experience! It really brings gratitude and perspective to my studio classes. I someday hope to teach yoga where it’s really needed. Thank you for the inspiration. Keep on keeping on!

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