3EastA of Rosie (RMSC)
My class on the third floor was small. One student had recently had surgery, one was struggling emotionally and two other students had never done yoga before. In situations like this I like to talk about what students hope to get from yoga. One woman stated that she’s pretty sure that prison was a way for her to stop running from herself and her drug problem. She had just started going to church again and has a few back to back days clean. She was in class for a moment last week but confessed that she was still struggling with sobriety and couldn’t concentrate. She was fit and hoping that doing some yoga could help her feel better. Walking around the yard during rec (recreation time) was helping but it wasn’t enough.
‘You have no idea what it’s like in here. There’s no privacy. I feel like an animal. When I first got here I was out of it, ya know so I didn’t really know what was going on. But now I do. And this is hell.’
Everyone was nodding in agreement with what she was saying. She said she just wanted some quiet.
It made sense to start class with creating some private space. We sat up on blocks and gently bowed our heads with our eyes open but kept our gaze soft and without focus. I offered the class a chance to just sit in this space. With the eyes down on the mat, it gives a sense of privacy. Next, I extended the invitation to close the eyes if it felt safe. We sat this way with my voice guiding them through inhales and exhales. It was a noisy day on the third floor. In the middle of this a group of women were placed in the dorm. You could feel the shift of energy as everyone stopped to take the new people in. It’s at moments like this, I have to stay focused on holding the space.
If you aren’t a teacher or work with support groups you may be asking, what is holding space? In a setting where I am the person responsible to creating a place to learn or breathe, it’s critical that I make sure the space is ‘safe’. In my previous retail life this meant making sure that folks could respectfully share or disagree with me and each other. It also meant that the room was safe- what was said in there, stayed in there. As the leader, it was my job to make sure that happened. In prison, it’s a challenge.
I am not in control of the surroundings. Class takes place in a room that is filled with other people. I sensed that a few of the women were teasing another who is focused on her sobriety. Instead of getting caught up in things that can’t be controlled I have my class focus on what they can do. They can learn how to breathe. They can learn how to cultivate a bit more peace inside them instead of looking for it outside.
The more I teach, the more I see the real challenges that these women face. It’s my role to help them open up ways to feel empowered. At the end of class I hung around. I got this advice from Kim who teaches prenatal at Rikers. I’ve shortened the class so I can chat, talk and answer some questions that students may not feel ready to share in front of everyone. This has been the most powerful part of class.
I did get told something I could share:
‘I wanted to thank you for giving me a chance to spend some time back with my grandmother during meditation. She used to have coffee in the morning at a house in the woods and look at nature. I imagined that today.’
– Student, RMSC
May all beings everywhere be peaceful and free.
Tomatoes are versatile delicious. Why not make them them the star of your Meatless Monday dish? Roasted tomatoes with pasta is simple, elegant and scrumptious. Since you are only using a few ingredients- don’t skimp and go for quality especially when it comes to the tomatoes and pasta.
Psst. You don’t have to fear Monday. For many years I used to suffer from ‘Sunday Night Jitters.’ Sometimes it was well-deserved. I may have been blown off homework and was cramming to get it done. As an district manager, Mondays meant heading to the office for non-stop calls with my team, the corporate office and my boss. Though I loved, loved working in the world of books, at the end of Monday it sometimes felt like I had worked a whole week.
However I’ve learned that Mondays can be a day of inspiration. As soon as I’m up (these days before the sun) I sit and meditate. Most weeks, I welcome the new beginning. The Monday Campaigns, the folks who started Meatless Monday and Move It Monday had interesting stats on how our society views the first day of the work week.
Monday has a special significance in our culture as the beginning of the week, which influences our mood and health outcomes
The 7-day week and the meaning we associate with the days of the week is a social construct, and not based on biological or planetary cycles. Yet a range of negative health outcomes, such as heart attacks and strokes, happen more frequently on Mondays as people transition back to the structured routine of the week.[i]
While 27% of people report that Monday is the day they experience the most stress, 58% of people see Monday positively, as an opportunity for a “fresh start” and a day to “get my act together.” [ii] FGI Research (2014). Online panel of 1,000 respondents.
And guess what? Monday happens all day, if inspiration doesn’t come bounding out of bed with you- so what!! Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.
Go for it. Embrace Monday.
Today I’m going to think about what it means to be more vulnerable and compassionate with myself. My evening meditation will focus on compassion. And before I hit the sack I’ll spend time in a therapeutic pose that opens my heart.
The best part? If my plans get sidetracked- I have Tuesday to try again.
Happiness is an inside job.
– William Arthur Ward
Teaching is a strenuous activity. There’s a tangible and intangible exchange of energy. With a group of teenagers I have to corral the energy and work on creating a sense of stillness and peace. Teaching a class at 6:45 on a Thursday evening with people who are ready for Friday is another story entirely, but it still requires an expenditure of energy to keep the room creative, productive and safe. In corporate classes I’m looking to maintain a sense of balance and energy and with my private clients it’s a combination of customized needs. Lastly with trauma sensitive classes it’s cultivating a sense of spirituality and creating a space for self-healing.
To do this work it requires a strong commitment to my own well-being. If I am not passionately dedicated to my own wellness, how can I be an authentic teacher? Defining what self-care means has evolved over the years. In a society that respects the notion of working oneself literally to death, thinking about self-care as an act of liberation rather than selfishness is a new concept. The World Health Organization has been redefining the definition since 2005. In a working meeting in 2013 they came up with:
‘Self-Care is the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, and maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.’
-World Health Organization
And while I think this is a great definition I like what The UK Department of Health has to say.
‘Self care is a part of daily living. It is the care taken by individuals towards their own health and well-being, and includes the care extended to their children, family, friends and others in neighbourhoods and local communities. Self-Care includes the actions individuals and carers take for themselves, their children, their families and others to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and long-term conditions; and maintain health and wellbeing after acute illness or discharge from hospital.’
-UK Department of Health
Though it’s clear as a global community we are working toward a common definition one thing is clear, taking care of ourselves is an inside job. My self-care regime starts with the idea of awareness and listening. Doing therapeutic poses as preventive measure against stress is vital. Even the simple act of supported child’s pose and some gentle self-massage keeps me balanced. Also, I try to stay in the moment and notice when I am feeling edgy, tired or the beginnings of fatigue. Instead of waiting until it’s full-blown I make time to pause. As a teacher, I think it’s my responsibility to nuture my mind body and spirit.
But hey, I’m not perfect. Consistently seeing Brian, my chiropractor and getting massages has not been a priority. I need to change that.
When I am at my best- my students get me at my best.
May all beings everywhere be peaceful and free.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
Over a year ago, my practice became spotty. I’d been adjusting to a new schedule and trying to force old routines into new. I should have taken a moment to be still. Answers rise to the surface when there’s quiet.
I did nothing. I missed a class here. Missed a class there. No bueno.
Skipping classes wasn’t the problem. One thing this yoga life has taught me is to embrace fluidity. There are times that I need to practice twice a day for weeks. Sometimes five days a week is plenty. When I’m connected to my spirit it’s all good, as the kids say. Yoga is my life when my life isn’t in the way. Yoga needs to be my life as life is happening.
‘Taking yoga off the mat’ is a popular mantra. For some, yoga is great physical exercise that gets them in shape. My practice gets my spirit in shape. Every day I learn something about myself or how I view the world. Small consistent awakenings help me make my world and the planet better.
During a Brikram practice, my mind used to race in between poses. The goal in a Bikram class is not to fidget and fix your clothes, wipe sweat, look at the woman in front of you (and say when I lose 5 pounds I’m going to come to class half naked like her) or think about how hot the room is. The goal is to be present. You’re to observe yourself in the mirror. Not for vanity’s sake (though it’s really hard not to judge yourself) but for the sake of focus and form.
Instead, I was thinking about what I needed to do after class. I was thinking about how maybe 105 degrees for a yoga class is crazy. I was thinking that I didn’t know that I could actually sweat from the back of my elbow. Suddenly I heard the instructor say, ‘Doing nothing is not the same thing as being still’.
She should have dropped the mic and walked out because as far as I was concerned she had schooled me. Class dismissed.
I was doing nothing and not being still. If I had just remembered that it’s okay to not be okay with your schedule, a solution would have come to me. A different studio has a schedule that works for me right now so I’ll be taking classes there (I know, big duh). It’s not my regular studio but it’s not forever. And then I remember I’m not just trying to make my body more flexible.
Ah– I see. I see. I see.