Rikers Yoga

Photo NYT
Photo NYT
Today at Rikers:

Building 7 was still except for Marissa(not her name) having a debate with the officer on post. It was clear Marissa wasn’t happy with how the conversation was going. There was anger brewing. Upon seeing me the officer said, “Why don’t you do some yoga. It will help you.”

Initially, Marissa plunked herself down in a chair out of protest, but I could see her eyeing the bolsters.
I must digress, bolsters are my secret weapon. After sleeping on a cot with a 3 inch thick mattress one can’t help but sneak a peak at a juicy pillow. Back to the class… 
Raquel, my other regular from 7 was having a bad day and wasn’t interested in practicing. In this ‘house’ there are about 15 women, but the group that is there now is hard to motivate. This has not always been the case. It’s a challenge because these women are potentially a step away from solitary. They really need a chance to breathe. More and more I get stopped by women who want classes in their houses or dorms. It’s tough to rally a group when I know other students would be on their mats in a second. Rocks, hard place and all that jazz.
I gave another holler for yoga and decided to head back to teach another class on the fourth floor. Marissa looked at me and said, “If you want me to take the class I will. You don’t have to go.”
“It’s your choice. You don’t have to take this.”
I made this distinction on purpose. It wasn’t that I wanted Marissa to think she wasn’t doing me any favors. It’s important to give these women a chance to say yes of no to something. While I want to get every single body in Rikers to a class, I can’t mandate anything. (Well, I wouldn’t turn people away if it was required. Secretly, I may rejoice Officers and inmates taking classes together. One can dream).
Choice matters. Marissa made the decision to come to her mat. If she is bought in, she’s more likely to see benefits sooner rather than later.
She said, “I gotta get rid of some of this anger.”
We introduced ourselves and I asked her where in her body she felt the anger. It was in her head, neck and shoulders. I had her practice some gentle head and neck movements and then we did pranayama. As soon as we finished pranayama Marissa asked me about sit-ups. She’s been doing them but thought she was breathing wrong, ‘it’s like I’m fighting myself and now after doing this I think I’m breathing wrong or maybe not at all.’ It was a really astute observation. After we started moving Raquel came over smiling and grabbed a mat. Whatever she was going through wasn’t enough to keep her away from a chance to do yoga. We talked for awhile about weight gain- both had gained 40 pounds since arriving. With one knowing that her ‘journey’ (her words) will take her a prison that reportedly has a gym and lots of classes they excitedly talked about losing weight.
After class I asked Marissa how she was…”Better but I still need to settle this issue,” she said laughing.
As I headed out, Marissa came over and said, “What’s that thing with the hands and seeing the good in someone?”
“Namaste,” I replied. She looked over at the officer who she was now joking with and said Namaste to her.
She asked if I would be back next week, because she wanted to do more yoga.
It’s not even a question. Namaste y’all.
Liberation Prison Yoga is in the middle of an Indiegogo Campaign and we NEED your DONATIONS and SUPPORT. Click here to view the campaign and give. We will be able to expand our programs and train more teachers. We are getting flooded with requests to do programs but need money to grow.
Know yoga. Know peace.

https://www.indiegogo.com/project/liberation-prison-yoga/embedded/9637391

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