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.

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Wednesday Yoga- Community

  
I love my neighborhood and the people in it. After a long day of school I get to go to local yoga studios and teach. More often than not class is filled with a sense of togetherness. Sometimes class is tough and I hear collective groans or giggles if I make a joke to ease tension in a challenging moment. Lately, as a massage therapist community has a more intimate meaning. Community is healing. This is new for me. Not gonna lie- I have hermit tendencies. Being alone comes easily to me. But I know I’m not in this thing called life by myself. I find a big smile sliding across my face riding down the street and saying hello to students, clients and friendly faces I know from the yoga classes I take. It takes a village to raise children and to sustain a neighborhood. This is good. This is life. This is love. 
Be a good neighbor. 

Namaste y’all. 

Money Yoga

money and life

 

 

Money and Life is a documentary that talks about where money comes from (thin air) and how it’s been turned into the way we live our lives and what we can do about it.

 

 

 

Money & Life Extended Trailer from Katie Teague on Vimeo.

It got me thinking about my recent change in my relationship with money.  In the past two years I’ve let go of a lot of things that most think are big measures of success- my luxury condo, my car and lots of stuff that wasn’t serving me.

 

This isn’t to say that I don’t think that I should move on a commune away from society. But I have shifted my paradigm of thinking when it comes to how I measure my success and what I want to offer to the world. I’m more interested in the inter connectedness of the world rather that trying to squelch someone’s chances of success for my own gain. That kind of thinking works off a thought process that there isn’t enough. When in fact, there is enough. There is enough food, money, success, happiness for everyone.

I’m not talking about Law of Attraction woo woo stuff here. But one thing I have realized is that I used to put a lot of focus on accumulating stuff and not living life. And though my lifestyle has changed drastically from the one that I was living a few years ago- I’m more centered and more content than I have ever been.

I don’t think I’m fooling myself either, because the more I connected with the work I want to do, I created opportunities for myself.

In the beginning of the new year most of us look to cleanse our bodies. But what about cleansing for we spend and live? Life gets busy and our routines could use a shake up. When was the last time you checked in with your kids about how they understand money? Have you taken a look at how you are saving for retirement? Are you spending excess money each week without knowing it? Regardless of how tight you may think you manage, it’s a good idea to check-in.

Beth Kobliner, probably best known for her book Get a Financial Life encourages people to do a ‘money fast’ at the beginning of each year. After paying necessary expenses, can you spend the month with spending any money? It’s a great way to see what’s important and what’s not. It may also challenge your idea of what is important.

If you are serious about jump starting your financial health. Levo League has five great tips to get you started on a 30-day financial cleanse.

1. Introduce yourself to the bare necessities.

Cut out all frivolous spending, so you can get to the bottom of your relationship with money. You can spend on groceries, bills, transportation, and health expenses—nothing more.

2. Convert to cash

When we use cash, we become more aware of our spending. It might sound counterintuitive, but managing your spending habits becomes simpler without a credit or debit card. Either your wallet is full, or your wallet is empty. You see the flow of your money in real time.

3. Monitor your spending

Over the course of a week, you can begin to monitor what you really miss and what you are surprised you can easily live without. You’ll be motivated by the amount of money you’re saving in the meantime, and you’ll likely think to yourself, “This is a lot easier than I thought!”

4. Learn to forgive, in order to learn

Even with all the progress you’ve made so far, you’ll most likely slip up and purchase something you didn’t mean to. It’s very important to forgive yourself.

Like I said, our habits become very automatic and as soon as we let our guards down, we may catch ourselves swiping a credit card on something we are in the habit of buying. Take this moment to truly consider your motivations behind your spending.

5. Reassess your values

Understanding your values and what’s really important to you is the key to financial wellness. Your spending and use of your time should point to your values—meaning, you should be spending the majority of your time and money on things of utmost importance.

If you’re not, you’re unaligned with your spending and have the opportunity to use your money in much more meaningful ways. For example, if family is really important to you, but you spend no time with them and no money on spending time with them, you’re missing out on very fulfilling spending.

You may want to plan more trips with them, or even plan to visit them if they aren’t nearby. I call this putting your money where your heart is.

 

 

 

Check out the entire documentary Money & Life below.  It’s great to watch with the family.

 

 

Meatless Monday – Butternut Squash with Kale Quinoa Sauté

photo-46

 

 

Happy Meatless Monday!!! I saw a recipe on MindBodyGreen for a warm kale quinoa salad and was inspired to mix it up and do my own!

Squash is a delicious, satisfying comfort food; combined with kale, quinoa and warm spices it makes a perfect meatless meal.

This recipe is simple and makes a perfect Tuesday lunch.

Ingredients

  • Butternut squash (cubed)
  • Kale one pound roughly (chopped)
  • Onion – one medium (diced)
  • Peppers (your choice) chopped
  • Garlic – minced
  • Lemon – juiced
  • Veggie broth – 1/4 cup
  • Olive oil
  • Smoked paprika – 1/2 tablespoon
  • Cumin 1/2 tablespoon
  • Ginger – one tablespoon (grated)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Quinoa- one cup cooked

Directions

  1. Place squash on a cookie sheet- dust with paprika, cumin and coat with olive oil.
  2. Roast squash at 350° for 25 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and sauté onions and garlic over medium heat until translucent.
  4. Add peppers and sauté for another five minutes.
  5. Add kale, ginger, lemon juice and broth. Sauté for another eight minutes until kale is tender.
  6. Toss squash, quinoa and kale in a bowl.

Serve immediately.

 

Namaste y’all!!!

 

 

Wednesday Yoga- Things Change

change-quotes

As the year comes to an end I’m astonished at how much has changed. I’ve transitioned to teaching yoga therapy, discovered a deep and passionate calling to teach meditation and realized that being a yoga teacher isn’t something I want to do, it’s what I am supposed to do. And yet, these discoveries didn’t jump out and slap me in the face. Day-by-day, week-by-week I plugged away and listened to my voice and made some practical choices. Let’s be real, I also jumped off a few cliffs without a net.

I’m where I’m supposed to be.  And happy. Happy with what I doing for a living. I’m feeling peaceful in my personal life. And lastly, I understand that while a plan is critical, I also need a little bit of faith. When I stay in the present I can hear myself and trust my instincts.

Mindfulness is my roadmap and breathing is my vehicle.

Inhale. Exhale. Stay present.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Rikers Island

Discipline Working with the Inner Chaos

Today was my last class with the women on the fifth floor of Rosie (RSMC).

Our last class began with a dharma talk about mindfulness. What did everyone think the word meant?

‘Respect’ said someone from the back of the room. ‘Paying attention.’ said another student. ‘Being open to change.’

I asked them to add the word breathing to their definition of mindful. As we practiced I invited them to pay attention to their breathing, using their own definitions of what it meant to be mindful. We started class with meditation and a body scan. This theme of staying in touch with the body and breathing was with us every movement. I noticed today that every seemed focused inward, which was really lovely. While it’s great to see that people are engaged when I’m teaching, the real transformation is for these women to be able to give themselves a chance to breathe and get in touch with their own feelings off the yoga mat. I’m hopeful that this may have been a way to do that.

We practiced a therapeutic class with gentle yoga in between the postures. I have one student who practices sitting at the table. With her feedback we we able to put together table therapeutic practice (bolster and blocks included). It was fantastic because I’ve watched her grow from watching the class, to moving her arms and eventually sitting at a table right next to us. For the past three weeks I’ve incorporated table poses (I’ve been careful not to call them modifications-empowerment v. limitations). The best part is that she was able to use the bolster. The students at Riker’s don’t have opportunities to truly be comfortable. Getting a chance to rest on a bolster or hug something soft is a great release.

We spent almost two hours together and though I was sad, I’m confident that a few women feel empowered to breathe a little better.

In the end that’s really what it’s all about.

Next Tuesday begins a new adventure in building 16.

I am grateful.

Namaste y’all.

If you are interested in learning more about Liberation Prison Yoga click here

 

 

Adventures in Yoga Teaching – Riker’s Island (Liberation Prison Yoga)

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I really like Tuesdays. However, this week I was cautiously optimistic about what would take place in 3 South A, the sentenced women’s dorm. Last week had a shaky start but seemed to end on a high note. I was hoping that I’d see some new faces in class.

I felt fantastic despite the rain and made my way to the 5th floor of the 800 Bed Annex. I was chatting with Ms. Gregory for a few minutes and headed to the dorm with the cart  packed with mats and blocks. I saw heads peeking around the corner and someone said, ‘It’s her, she’s here.’ When I got buzzed in people were waiting. This was definitely a change Normally, I come in and announce that yoga was happening. To have students waiting is a great sign.

We didn’t write this week, but we did have a great discussion about meditation being a way to calm the mind. Everyone listed ways that meditation makes them feel better. This list was a way to come back to a sense of peace and stillness when future bouts of anxiety surfaced. After our conversation I talked about pranayama. We did a few rounds of Kapalabhati and everyone commented on the change they felt in their body.

I’m noticing the level of focus increase over a short period of time. When I first started teaching we were doing some of the basics but didn’t have a full flow class. Each week the classes get longer and I’m adding a bit more. There are still lots of women who watch and do poses from their seats, but each week the floor is getting full of mats (I even see the COs sneak a look inside the class to see what’s going on). During meditation, everyone is quiet. After class a young woman asked me if there were poses that she could do that would help her relax when she had a headache. Right after someone else asked if there were poses to do for cramps. I’m encouraged that there’s a connection being made between yoga being a way to feel better and not just as a physical activity. I made a mental note to incorporate the therapeutic benefit of poses in classes from now on.

After I packed up- I took a gulp and headed downstairs to 3 South A. I wasn’t nervous, but I was bracing myself for the noise. It makes me want to cry thinking about it. If I had to live with that much noise all of the time, I’d lose my mind. Honestly.

I made my way in and announced that it was yoga time for those who were interested. Eight women came over. Someone turned off the TV. I tried to be cool and not dance around like a clown. But I was dancing on the inside.

dancing gif

Yes. Yes, I was dancing like this on the inside. But back to class.

I asked everyone’s names and if they had ever done yoga before and many had. We had solid class and worked fairly hard. Meditation was very long and got a bit noisy with a spirited game of spades going on but I could feel the stillness of the group, and that’s what mattered. And after class someone asked about poses that help with back issues and cramps.

I think it’s clear that there’s a desire to use yoga for self-care and that’s great. Next week should be interesting.

Namaste y’all.

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.

 

 

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

BKS

“True concentration is an unbroken thread of awareness.”
― B.K.S. IyengarLight on Life

 

The walk to the 800 bed dorm is now familiar and I begin to recognize guards, bus drivers and inmates who aren’t even in the dorms where I teach. Last week I was stopped by someone in the Beauty Shop (yes, there are some elements that do remind me of Orange is the New Black) but it was closed on this Tuesday morning. I chatted with Carmen and Ms. Gregory while waiting for Anneke and Maia.

We decided that the theme would be anxiety. This was great and I suspected that it would be a welcome discussion topic. As I rolled the yoga cart to the B side of the dorm, I was thrilled to see over 20 faces. Everyone was ready to go and prepared to write, asking for paper. My plan of writing before class is the way to go for now. I thought of my own morning and how I used to be more diligent about writing down some thoughts after meditating. (Note to self: practice what you are teaching, Oneika. And stop referring to yourself in the third person).

‘Anxiety is the topic for today,’ I stated. A collective round oh yeses was heard around the room. I knew this would be a perfect topic. We talked about the negative aspects of anxiety and I asked everyone how they knew when they were anxious. One student said the thought of living a clean and sober life made her anxious because she didn’t want to mess up again. This got a lot of nods from the group. A profound observation. I had already planned a class but thought I might switch things up after hearing that remark and seeing the nods of agreement.

Our writing  focused on the practical- what things could we do when we felt anxious? The answers were thorough. Lots of conversation today. I also like how students who may not speak up stay involved and follow the discussion.

At the top of our mats we held our bodies and breath, squeezing our faces and muscles tight. I had them hold the breath for quite a few seconds and then we let everything go. Smiles all around. Next, with arms everyone turned their palms so they faced each other. I asked them that imagine they were holding anxiety in their hands with a backbend we built some momentum and with an exhale we launched it forward to let it go. Folding forward into a deep bend we felt the back of the body open up.

As promised I delivered a longer meditation. Ms. Gregory mentioned after class that even women who were sitting and watching participated in the meditation. I’m already working on the meditation for next week.

This is yoga. And it’s liberating.

 

Namaste y’all.