Rikers Island Yoga

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This post is for the introverts. As much as the big personalities make themselves seen in a place like Rikers, I also see those that are quiet.

In the summer the city gets hot but it feels even hotter at Rikers. Despite the heat students asked if they could work on the core. This made me smile for a variety of reasons. First, it’s awesome to see students feel empowered enough to ask for something. This takes courage. Second, it was HOT and I can’t believe they were looking to get even sweatier. But who am I to argue with passion? I had planned on talking about compassion for the self but instead we discussed our inner fire. How do we light it? Honor it? How does it inspire us?
Miriam practiced with a peaceful determination. She didn’t chat during class but smiled at certain points and it seemed that she was looking inward. In side plank her leg floated in the air and in half-moon she smiled to herself as she explored her possibilities by lifting her hand. This was yoga in action. Half-moon was a way for Miriam to embrace the moment rather than getting the pose right. Miriam had touched her core and lit her inner fire.
So much happens in the boisterous conversations at Rikers but it was really Miriam’s inward reflection that moved me. Sometimes I feel guilty to witness such beauty. But because o know it’s not mine I’m able to let it go and hope that Miriam knows what a powerful spirit she is. Shout out to those who are quiet. Sometimes it’s not the loudest voice that gets heard,but the most sonorous.

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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.

Saturday Yoga – Let Go or Be Dragged

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My hips flexors woke me up this morning.

Oooh weeeeee were they sore.

It’s a good thing. It’s hard for me to get into parts of my hips. But yesterday at Jivamukti Jersey City, Austin’s class went deep in my hips even though it didn’t seem like it at the time. I think it’s because I was letting go.

In the midst of change I can get a little down right stubborn.

But as the asana practice took us into the hips I found myself thinking about my previous relationships. Nothing specific. Just a feeling. Instead of ignoring it or distracting myself, I decided to go deeper. Typically when I fold my hip flexors clench. But yesterday there was none of that. I don’t know if it has to do with some recent changes in my life. But the more I let go of things and situations that don’t serve me, the more my body opens up to the present.

My hips don’t lie.

2015 is my year of living mindfully. Are you here, now?

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.

 

 

Rikers Island Yoga (Teaching in Prison)

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We are all prisoners, undergoing a life sentence, imprisoned by our own minds. We are all seeking parole, being hostages of our own anger, fear, desire… it is a thin line that separates us from these people, who stare at us from inside this cage. The same things that do not go beyond the threshold of our thoughts, have crossed, in their case, the threshold of action. But still, we are alike.

– From Doing Time, Doing Vipassana

Well, they must have done something to be in prison… 

I think it’s ridiculous that inmates get yoga. 

Why do you come here? 

These (and more) are the negative things people have said to me about teaching yoga at Rikers. I write about teaching in prison every other week to honor those I believe are the forgotten. Our society is built on the idea that only the ‘good’ deserve ‘good’ things and ‘bad’ people are expendable.  It implies that were are the things that we do.

I do not think that we are.

We are more that the stuff we buy, the jobs we do, we are more than the people we choose to be with and the choices we make. Because someone made bad choices in the past does not mean that she shouldn’t have a chance at a preparing for a better future.

I’m not okay with throwing people away. I’m not okay with a woman being overwhelmed with gratitude because I  looked her in the eye and said, ‘Good morning.’ When it comes to jail I believe that the system is broken. I’m not talking just Rikers. I mean lots the institution of detention. Punishment without programming and plan for re-entry (and the follow-up after re-entry) is a recipe for recidivism. And reform at Rikers is said to be underway. I have seen some changes. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Sorry, I don’t mean to preach.  It gets under my skin.

I know. Yoga teacher heal thyself and all that. My passion is a gift and a curse.

Moving on.

As my mom says, “It’s Tuesday so it must mean Rikers.” So our story begins.

I could hear the rain pouring down and pulled myself out of bed. Soaked like a wet dog on the PATH train I hoped that the weather and my now clingy sweats weren’t an omen.

While the prison seemed to creak under the weight of the rain, classes were a different story. After spending time in Building 16 I taught my first class to the women in 3SA. The dorm holds sentenced women. Last week, I dropped by to see if they were really interested in having class. Apparently, a few of them stopped by a counselor’s office on Monday asking about yoga, just to make sure I wasn’t full of bs.

Eight women came to their mats. The energy was definitely more calm than the women in detainee areas. There wasn’t that frenetic, anxious energy. Women who are sentenced know how long they are there. We were able to sit and talk about what classes could look like. Lots of times pre-trial women are distracted, and with good reason. Some of them are new to this situation and most don’t know what is going on with their cases. They are learning how to survive in this environment and are scared.

Because it’s prison.

We sat with our mats making a large circle. One woman sitting at the table asked if she could watch. Instead, we invited her to come sit even if she didn’t want to move. “I just want to be a part of what’s happening here,” she said. Another woman stated that with the TV on in the background, it would be hard to concentrate.  Nearby, people were intensely watching a movie. Honestly, compared to other floors it was so low that I didn’t even notice it. In fact, I couldn’t tell you what was on. I asked Rachel(not her real name)  if she would be okay about thinking of the TV and all the noise around us as background and white noise. Someone else pointed out that it would help them learn to be still when it’s crazy. And still another said that we would get so focused on class that it wouldn’t matter.

‘This is going to be awesome’, I thought.

We began class with an awareness practice. I watched as everyone started to breathe into the moment. I don’t mean this in some woo-woo way. The witness practice as we call in cancer therapy training allows someone to bring moment to moment awareness to internal and external actions. Much of my cancer and chronic illness training is useful in this environment.

Our focus: being more than the body. Every movement was about the breath and allowing things to be how they are supposed to be in the moment. Building on this sense of living in the present we glided into one restorative pose and then guided meditation. Lunch was wheeled in as we were wrapped up. We formally closed class wishing each other peace and peace for everyone.

I’m hopeful for what we will learn from each other.

So when I ask myself why I do this I answer, how can I not? I live in the world. We all have different ways that we serve other humans. This is mine.

People in prison need consistent programming and  mind/body activities like yoga. From Us News Blog:

The focus of our prison system should be to improve society, not make it worse. As such, we should rededicate ourselves to reducing recidivism, and implementing the evidence-based policies that do so, such as increasing educational and vocational investment in prisoners.

And listen. I’m not a fool. I don’t waltz into Rikers chanting Om and teaching from a rose colored yoga mat. That’s not me. It’s also not my issue to deal with what people did.

I teach yoga and meditation so women find that place inside that lets them see who they are outside of all the stuff people say they are. Those powerful labels that can shape a life when we don’t pay attention. Powerful labels can shape a life when you’ve spent most of your life living in a situation that was ‘survival-centric’. Eventually those labels of what the external says is so becomes what is known.

I teach yoga and meditation so women get a moment to breathe into their spirit and say, I am a person. I am worthy of attention. I am worthy of love and being loved.

Namaste y’all.

If you would like to learn more about Liberation Prison Yoga click here

If you haven’t seen Doing Time, Doing Vipassana you can check it out below.

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.

Yoga in Times Square- Mind Over Madness 2014

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“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”
― Charles Bowden

 

I love the summer. Call it nostalgia but warm weather makes anything possible. Maybe it’s because I’m not wrapped in layers of clothes. Maybe I’m just a hot-blooded yogi. Whatever it is, it works for me. Yesterday, I celebrated the coming of summer by doing what I have done for the past few years- yoga in Times Sq. Mind Over Madness 2014 had over 11,000 yogis register.

This year I went with my sister, Ashley and friend Luanda. We unrolled our mats and prepared for a sunset flow with Ali Cramer of Laughing Lotus.

We stretched and opened our hearts as the sun began to set. Ali’s words inspired me to feel my body open with compassion and strength. Move in way that feels right for your body Ali encouraged- so I did. Flowing into to warriors on an inhale and falling into chat on an exhale I felt my belly wake up for the first time since surgery. There was no pain. My patience paid off. Being gentle can help me be warrior.

My body is recovering – I thought. Relief washed over me. No seven inch belly incision can get me down because I can show up for me. I can show up and be still when I need to. And when the time feels right I can roar with my heart, reach my hands up to the sky and send out all the love I have because I was brave enough to love myself.

When we got to the ground we put our hands behind our heads and Times Sq became our beach. With hundreds of other yogis I took in the lights at the crossroads of the world. Luanda turned to me and said, ‘I can’t believe we are laying on our backs in the middle of Times Sq.’

It’s a pretty crazy thought. Both Ashley and Luanda are in that part of town during the week. Ashley said the next time she feels stressed among the 9-5 hustle she’s going to remember how she felt doing yoga and hold onto that.

Good plan.

Happy Summer Solstice.

Namaste y’all.

 

Adventures in Meditation – Learning to Stay

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My mama said
Baby don’t ride that crazy horse
And my mama said
You must push with much force
And my mama said
Go get all that you’re after
And my mama said
That love’s all that matters

But I’m always on the run,
Always on the run,
But I’m always on the run ( on the run )

– Lenny Kravitz ‘Always on the Run’

 

Sometimes meditation just- sucks.

It ain’t been so easy the past week. Sitting still has been a struggle. I’ve been grasping at frustration and physical pain. Added to that are the thoughts that I should be headed down a different path than the one I’m currently on.

But I’m sticking with it.

This morning while walking Dakota I was listening to Pema Chödrön (as I am wont to do when I am feeling a bit out of sorts). I pulled up any track. Pema was talking about learning to stay. My facetious face reared its snarky head. Oh great. I listened anyway.

In meditation there will be bad days. But if I can learn to be with the thoughts and stay compassionate with myself, it’ll be okay. On the days that I’m feeling growly is when I most need this. It’s on these days when seconds pass like hours that I learn the most. The space in between the seconds is my opportunity to open my heart a little more. Acknowledging feelings of hurt, frustration or fear during a sit helps me move beyond instead of running away.

Yes Meditation, you are a crafty vixen but I see you.

Namaste y’all.

 

Kayak Yoga – Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

free kayak

Maybe it’s the yoga, maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because I have a newfound sense of freedom since I got my bike- but I’ve been up for trying new things.

This was not always so.

I wasn’t a fan of change and in fact- I didn’t like it. Not one bit. Round peg, round hole is how things should fit.

At least that’s the way the Dr. Seuss version of me thought of things.

But I caught up with a friend last Sunday and took a dive into the unknown.

Don’t get too excited. I didn’t climb a mountain.

I went out on a kayak.

Hey- baby steps, people. Baby steps.

We rode our bikes to Hoboken from Jersey City and parked at the Hoboken Cove Boathouse. We signed a sheet of paper and got to kayak for free. Right? Free. No strings. Just free. How did I not know about this? They had free kayaking all summer long? This is what happens when you don’t explore, you miss out on good shit.

So- I hopped in my kayak and had a blast. It’s also quite an arm workout.

And because once I dip my toe,  I tend to go whole hog I decided to try a stand-up paddle board.

‘Just keep paddling,’ I was told after a brief lesson.

Off I went.

Look Ma! I’m doing it! Yoga was great prep for this- using the core and feeling the movement of the water to stay steady was a lot less difficult than I thought.

And then, a wave.

Things slow down before the body takes a tumble. I could feel the entire thing. The space-time continuum halted like in an episode of Fringe. I half expected to see bizarro Oneika rise from the water (She better not have a better ass than me, and I do not want her hair longer). But she never showed up and I was snapped my to my merely average  ass swaying to and fro on a paddle board.

The wave came and I could feel the balance shift. I didn’t even fight it, because there was nothing to fight. I was going in the water and that was that. I should say that I love the water and love to swim etc..etc… so this wasn’t a huge thing, but it wasn’t exactly warm and I was hoping to keep my clothes dry.

Ah well. In I went. All the way under. Completely soaked. My head popped the surface and I  exclaimed, ‘THIS IS AWESOME!’ Maybe I was bizarro Oneika? An interesting twist. I glanced at my butt- still the same. No matter. I felt freaking awesome.

I got on the board and fell off again. And again I giggled. I kept thinking I wish I had known about this during the  heat wave because I would have ‘slipped’ over and over.

Eventually I got back in the groove and headed back in. Once back on shore the guy asked if I was okay and I said I was great, it’s about getting back up.

I had to give a mental fistbump to  Dandayamana Dhanurasana- aka Standing Bow Pulling Pose in the Bikram series.

The pose is about falling, in the sense that once you fall can you pick yourself back up and try again- without judgement, maybe even with joy.

There’s one last weekend of free kayaking next Saturday. You can bet I’m going to be back on that stand up paddle board.

Fall seven times, stand up eight.

Paddle board yoga. Namaste y’all.