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.

Money Yoga

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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.

 

 

Monday Yoga- Every Passing Minute is Another Chance to Turn it All Around

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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.

Namaste y’all.

 

Saturday Yoga- Self Care

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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.

 

Namaste y’all.

Start Now- Beginner Meditation (Audio included)

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Meditation may seem intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Here are three tips to get you started:

1. Just try- don’t worry about being perfect, or getting it. The act of being still, even for a few minutes will benefit you.

2. Get comfortable. Sit in a chair or on the floor. You can also lay on your back, but don’t get in bed. Remember the point is to relax, not sleep!

3. Have no expectations.

 

Included is a recording that guides you through a brief session. The audio is nine minutes long from start to finish.

Give yourself a break and woosah!

This meditation is perfect:

  • First thing in the morning
  • When you need a midday break at work
  • When you are feeling stressed
  • After work
  • Before bed (but not in bed)

 

Namaste y’all.

 

*Do not listen to this while you are driving, walking, biking or using any other vehicle. 

 

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- Prison Yoga (Liberation Prison Yoga)

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This is a teaching on a Tibetan word: shenpa. The usual translation of the word shenpa is attachment. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition was attachment. But the word “attachment” absolutely doesn’t get at what it is. Dzigar Kongtrul said not to use that translation because it’s incomplete, and it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.

If I were translating shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I’m going to give you a few. One word might be hooked. How we get hooked.

Another synonym for shenpa might be that sticky feeling. In terms of last night’s analogy about having scabies, that itch that goes along with that and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and it’s the urge to scratch. So, urge is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, the urge to have one more drink, or whatever it is where your addiction is.

 

– Pema Chödrön

 

Hooked.  It’s been a part of my dharma talks in my studio classes. But when it came up as a topic for my Riker’s students, it felt sticky and tricky. A lot of the women in my class are at Riker’s for alleged drug related offenses. Because of my hammer personality I tend to see all problems as nails. However, I thought that approaching addiction from a unique angle may bring a new perspective. To add a little more tension to the mix, the B side of the dorms had their bunks searched in the middle of the night- so needless to say things were running a little…

When I got there- everyone was still cleaning up. The A side of the dorm didn’t have a teacher that day- so instead of sitting around waiting for the B side to get ready- I decided to do yoga with the A side as well.

 

Before our practice we talked about attachment and how the asana practice can get the mind ready to meditate. Taking it a step further we discussed how meditation can help us deal with that ‘hooked’ feeling or itch that Pema brilliantly articulates. I made our practice a bit tougher than usual, discussing throughout how when we work our bodies hard it helps clear the mind and is a distraction from looping thoughts or old stories that we tell ourselves. As a class we went through sun salutations, warriors, lunges, standing backbends, balancing poses and a brief standing meditation. By the time we hit the floor everyone (including me) had worked up a bit of a sweat.

 

I brought my copy of Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön and read a paragraph before guided meditation. One of the students translates for a friend who doesn’t speak any English and I found her voice soothing as I guided the class to a place of stillness.

 

When I finished a few students helped me take the mats and bolsters to the B side where I found some students ready and waiting. A few of them told me that about the search. They were ready for yoga. With this side feeling a little more tense we worked even harder. It was a good move. Every time we came to a balancing pose I reminded them not be attached- to the pose, to expectations…to anything. Everything changes because nothing is forever. We could have gotten down and dirty with the murky shit that surrounds addictive behavior- but they have group all day. In the moment it felt right to take a yogic approach to letting go.

 

And when we were in tree the Jane’s Addiction’s song Jane Says started playing in my head. In a brief moment I thought about addiction and some of the dumb things that I did in high school and college (and who are we kidding in my twenties)…it’s a roll of the dice. I was never addicted to drugs- but easily could have been. A one bad decision can lead to another. And when addiction gets hold all the great parenting and supportive home structures can’t save you. There are less differences that one might think between people inside jail and outside of jail.

When I’m there I focus on the things that make us the same.

When I am there- we are all yogis.

We are all the same.

 

By the time we were on our mats the room was breathing differently. It still felt a little tense but it was decidedly better than when we started. I used to think energy was woo-woo- but you can sense how a room feels and that’s not bs. The guided meditation helped to dissipate more tension. And by the time we ended, things felt better. I won’t say that things were great because I can’t imagine that a yoga class can take away the fear from a late night/early morning dorm search- but there were some smiles of relief and the question that never gets old. ‘You’ll be back next week?’

Definitely.

Namaste y’all.