Rikers Yoga- Solitary Confinement

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I discovered this week that the max section had been moved (thankfully) to a different block. And while it’s still a sh*thole, it’s like the Four Seasons compared to the previous block. When class ended I saw someone with her hand raised- it was Mona (not her real name). She wanted to join class but came back late from work detail and wasn’t sure if it was okay to sit down once class had begun.

Mona didn’t participate but watched the first class I taught in max with curious eyes, peeking over the top of a book. We spoke briefly. After telling me that she liked the class she asked, ‘What’s your dharma?’ I laughed still unsure what it was. She needed a meditation at night when she got stuck in her head. She had an ethereal personality combined with a level of frankness that I appreciate. The following week I brought with me a few more meditations but she was gone.

You don’t ask a lot of questions when you don’t see someone- because it’s not your business. If people share that’s fine, but prying isn’t okay. I wondered where she went and if she was alright. When teaching in a short-term prison facility, you get used to students leaving without notice. Closure is a luxury.

‘How’s your dharma?’ she said.

‘A work in progress. How’s yours?’ I asked.

‘I’ve been locked down, so…’ her voice trailed off. There was a problem with another woman which resulted in a stint in solitary.

In the prison system when an inmate poses a threat to themselves, COs or other inmates they are placed in a solitary housing unit or solitary confinement. Confinement times can be for a day, a month, a week or a year. The US has more people in isolation than in any other country in the Western world. Solitary confinement started out as an experiment in the 1800s. And while confining violent offenders is a necessary evil to protect inmates and corrections officers alike many prison administrators are saying that it’s overused.

When corrections officials talk about solitary confinement, they describe it as the prison within the prison, and for good reason. For 23 hours a day, inmates are kept inside a cell that is approximately 80 square feet, smaller than a typical horse stable. Cells are furnished with a bed, sink and toilet, but rarely much else. Food is delivered through a slot in the door, and each day inmates are allowed just one hour of exercise, in a cage.

For most of the 20th century, a typical stay in solitary amounted to just a few days, or several weeks in more extreme cases. Today, it’s not unusual for inmates to spend years at a time in solitary. Supporters say the practice helps keep prisons safe, but according to the medical literature, solitary confinement can also take a heavy mental toll.

 

According to a recent report from the ACLU women prisoners are put in solitary for many non-violent offenses.

“Women are put in the hole for small things,” said Craig, who now works as a supervisor at a domestic violence safe house in Washington, D.C. “Sometimes there’s a fight or something, but it can be for something stupid, like stealing a tomato from the kitchen, or having two blankets instead of one.”

 

Mona was locked down for six weeks.

New York City officials unanimously agreed Tuesday to eliminate solitary confinement for inmates ages 21 and younger. The decision is groundbreaking: Jails across the U.S. impose solitary confinement on misbehaving inmates.

npr.org

 

She was reading a copy of Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear. I had a copy of Sparks of Divinity, quotes and stories from BKS Iyengar as told by one of his first non-Indian female students. I gave it to her. We talked for a bit and I told her that she should jump in if class has started because she is always welcome. Mona thanked me and said, ‘This whole thing [incarceration] has been humbling. I’ve learned a lot about myself.’ As I got up to leave two students came over and asked if they could give me a hug. Mona said, ‘I think I’ll take one of those too.’

I know that these women are in this section for a variety of reasons and are considered to be high risk, but believe that if they can get opportunities to look inside beyond their case numbers, reputations with the COs, the system and their individual pasts they may see what I see- that they are capable, strong and empowered to make better choices. Meditation and yoga helps with impulse control. Meditation classes are starting to pop up in super-max prisons across the country. It’s not a miracle cure, but many people have ‘light bulb’ moments. Once the switch is turned on, change is possible.

For a great conversation about solitary confinement reform you can listen to the podcast below. If you haven’t seen Frontline’s Locked Up in America check it out. It’s very raw and gritty but well done.

To learn more about Liberation Prison Yoga and its programs, click here.

 

 

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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.

 

Adventures in Yoga – Time.

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I left home this morning in what I thought was more than ample time to catch the train to Manhattan for a Sunday morning hot yoga class.

Oops- holiday schedule.

I was wrong. But as any city dweller who is at the mercy of public transit knows, you must just go with the flow.

For about 10 seconds I debated if I  should even bother heading into the city- there was a really good chance I’d miss class. It would be a wasted trip. With less frequent trains to boot…

Instead I decided, bah- why not. I’d use the ride to continue working on my 6pm class. With headphones on, iPad mini in hand and caffeine in my veins I waited to see what would happen.

The train came at 9:35 and dropped me at my stop at 9:57. I ran to the studio in leather flip-flops to class. Though this may seem contradictory- my mind was surprisingly chill. I figured if I make it, I make it. Running in leather flip-flops however, sucks.

Arrived at 10:02. The door was locked. I knocked anyway. Still, no sinking feeling.

(I should  have mentioned- I’m never late to class. Ever. I’m the goof who more often than not arrives 20 minutes early. )

I got the affectionate side-eye from a teacher and was told to hustle.

My heart was racing but I just turned myself over to the practice. I knew I was having the right experience, because shit, it was the one I was having.

I was expecting a 90 minute class, but class was only 60.

Class beat me up, down, sideways and turned me inside out.

It was freaking glorious.

I’d never had a more challenging class. I couldn’t quite sync up my body and breath. And the heat was a distraction, not its usual sweltering embrace.

After class splayed out making sweat angels, I smiled.

It was hard. So what? I can handle anything for 60 minutes.

Not to be stopped I headed back home to order my new bike. I figured I’d be back in the park the following weekend.

As I was wrapping up the guy said, “Do you want to wait? They’re working on it now- should be about 20 minutes.”

Huh? Wha?

I dashed home to get my helmet.

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Time. Time. Time.

It’s like a challenging pose- when you resist, it pushes back. But if you inhale and find a way to move inside the spaces, it brings you right where you need to be.

Namaste y’all.

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