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 Yoga – Trust Is a Process Part II

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I wandered into the new class in one of the sentenced women’s dorm a little earlier than usual. Most of the students from last week were at work or at a program. However, with most of the dorm asleep- I said I’d hang out for a bit and see if anyone wanted to do some yoga. I put down three mats and sat on one hoping I’d look pathetic and someone would take pity on the foolish yoga teacher.
Bam. Five minutes later someone came out. Maybe it was pity. I don’t care. Proud I am not. It was someone from last week and she said that she loved class but her neck and back had been hurting badly. She did however request to do downward dog and tree pose.  It was louder than the previous week but I was sure that we could create a therapeutic space to soften her body. And then…
The return of Fake A*s Pilates aka Tasha (not her real name). Last week I had a few dissatisfied customers. She was one. I thought- here we go. If I could have raised one eyebrow I would have. But instead I smiled and was met with a softness that I’d not seen from her. Tasha used to be in another dorm and while she was never disruptive during my class I’ve seen her yucking it up. She asked if she could sit with a bolster under her back because it was hurting. As she was talking her eyes were moving in the direction of the TV. I Love Lucy was on.
When you teach in jail there’s a dynamic- being tough doesn’t work, but being a pushover will also get you nowhere. It’s a delicate balance. I looked at her and said I’d be happy to have her sit if her back hurt and she didn’t want to practice but the pillow wasn’t for watching TV. We were creating a community.
Could she agree to do that? Did that seem fair?
She paused a beat and said, “Yeah, definitely.” Tasha sat with the bolster and did arm variations throughout class. No wise cracks. Three more people came back from work duty and we’re excited to grab a mat.
About midway through class Tasha  said she wanted to lay back down in bed. She thanked me and left.
The room was loud but the energy was friendly. As I was leaving Tasha said goodbye again and she’d see me next week.
This place has taught me more about interpersonal relationships than anywhere else. I don’t know Tasha’s story and may never know it. But she let down her guard a bit. I can’t imagine what it must be like. Humor is probably a great coping mechanism.  Today was interesting. We’ll see what happens next week.
Namaste y’all.