Rikers Island Yoga

mural rikers

 

“Our notions about happiness entrap us. We forget that they are just ideas. Our idea of happiness can prevent us from actually being happy. We fail to see the opportunity for joy that is right in front of us when we are caught in a belief that happiness should take a particular form.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

 

 

On the 4th floor I was met with a ton of empty beds and lethargy. Lots of women had been released and others were at work. None of the regulars were around and it was a hard sell on some unfamiliar faces. I did see one student I knew and she said she was tired and didn’t feel like coming to the mat. Oddly though, no one seemed to want me to leave. I chatted for a little while- but hey I have yoga to peddle. I said my goodbyes and decided to go to the 5th floor.

A group of 15 settled on blocks and bolsters. I led practice off by stating that I would be teaching using the word ‘I’ because I was going to do what made sense for me. In turn, they should do what makes sense for them. It was jazzy.

For real.

When presented with the opportunity to choose (anything) we are both liberated and accountable. Our class started to draw onlookers. It might have been with some of the laughing, but I think it also had to do with people moving to their own rhythm. I risk sounding new agey typing this but the vibe surrounding a group of women making choices feels differently than a group of women being told what to do. It just does. By the time meditation rolled around I had a few spectators grab mats.

Typically, I do a guided meditation that uses visualization. But because the room felt solid and safe I opted for a traditional yoga nidra. The CO in the dorm kept things at a dull roar (for which I was grateful). It allowed for a deep state of meditation. Quite a few women hung back after class to chat with each and ask me a few questions. This is usually a good sign. One student told me that she used to go to a studio where I practice in the city. She said when she gets out she’s going to go back.

Maybe that’s what the day was about. Having a student make a choice to go back to her practice. From there, who knows. She’ll choose I guess.

Namaste y’all.

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

Rikers-Island-the-second-largest-prison-in-the-U.S.-Of-11000-inmates-4000-have-a-mental-illness

 

 

 

The typical Metro NYC summer has finally arrived. Swampy heat. It’s like wearing a wet sweatshirt.

I leave much earlier than I need to so I don’t have to be on the trains at full rush hour crush. That’s one of the things I appreciate about this second career. No crushing. Yes, there’s rushing and pressure but there is a sense of ownership about how I move in the world. I think this as I travel to Riker’s. I still get to move how I want, where I want and when I want. These luxuries are something I appreciate more than ever.

The Q100 is pretty empty as usual.

I’m already used to the routine of checking in.

 

I’m surprised at how many of the guards remember me and say, ‘Yoga, right?’ I smile and am told with sincerity to have fun.

 

Out back waiting for the bus I see the driver that I chatted up last week. I hop on the bus to head to RSMC (the dorm). Quickly, I realize that I’m on the wrong bus but secretly I’m pleased because Slick Rick is playing. It’s still incredible to me the enormity of this place. There are five bus routes.

 

After a bus change, I get to where I should be. I’m amazed at the intriciy of the system.  I check in at the dorms at 8:45.  Walking to the 800 section I see a few of the women from last week.  They excitedly let me know they will we back upstairs and don’t want to miss class. This makes me feel great and I quickly forget about the oppressive heat.

 

I see Carmen and get a big hug. I also meet Ms. Gregory. She is the counselor for the other side of the dorm.

 

Carmen takes me to her side of the dorm. Our talk before our practice is about anger. We physically demonstrate what anger looks like ad feels like in the body. I suggest that as they go through class to see if any particular pose brings up any feelings. We began class with stillness. I invited students to mentally scan any tight areas their body.

Moving to all fours as a group we did cat stretches and then back to a neutral spine. Slowly we sat on our heels for a toe stretch. On an inhale we found tabletop and on an exhale we moved to Camel Pose. We did this three times and it was a lovely way to gently stir the body. Coming to our feet we did lunges and tightened our firsts to feel the tension and then relaxed into a pose to feel the difference between the two. We moved quickly and did more heart opening postures to release tension.

Our guided meditation was filled with noise but by incorporating the background, I could feel students keep the intention on themselves rather than what was happening.

When it came to writing,  right away someone said she already wrote about anger and didn’t want to write about it again. I asked of there were other topics that she might was to explore and wanted suggestions and after getting a few she decided she just didn’t feel like writing. Another student said that after meditation she really felt like thinking rather than writing- so it seemed best to let the writing piece go. Next week I may do the writing before meditation and see what happens.

Class wrapped and everyone said that if they were there next week, they’d be back.

 

Second Class

On the other side the vibe is very different. When we talk about anger and what it looks like the conversation shifts to the physiological effects of anger. Answers were pinging around the room:

Stress!

High blood pressure!

Migraines!

Heart attacks!

Muscle spasms!

Answer after answer rang out. The discussion shifted to how yoga can help with managing anger and I talked about how by learning to breathe better we give ourselves a chance to pause. Sometimes the chance to pause can make all of the difference in what happens to us. ‘Might not do something stupid’ someone said. That was a great way to wrap and begin the practice. We held poses to feel our power and let our muscles tense and then relax.

I felt a strong sense of purpose with this group. I’m not sure if if was the time of day but we were able to have a long period of quiet for our guided meditation.  When class closed I could feel a greater sense of calm.

After recapping with Carmen I get on the elevator and there are about 6 six large guards. And like that I’m reminded why it’s important that I come here.

Because I get to leave.

Namaste y’all.