Organization: Liberation Prison Yoga
Share Your Practice: Describe your involvement in yoga service. How did you get involved?
Anneke Lucas: I head Liberation Prison Yoga, a non-profit organization in New York bringing yoga and meditation to the incarcerated populations. I teach my own regular classes at the Rikers Island Jail Complex and in the prison, and train our volunteers in the six facilities where we are currently active.
SYP: What role has yoga played in your own life?
AL: Yoga has been an essential part of my own healing from physical and emotional trauma. The meditation practice has offered the greatest possible context in which to view my traumatic past, enabling me to take responsibility for my life and thrive.
SYP: Describe a rewarding situation in your yoga service work:
AL: The most important aspect to going in the prisons is to make a real connection with the students, otherwise whatever we bring is meaningless. These connections have proven to be tremendously beautiful and also very healing for me. The sweetness and humility of my students is received by the unloved child inside myself – this is how I get when I come to give.
SYP: Are there any poses or practices you find especially helpful to teach?
AL: The meditations and guided relaxations are the favorite parts of the class for all students. Often we have a very beginner practice in movement, and then we make the guided meditations longer. We almost always enter a deep place of silence together, in spite of whatever noise may be around. It’s intensely quiet, and it’s magical.
SYP: What practical advice or resources would you share with others who’d like to get involved in similar work?
AL: Teaching yoga inside prisons or to other underserved populations ideally is very different from most yoga classes taught in the studios. It is important to learn about the trauma-informed style, and to know it’s about the love you bring. Liberation Prison Yoga regularly offers workshops in New York City, and we are developing an in-depth online training.
SYP: It seems like teaching in a prison can be a very intense experience, also including the more administrative side of things. How do you deal with this challenge?
AL: The only way that this type of volunteer work can be rewarding instead of draining is to make a heart to heart connection with the students. The obstacles to the red tape of entering a facility and getting to a class, especially in NYC, are so great that it would be very hard to sustain without finding inspiration from the students. By being humble instead of presenting ourselves as authority figures or experts, we can have that beautiful experience of connection. When that happens, nothing is more rewarding and healing.