This week I’m teaching a sequence with lots of “half poses”. Some are well-established halves (half split, half pigeon) but others are a little more creative (half tadasana, half eagle – what!? Take class and find out!). Why? Partly, for variety! I love love love sequencing and for me, when I practice, NOT knowing what to expect and really truly NEEDING to be focus and listen to know where to go is what brings me into the present moment rather than letting my mind wandering.
Looking for free or low cost community classes? Find links to new student deals here (please double check before going in person to class!) and a list of non-profits or similar organizations offering low cost yoga below:
Know of other free or low cost community classes? Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to have them added to this list.
I started teaching yoga to women at Cook County Jail (CCJ) about a year ago, as a volunteer for Yoga for Recovery, a Chicago-based non-profit that has been doing this work for years. The CCJ website lists its average daily population at 9000 detainees – it is one of the largest single site pre-detention facilities in the US. “Pre-detention” means a large number of detainees are not people who have been convicted but rather are awaiting trial. Sometimes the wait is months long or longer.
Yoga for Recovery offers its volunteers a manual on teaching, assistance with paperwork, and a network of teachers who sign up to teach yoga to women detainees about once a month. A different group of detainees comes each week. One of three weekly Yoga For Recovery classes is for detainees who are pregnant or who have recently given birth. I got involved in yoga service a long time ago but hadn’t taught in any detention centers. I was curious about what it’s like to teach in a jail (post forthcoming) and hesitant to take on a regular class myself till I knew. Yoga for Recovery provided exactly what I needed: a chance to teach occasionally in an established program to see what it’s like, but a program that could continue without me if it turned out it wasn’t for me.
Here’s what I have learned:
I can stay cool under challenging circumstances. I mean, in regular life, I manage, but my ability to chill at the jail sometimes surprises me!
In March of this year I completed 40 hours of training in sexual violence crisis intervention through the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, the largest Illinois provider of services to sexual assault survivors. I’ve trained separately in trauma informed yoga, including the Breathe Network’s Sexual Violence, Yoga and Resilience training, and took this training to prepare to teach yoga at the YWCA or any other rape crisis center. (In contrast to the YMCA, which I think nowadays is primarily known for group fitness classes, the YWCA focuses on eliminating racism, economic empowerment and counseling/other services related to sexual assault and domestic violence).
This 40-hour training is primarily intended for those who will go on to serve as rape crisis hotline volunteers, or medical advocates, who (offer to) accompany survivors through the hospital visit. If you are interested in volunteering in these capacities – reach out to the YWCA! The volunteers I met in training were amazing and inspiring. While the training is not specific to yoga, it is excellent for any yoga teacher who wishes to work with sexual violence survivors (there is a different 40-hour training focused on domestic violence)…and I’d say any yoga teacher at all, as there’s a big chance most public classes include survivors.
Read on to find out 8 ways this training is relevant to yoga classes, both public or specific to survivors.
In contrast to rape crisis hotline volunteers or medical advocate, it’s less likely that I’ll be having conversations so specifically about sexual violence as a yoga teacher – but the level of detail that came up really expanded my picture of how sexual violence can affect people. A survivor assaulted by someone they know and will likely see again.One person’s concern that if they report the assault, their partner won’t understand, or the situation in which it happened will make their sexual orientation known and they haven’t come out. Parents who want their (adult) child to pursue a different path after the assault – reporting it or not, changing jobs, getting counseling – and struggle to let their child choose her/his own path.
2. Victim-blaming is still a thing, whether it’s blatant or subtle (and “subtle” can be just as insidious – see microaggressions below). Rape culture is the attitude that normalizes or trivializes sexual assault, for instance, shifting the burden of prevention from the perpetrator and the wider social context that normalizes sexual violence to the (potential) individual survivors: take self defense! don’t wear revealing clothing! never walk alone at night! Self defense isn’t a bad thing, but the main problem is not that survivors didn’t take self defense, but that perpetrators committed violence against them.
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Is your business interested in donating space for a community/donation-based yoga class on a weekend morning? I’m an experienced yoga instructor who has taught for more than two years in studios, gyms and non-profit settings such as Cook County Jail, a counseling center for survivors of sexual violence, and libraries. I have training in trauma informed yoga and host events to speak to other yoga teachers on resources in this field.
Yoga can be a tremendous tool for self-care. People practice for all different reasons – the mindful physical stretch, the breath awareness that leads to stress relief, even the potential to help in the healing of trauma. Help make this practice more financially accessible.
I’m accepting applications with the hope of identifying a new yoga host partner! Apply here.
Can you offer:
- A clean indoor space big enough to host 20+ participants on yoga mats
- A staff member present for the class/responsible for the premises
- A staff contact who can reply to a text/email confirming space availability each week (that the room isn’t booked or set up with tables/chairs)
- A budget for the teacher – helpful, not required
- Fundraising assistance with a GoFundMe page
- What’s included in the directory?
The database currently includes a large number of yoga service trainings in the United States (as well as a few abroad); it’s open to all at no cost through 7/30/2017. From 8/1/2017 on, you can gain access to the directory by joining Share Your Practice as an individual or organizational member.
- What can I search for?
- Where does this information come from? Is it reliable?
- The answer isn’t all about the language you use. Remind yourself however you can (sitting with students, mantra, silence) that you are one with your students. Recognize this unity before differentiation. Consistency is part of this too. Rather than using “special” rules for yoga service or trauma informed classes, work with the same general teaching guidelines all the time. For me, this often means adjusting the class to the broad “level” of the group, but speaking with similar language and referencing similar benefits of the practice.
- Focus your teaching and cues on processes rather than goals. In a physical practice, sure, we are teaching poses, but the “full expression” in my body may look very different from the full expression in yours. Avoid language that ranks poses as “full expression”, or “if you want to go deeper”, or “if you can/can’t”. Invite students to explore where they feel engagement or sensation within a pose, perhaps even at the same time they feel ease somewhere else.
- Students sometimes say they don’t know what feels right Why? How can they not? My view is that sometimes our culture trains us to defer to a teacher or instructor and set our own experience aside, so even if we *do* feel, we dismiss that or devalue it in favor of what the teacher says. So if a teacher *doesn’t* say what to feel or do – “what’s wrong with this teacher?!” Sometimes, though, we disassociate from our senses due to stress or trauma, and this is a widely recognized and real phenomenon in trauma research. Disassociation has a helpful purpose in some short-term settings – to minimize the impact of an emotionally or physically painful event; to stay focused and alert despite extreme fear – but in the long-term it’s ideal to turn back on the connection to our senses and as a result feel the full range of emotions. This is where yoga comes in, not just doing physical poses to “get them right”, but to bring our awareness to the moment and the physical sensations in the body.
- Verbal outbursts can be tools for exploration “Ouch!” Rather than treat this as a disruption to class, treat it as an opportunity to reflect on the sensation (obviously after the student is in a pose or shape that isn’t painful). What did you feel? Where did you feel that? Did anyone else feel something similar, or something different? Observing these physical sensations is not just incidental to the practice, it’s an important part of it and we can do this off the mat too.
I attended a breakout session on cultural competency at the Yoga Service Conference in May. I looked forward to it because I care about this topic a lot, and because plenty of my students are people of color.
- Why cultural competency matters in yoga – and to me – and my understanding of what that is
- An overview of some cultural competency topics that the presenters covered within the talk
- What if a teacher does their best to become culturally competent, and it still doesn’t seem like enough?