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.
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 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.
Holding space for a discussion around this topic is, in my view, more important than me personally figuring out and sharing the “right” way to look at this topic. With cultural competence in mind, in particular, it makes sense to hold space for voices from people of color, not just “too” but primarily, instead of solely my view as a white yoga instructor.
I spent last weekend in Rhinebeck, New York at the Yoga Service Conference. I’d been looking forward to all of the sessions (and blogged about my thoughts on a few in advance!). In true yoga form, our printed program started with some community agreements intended to foster connection, understanding and respect (see photo!). Dr. Melody Moore hosted the Friday intensive I attended, and she guided our smaller group through the creation of some of our own community agreements. Among others – confidentiality.
My weekend at the 2017 Yoga Service Conference will start with Dr. Melody Moore‘s Friday intensive session on facilitation. I’m especially interested in this session because even though my own work with higher trauma groups is pretty limited, it can still be a challenge to find a balance between serving others and caring for yourself.
“As facilitators, it is necessary that we understand how to become safe havens for our clients and students without causing harm to ourselves. Often, in our attempts to serve others, we end up overwhelmed, over-invested, or overcompensating…We will explore attachment theory, boundaries, shadow work, family systems, and group dynamics” (text from YSC website)
Even for those of us, or for me at least, who may not experience vicarious trauma in the sense of getting into great detail about specific challenges facing the people we teach as social workers or therapists might, it can be a lot to recognize that those circumstances are real for the people we teach and care about … and recognize that, despite what we CAN offer through yoga, there are many things we cannot offer..and perhaps things that no one can offer.
I’ve found it hard some days to transition from teaching in a jail, or taking a training on sexual violence, into something in my life with a more joyful or lighthearted intention. But I can still recognize how important it is to maintain a balance, to practice self care, so I can also extend care and positive energy to others.
I plan to blog about the sessions I attend, so stay tuned for my impressions of this intensive!
When I talk about trauma-informed yoga or yoga service, some people want to know, or at least wonder: what’s your story? What have you dealt with that makes you want to do this?
And I get it. Many people interested in this work come to it because yoga has helped them heal. Yoga has helped me heal too! When I’ve met someone who shares that they have dealt with something similar to me, I feel more connected to them. Often, even if I haven’t experienced something similar, it’s inspiring to hear how yoga has helped them – and even with different life experiences, our yoga experience may be similar.
Continue reading “Why does yoga and body image matter?”
Name of Organization: UpRising Yoga
Name of Training: Trauma Informed Yoga Training
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Number of Hours: 17 hours
Contact Email: email@example.com
Cost: $300 early bird; $350 regular price
Other Info: This 2-day training will provide you with effective, yoga based tools for working with incarcerated youth and other at-risk populations. As part of the training, you will learn about UpRising Yoga’s approach to teaching yoga, based on practical experiences learned from our work in incarcerated settings. You will also have the unique opportunity to interact and learn from subject matter experts in juvenile justice, public policy, healthcare, community engagement and research. You do not have to be a yoga instructor to attend our training. In fact, many social workers, psychologists, teachers, and more, have been able to incorporate our teachings into their practices.
This blog primarily focuses on trauma-informed yoga, but yoga in general can be a powerful tool for self-care, stress relief and overall wellness – on top of a great physical work out. The cost of yoga can be prohibitive. Core Power Yoga (one of my employers) periodically offers free power yoga classes co-taught by groups of new teachers:
South Loop Core Power Yoga (c1 class) – Sundays at 4:30pm – 9/11 – 10/9
West Loop Core Power Yoga (c1 class) – Mondays at 8pm – 9/5 – 10/10
Streeterville Core Power Yoga (hpf class) – Mondays at 6:45pm – 9/5 – 10/10
Uptown Core Power Yoga (c1 class) – Saturdays at 2pm – 9/10 – 10/8
Hyde Park Core Power Yoga (c1 class) – Sundays at 3pm 9/11 – 10/9
Lakeview Core Power Yoga (c1 class) – Tuesdays at 8:45pm 9/6 – 10/11
Sauganash Core Power Yoga (hpf class) – Sundays at 2pm 9/11 – 10/9
These classes are heated (between 85-100 degrees) and vigorous! Visit Core Power’s website or use google for a preview of what you can expect. Find links here to other free or donation-based community classes (many will be gentler in style than Core Power classes).