Category: Uncategorized

Half Poses

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.

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Teaching Yoga in Jail: What I’ve Learned

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!

I try to work with the same set of “rules” (for myself and my approach) in all my classes… but teaching in a jail is just different.  Mostly, for those I teach at the jail, I am the one yoga instructor. People don’t have other classes, other days, other times, other studios to go – this is it. I sometimes teach classes quite different from classes I would take or, quite honestly, classes I would enjoy. But beyond the yoga poses and breathing practices and breath/movement vinyasa, these classes offer participants an experience. That experience may well be more important than the strictly-speaking “yoga.”
In my public classes, I tell students they have options, and I say that here too… but in a setting where people are incarcerated, and in which many or most times they don’t actually have options, my saying it may not make people feel that they really do.  As a yoga instructor, as a volunteer, as someone who is not also incarcerated, I am in a position of power over them, whether I like that or not, whether I think that’s right or not. I try to be mindful of that in how I approach things with this in mind.
People who have had dramatic experiences, like many who are incarcerated, are strong and have survived those experiences. I aim to teach an inclusive trauma informed yoga class, of course, and to a large extent I believe I do. But my work, or a mistake, will not break them. As meaningful as the classes are to ME (and they are: this is a tremendous way to feel I’m using the skill set I have to be of service to those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to yoga and the benefits it entails), and as meaningful as I like to hope the classes are to the women I teach, this is one hour or less of their week. There may not be lots of other activities, but a lot is going on. Loss, anxiety, a whole host of new people and circumstances to acclimate to.
There’s a difference between nervous and friendly laughter, on the one hand, and making-fun-of laughter on the other. Both have come up in yoga classes at the jail. More of the nervous/friendly kind but some of the making-fun kind, and I usually have a sense of which it is. There’s not necessarily a “solution” to stop people from making fun of yoga, but it’s reassuring to know that not all laughter is that kind, and in fact, most of it isn’t.
For detainees who seem to approach things differently than me … I sometimes imagine how they’d respond to different things in my life, in my shoes, and sometimes I think their response would be better than mine.
I grew up very shy. I don’t like to be the center of attention. It can be hard to tell people no diplomatically. I sometimes indirectly undermine myself. Certainly there are incarcerated women like me, and perhaps these aspects of our personalities are connected to the reasons some of us wind up incarcerated, but there are also plenty of women who come across differently – louder, bolder, happy to say no and without any explanation!  I wouldn’t want to trade places and don’t intend to glorify being incarcerated, but I can learn from them too.
The women I teach are not that different from me. It would feel easier to imagine that this group of people is so unique and different from “the rest of us” that “we” could never wind up in their shoes. Most of the time, we could. Perhaps life circumstances set us apart. It’s rare we know all the details of anyone’s life story, but realizing how similar we are can make it harder when we do learn details of people’s lives or involvement in the criminal justice system.
People are, however, different from each other. Stereotypes aren’t true. Detainees are different from each other, and so are staff. I hadn’t thought a lot about staff at CCJ.  I think volunteering in this capacity has given me at least a sliver of insight into what it might be like to work in a detention center, and an appreciation of why it could be a challenging environment to exist in, both as a detainee and as a staff member. It’s not as simple as condemning the system or supporting it wholeheartedly…and that’s it, there’s no clear final answer. This experience makes me question anyone who presents things as if there is.

8 Ways That Sexual Violence Crisis Training is Relevant to Teaching Yoga

Read more about the 40-hour training in general here.
1. The statistics are pretty sobering: 1 out of 6 US women has experienced attempted or completed sexual assault; 1 out of every 10 survivors are male; 21% of transgender college students have been assaulted (via RAINN).  Sexual violence is unfortunately not uncommon, and survivors are likely part of any given public yoga class. Whether you intend to teach survivors or not –  most likely you already do.

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.

The fact that someone hasn’t disclosed to you that they are a survivor of sexual violence does not mean they are not.

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.

Continue reading “8 Ways That Sexual Violence Crisis Training is Relevant to Teaching Yoga”

Cultural Competency in Yoga: What is it and why does it matter?

Cultural competency is a hugely important topic – and also a hugely scary one to write about, for me.
Why?
I am from the US and currently live here. This country’s human rights record is shameful, in particular in terms of treatment of people of color. Some things have changed, some have not, and even following change, past practices affect us today.
I also lived for 3 years in a country where civilians of Muslim background were targeted in conflict and went without international assistance for years. I spent a fair part of a two year dating a black man.  I don’t claim to experience racism or discrimination in the way people of color do, but issues such as racism and discrimination feel personal and close to my heart.
Selfishly, it would also just be painful to be called a racist. Plenty of people are unwilling to spend the time and take the risk of going out on a limb to start a discussion on this topic, but quick to point out fault when others do.
What is cultural competency? What is it not?
Does it mean I should teach yoga to black people differently than I’d teach it to white people? Does it imply all Latinos are the same? Does it mean I can’t teach people of color well because I’m white? You might already have guessed my answer is no, I don’t think so!
One definition I liked, stated succinctly in an NCBI article regarding cultural competency in health care  (helpfully provided by a simple google search) is:
“Culture is defined as patterns of human behavior that are part of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group…Some of the variance across cultural groups can be affected by immigration, family structure, educational attainment, and socioeconomic status…Cultural competence …is an acknowledgement and incorporation of the importance of culture, the assessment of cross-cultural relations, vigilance towards the dynamics that result from cultural differences, the expansion of cultural knowledge, and the adaptation of services to meet culturally unique needs.”
The concept of cultural competency does imply that different cultures exist, and sometimes these fall across similar lines as race and ethnicity…but obviously variation can occur within groups as our identities are intersectional.  To me, it’s important to balance this out with a reminder that we are all connected as human beings, and to avoid “othering” people by acting in a way that implies we are incredibly different. We can still become informed about experiences or practices that tend to go along with a particular culture.
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.
That said, I am a white yoga instructor who thinks this topic matters, and really can only speak from my personal viewpoint! Here’s my way of looking at why this topic matters. What’s yours?
White people in the US benefit from privilege rooted in current discriminatory attitudes towards people of color, and also due to the legacy of racism and prejudice. This is true even though white people today may not have personally “done anything” or asked for privilege.
Even for those of us who haven’t necessarily “done anything”, it’s possible in any interaction to cause harm, including unintentionally.
As a yoga teacher – as a person! – I don’t want to cause harm! I can act like a human being with all people, but with culture in particular, we often take things for granted, that what is true for me in my culture, I don’t even think of it as culture, I think of it as truth. Particularly in a country with such a legacy of injustice, it behooves us all, and white people in particular, to pay attention to this topic and to learn and consider what others have to say.

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YSC 2017 – The Art of Facilitation w/Dr. Melody Moore – What I Took Away

I got to Omega Institute just before 10am after a full night of driving (and napping in the car!). The irony of attending a workshop that at least touched on self-care after depriving myself of a hotel room or a flight to save money was not lost on me. But we all have to make sacrifices to do awesome things!
I mainly teach physical yoga classes, so it was hard to know how much of the presentation would be relevant to me. It was! In fact, I now think it was even more ideal to speak more generally around facilitation, rather than assuming we all did the same thing and there was one “right path” for us all. I really enjoyed Dr. Melody Moore herself – she was both very human and very professional at the same time.
Our small group formed our own community agreements, including regarding confidentiality, so it’s important to point out that what I share is what I took away from this session in general, and I strive to avoid publicizing any individual personal experience shared. And, of course, my takeaways might contain mistakes that are mine alone.
Read on to see 10 things I can and will apply to my own yoga classes (public and service classes), and other forms of facilitation such as workshops and teacher training.

Continue reading “YSC 2017 – The Art of Facilitation w/Dr. Melody Moore – What I Took Away”

YSC 2017: Community Agreements & What I Took Away

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.

I think it’s important to share what I learned in terms of what I took away from this session and others – lots of people can benefit from the info; plenty likely would have loved to attend but could not afford the time away or tuition. But it’s important to be clear that what I share here is what I took away from the conference and the sessions I attended. I tried my best not to violate anyone’s confidentiality by speaking on any personal experience shared. Any inconsistencies (or outright mistakes!) on the topics at hand reflect my own errors and not the speakers’.

YSC 2017 – On Being: The Art of Facilitation with Dr. Melody Moore

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!

Why does yoga and body image matter?

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?Kate photo
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?”

Training: UpRising Yoga

1243772Name of Organization: UpRising Yoga

Name of Training: Trauma Informed Yoga Training

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Number of Hours: 17 hours

Contact Email: help2uprise@gmail.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.

Free heated power yoga in Chicago

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).