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Hi, Brooke, Have you led your prison yoga class yet? Love, Avital

prison yoga Oct 22, 2012

Yes, I attended, shadowed, assisted and modeled for the yoga and meditation classes in the San Luis Obispo County Jail on Saturday, October 13, the morning after leaving Ananda (having been there for 10 days and meeting you for lunch). They asked me if I wanted to teach that morning but, once inside, I realized that I was happy to observe as had been indicated for me and to support the teachers and students and to interact on a more casual level among the women, for us to become familiar with one another.

It is quite an intense experience being in there: the girls have only their red short-sleeved jumpsuits, no sweatshirts (we practiced outside in a concrete and gated cage at 8:30am after a rain = cold), some had socks, though not all, and most seemed grateful though some were chatting (the lead teacher told them she would separate them like in Kindergarten). These girls are tough, survivors of everything. It shows in their eyes, in their skin, in their posture, in their need to connect, in their defiance of their vulnerability. It is a privilege to witness such survival anywhere, after any catastrophe or trauma. We all embody this. These women wear it on their sleeves, in their scars and ponytails. Everything’s been taken from them and yet they have friendships and spunk and willingness. They are human, they are us.

We taught 3 groups that morning, one 1-hour and two 30-minute groups. The first group was about 11 strong and the Protective Custody group was only two women. There were two leaders, one for Yoga and one for meditation, and two of us shadowing to learn the ropes. I was prepared to teach meditation (over Yoga) that morning but, to respect the meditation leader who had come prepared (and to chicken out a little, to be honest), I thought to leave it to her (she had a reading picked out and read to the women while they were in Savasana). The ladies groaned in gratitude going into balasana (Child’s pose). The Yoga taught was sophisticated, in my opinion, up to poses like chakrasana (Wheel pose). It left a few of the girls behind, unfortunately. The meditation was from an Al-Anon book, a piece on forgiveness. Each teacher is different, with their own, valuable approach.

I’m the rare bird that can teach both Yoga and meditation.

I go back November 3 to shadow once more, then December 15 to teach “for real.” It was good to see how the others taught, how differently I teach (!) and the vibrational momentum that I am accustomed to creating. I heard that they try to get everyone to teach right away, or, encourage it, anyway. I’ll be better prepared next time if they try to coax me. I hadn’t been in a “random” Yoga class like that in a long time- like, years. I could keep up! I was surprised, actually. Then I dropped into meditation on my mat in the middle of the yard, almost without choice and as personal retreat, while one group waited to be taken in and another was to be brought out. I needed the medicine of it, the spaciousness and stillness. I was still in the Ananda vibration. The sanctuary felt like a balm.

My anxiety was probably greater than the fear factor needed to be but one does need to be on their toes in there. We are the specially-cleared few who can enter the facility as we do. We have a special dress code to adhere to (no jeans, no blue, no jewelry, closed toed shoes, no tight pants, high-collared tops…) There was no drinking water for us – for any of us. There was only one exposed, stainless steel toilet for us all to use, on-camera. It was definitely a different scene than the Expanding Light Retreat at Ananda Village… in some ways.

To volunteer in the San Luis Obispo County Juvenile Hall and Women’s and Men’s Jail, contact Volunteer as support or to offer any skills that you might have. People are needed to interface with this culture to help reintegrate the imprisoned once they are released back into “the world.”


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