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The only moment I was in was the moment I was in.

We started our detention yoga class with mats in a circle, stress relieving pillows in hand, energy all over the place. After explaining how we could experience being in the present moment by focusing on the pillows and taking deep breaths, the girls committed to do the practice for 1 minute. 

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The gym was so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. When 1 minute was up, I asked what they noticed. The girls begin sharing their struggles, worries, the thoughts which have been haunting them since their incarceration. We discussed noticing how a single thought can lead to thinking. We talked about experiences where our thinking sparked feelings. We shared about times when our feelings impacted how we reacted to situations and how we interacted with other people.  

I explained that it's possible to use breathing, movement, and focus to experience something beyond our constant thoughts and the subsequent feelings. As an example, I told them about the first time I did yoga. 

Essentially, I got my ass handed to me. I'm not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn't quite that level of exercise. It was one of the most challenging situations I have ever put myself into (purposely). But I didn't quit. It took every bit of my focus, but I was able to finish the class. When the end finally came and final resting pose was queued, my body went SPLAT on the mat and my mind was silenced. I had achieved my first of many yoga highs. It felt like heaven. 

During the class, because I had to be so focused on every tiny detail of what my body was doing - for the first time in my life - I was able to be completely free of the constant stream of seemingly uncontrollable thoughts which were always racing through my head. And THAT'S what got me hooked; the first taste of what it's like to be fully present in the present moment. No thoughts of yesterday, no worries about tomorrow, just the right now. The only moment I was in was the moment I was in. Wow, what a rush.

“You mean... I don't HAVE to think? Holy shit! Give me more of that!"  

In time, with continued practice, more was revealed. For so many years, I had allowed my thoughts and emotions to rule my attitudes, dictate my actions, and impact my relationships. Yoga showed me another way. Now I know that my thought process is just that, a process. I can allow this process to enslave me or I can choose to override it. I learned how to use breathing, movement, and focus to make my mind a servant instead of allowing it to be my master.   

The girls were curious, asked questions, and offered insightful observations. By the end of our open discussion, they were eager to experience the power of yoga for themselves. All three girls committed to do their best to breathe, move, and focus. They agreed to back out of anything that caused pain and to challenge themselves to keep going, even when their thoughts told them to give up. 

35 minutes later and the gym was so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. The girls were splat on their mats in their own unique ways, eyes closed, breath calm, bodies still. Perfect exactly as they were without having to change a single thing. Their final resting pose was accompanied by a guided body-scan meditation and the gentle sound of Tibetan singing bowls. 

Conversation at the end of the class

Girl 1: Where did you go during the rest?

Girl 2: I was remembering when I had my baby. I don’t know why, but that’s where I was. 

Girl 3: I didn’t go anywhere. I wasn’t thinking about anything. For once! I’m so relaxed!  

Me, turning to Girl 1: So, where did you go?

Girl 1: I was sitting on my porch. 

Me: Is that something you like to do? 

Girl 1: I don’t have a porch. 

Me: Wow. How did that make you feel?

Girl 1: Real good. Even though I don’t have a porch, I was sitting on it, and I knew it was mine. It felt real peaceful. 

Immediately after her response, the detention center staff announced it was time to get up, get quiet, get in line, and get back to the cell block. As they walked away, I invited them to use what they learned from this experience any time. I smiled and waved goodbye.   

Though I will return to the facility next week, due to the transient nature of the juvenile justice system, I know I will probably never see any of these girls again. There is no sadness for me in this statement, only a sense of peace and acceptance. This is my purpose. I will continue to serve it.

 

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Only Love is Real

Love is unconditional. If it’s conditional, it’s something else.

Relationships are conditional.

I can choose how much contact I have with a person and how attached I want to be to their behavior, but I cannot choose to un-love someone.

I am love, we are love. According to A Course in Miracles, only love is real. Perhaps in this life, that is true. I experienced this through walking with my father in the last few months of his life.

I had a complicated and somewhat tumultuous relationship with my father, who was an addict like me. He got very sick when I had about 7 months clean, his body had had enough of his abuse and was giving up. He lived in another state, so many nights I would leave work, drive about an hour to make it just in time for visiting hours at the hospital, and then leave to make the end of a meeting. At the time I still believed in a God that I would pray to. I would pray on those drives “I’m not ready for him to die, but please help me accept whatever needs to happen for him”. My sponsor had told me that this time was about his life, not about me having a sick father. She helped me cultivate a humble perspective.

After about 5 months of trips back and forth to the hospital and his last minute attempts to get sober, we reached the time of the around the clock vigil. I stayed with my aunt, who he had been living with. We received the call in the early morning the day after his 57th birthday, it was time to be with him, he could no longer breathe on his own, it was time to say goodbye.

We sat on either side of him, each holding a hand. He couldn’t speak, but seemed like he wanted to tell me something. We looked into each other’s eyes and I kept telling him “it’s ok, I love you, I know you love me”. A few minutes later he was still. I felt the whole room fill with his spirit, and in that moment, whatever was between us that wasn’t love was gone. All the blame, resentment and unmet expectations were gone. All that was left was what is real. A father’s love for his daughter, and her love for him.

It’s been almost 13 years since that day, and I still experience waves of grief, especially when I see my father in my son. The love that we have for each other is unconditional, it has not changed, it has been completely uncovered since the day he died. We have a different relationship now, but the love is the same.

Love is real and unconditional.

 

BLAKEY ELKHART KORNFELD 

QUALITY ASSURANCE AND TRAINING MANAGER, YOGA FOR RECOVERY

Blakey’s mother took her to her first yoga class in 1987, as a troubled teen, the peace that she found on the mat had a profound impact on her life. In 2006 Blakey returned to a regular practice of Yoga as a way to improve her physical health and deepen her recovery from drug addiction; she knew then that she wanted to share the healing power of yoga with others seeking recovery. Since completing her first yoga teacher training, Blakey has been leading classes focused on the therapeutic value of yoga on the body and mind. She has completed several trainings in trauma sensitive yoga as well as 500hrs of yoga therapeutics. Blakey continues to deepen her understanding of the spirit/body connection through regular trainings and self study. She is delighted and honored to be a part of the Transformation Yoga Project.

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What Can Yoga Do for You?

While yoga has been around for centuries, its popularity has only recently flourished worldwide. Perhaps this is due to the scientific community showcasing evidence that the benefits we always felt were real are, in fact, real. Discoveries such as this have piqued the interest of millions of people across the globe. The transformative power of yoga is beginning to ripple into every corner of the planet.

So what are the benefits yoga provides? If you're a newcomer to the world of yoga, you'll most likely want to know what it can do for you and your current life circumstances. In this post, we aim to uncover some of the most influential and transformational attributes yoga can reveal in your life.

Yoga Can Provide Physical Health Benefits

First of all, let's explore the obvious. Yoga clearly has a profound effect on the physical body, improving muscle strength and tone, flexibility, physical balance, cardiovascular and circulatory health. Yoga also helps prevent injury and increases energy levels. If you want to get in shape, yoga is certainly a fierce contender among the methods you can use to achieve the physique you desire.

However, what you will find with yoga is that it changes the body in a peaceful, rejuvenating and calm manner. With the many forms of this fitness style, physical benefits almost become a byproduct of everything that yoga transfers into your life when you begin practicing it regularly. For those who don't enjoy vigorous exercise such as running or aerobics, yoga offers a tranquil and spiritual approach that can be far more fruitful for the mind, body and spirit.

 

Yoga Can Improve Your Wellness and Mental Health

Yoga calms and focuses the mind on the body and the breath. Through dissolving all negative thoughts by combining mindfulness with yoga, one can broaden his awareness of who and what he really is. When this happens, stress and illusory perceptions of oneself disintegrate as the mind is left quiet. Only then can one free himself from the mental prison created within his mind through negative past conditioning.

Yoga is a mindful practice, and when we place our awareness and attention on our breath and movements fully, we take our experiences to a much deeper and more meaningful level. If you feel disconnected and unattached with nature, yoga is one of the most effective systems you can learn to anchor you back into reality. This reality opens a pathway to compassion, love, positivity and a way of life that makes you feel connected to the whole.

Yoga Can Transform You

Ask people who have taken yoga seriously in their lives; they will all tell you the same thing: Yoga altered their existence in a positive and nourishing way. When you practice with qualified and talented teachers, they will not only help you improve your physical health; they will invite you on a journey of self-discovery that only becomes more meaningful and satisfying as time goes on.

Yoga aligns the mind, body and spirit in such a way that allows us to reveal our true selves and nature. When this happens, we let go of anger, hatred, worries and limiting beliefs that stop us from tapping into our infinite potential. Fear is washed away, as we realize it's an illusion created by the mind. Our understanding of love, compassion and happiness changes because we learn that by loving ourselves, we can then care for all others in the most positive and healthy of manners.

Yoga Creates Purpose

After practicing yoga for a while, you'll begin reaping the many rewards it has to offer. As your life starts to change in a visibly positive manner, you'll start to feel the urge to tell your friends, family members and even strangers about it. It's no wonder the mystique that surrounds yoga has rippled throughout the world, as those who practice it can't help but talk about it wherever they go. 

This lifestyle choice starts off as a transformational tool for yourself, but what it evolves into is a circle of abundance that surrounds your life and everyone you encounter. It's hard to hold onto something so incredible and not to share it with the people you love and care about most. The stereotypical perception of yoga is that it's all about stretches and flexibility, and while such benefits are included in the practice, yoga is far more than that. It's something you live and breathe into every action of your day-to-day life, how you deal with obstacles and how you interact with yourself and others. Yoga is a lifestyle choice, one that offers never-ending bounty.

 

 
Faith Macanas
 

Faith Macanas

Faith is a blogger for Secure Thoughts who has practiced yoga for years and believes passionately in its transformative and healing powers. She loves spreading the benefits and attributes that it offers so others can experience the many wonders that make up the yogic lifestyle.

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Yoga & Music: Parallel Pathways

My music teacher recently passed away. I am still coming to grips with this fact. You see, he was much more than a piano teacher; he was a teacher of life communicated through his fingers, documented without words through a series of scribbles on a sheet of paper.  In reflecting on this wonderful man, I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for the impact he had in creating a safe space for creativity, curiosity, non-judgment, living in the moment and expressing oneself, not by mechanical notes written on paper, but rather through expressing what is in your heart.  

When learning to play the piano there is the inevitable awkward process of transitioning from the mechanical banging of the keys to eventually moving up and down the keyboard with a sense of ease. Ultimately, we open up to possibilities we previously thought were unattainable.  

As a musician and yoga practitioner, the parallels between both practices are undeniable. Be it through music or yoga, by releasing self-judgment and overcoming the fear of making a mistake, we can explore new areas of creativity.  When head, heart and body are in harmony, in the present moment, void of distractions and worries, we discover our capacity for effortless effort.

 
 

People starting a yoga practice may not be seeking a spiritual path. Perhaps they’re seeking improved physical mobility or a reduction in stress. Similarly, musicians may start out wanting to join a band or may have even been forced into practicing by a parent. Eventually, both practices evolve into a spiritual journey, providing clarity and healing along the way.  

There are so many types of yoga and music. Neither is one size fits all and that’s the beauty of both. Some people like Hatha yoga, others like jazz. We are encouraged to try many different styles until we find a few that resonate, knowing that we can move to another style when it feels right.

Many times yoga and music are performed in a communal setting with a shared sense of focus and energy.  Yet, at their core, both are deeply personal practices. Space is created, emotions experienced and observed and, ultimately, released. This is how the healing process naturally occurs.

 
 

Both require practice. We practice, practice, practice, all the while knowing that we will never become perfect. This can be intimidating and demoralizing and we make up excuses such as, ‘I don’t have talent’ or ‘I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.’ There is always someone else who seems “better” than us. However, with a consistent practice, we begin to drop the self-judgment and competitiveness. This allows us to grow beyond what we dreamed. 

Both yoga and playing music require being in the present moment. Yes, both have aspects that seem mechanical as we figure out how to get into a pose or how to play a certain chord inversion. When the mind wanders, we fall out of the pose or we play the wrong note. 

Be it music or yoga, through focus and intention, we find the strength and determination to pick ourselves up and continue to practice. Through self-awareness and mindful dedication, we are able to overcome the ego and calm the fluctuations of our often overactive minds. When we forget the mechanics and follow the intuition within our hearts, we create a safe space to explore. Both practices allow us to experience the gift of being in the present moment. Music and yoga may be separate pathways, but both lead to the same destination: Freedom.

Read more from Mike in his new book!

 Going Om: A CEO's Journey from a Prison Facility to Spiritual Tranquility.

Now available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

 

 

 

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A YOGI IS.....A SURPRISING PRESPECTIVE FROM PRISON

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A YOGI IS.....A SURPRISING PRESPECTIVE FROM PRISON

According to Wikipedia, a yogi is someone who lives by voluntary ethical precepts called Yamas and Niyamas. These include: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, kindness, compassion, non-hypocrisy, forgiveness, fortitude, moderation, purity, cleanliness, austerity, persistence and perseverance in one's purpose, contentment, acceptance of others and of one's circumstances as they are, optimism for self, generosity, charity, sharing with others.  
 
Wow. This is quite a list, one that is challenging to consistently practice and embrace…. especially with what’s going on in today’s world.  
 
It may come as a surprise to hear these precepts being discussed, debated and ultimately embraced by students participating in Transformation Yoga Project's yoga teacher training program at the maximum security prison SCI Graterford. Understanding these concepts is one thing. Putting them into practical action within an environment lacking human compassion is quite another. 
 
How does one practice non-violence in a violent environment? How does one forgive others when you yourself are not forgiven? Deep stuff. Yet this is all part of doing the inward work to peel away the layers of hurt, trauma, and self-judgement preventing us from returning to our true selves. These 11 men are working hard to directly face and release their demons.
 
As part of this healing process, the men wrote a poem about being a yogi and becoming warriors for peace. There is an inspiring message for everyone in the deeply personal work they are doing. In my opinion, they are role models for doing the hard work to live as true yogis. 
 
A Yogi is a Warrior because
He faces fear and uncertainty directly
With compassion and without self judgement
He lives in union with mind and body directed by his soul.
 
A Yogi is a Warrior because
His focus is sharp and true
You breathe into the present moment
Rising up Rooted and Balanced.
 
A Yogi is a Warrior because
Surrender is not an option
Only surrender to his
True Self is worthy of consideration.
 
A Yogi is a Warrior because
He doesn't know fear
You do not fear because you do right
Do Right and Fear No One!
 
A Yogi is a Lover because
He opens to the Real
You let go of illusion
And Feel it,  Really Feel!
 
A Yogi is a Warrior because
He shows compassion
You show compassion because
Your heart is open.
 
A Yogi is a Warrior because
He protects the weak
You protect the weak because
You have great inner strength.
 
A Yogi is a Magician because
He sees the Trickster in us all
You work it – on and off the mat
Standing firm and walking tall
 
A Yogi is a King because
He integrates it all
You sink deep into the mat
Rising up and serving all.

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The Therapeutic Value of Yoga and 12 Step Recovery

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The Therapeutic Value of Yoga and 12 Step Recovery

I am a yoga student and teacher. I am a wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter. I am a friend, lover, servant, and queen. All of these are possible through the 12 steps of recovery. I had a dream of combining and sharing my love of recovery and yoga. This dream has come true.

By the time I reached puberty, it was clear to my parents and teachers that I was on a dangerous path of self destruction. They tried everything they could think of to help me right the ship, I was impervious to most of it. 

When I was 14 years old my mother took me to first yoga class. This was a time when yoga was taught in series by yogis in peoples homes, or in this case, the basement of a new age book store. I was immediately attracted to the ritual of the mat placement, the offerings on the altar at one end of the room and intrigued by the teacher's instruction of nadi shodana. This is still my favorite pranayama. The teacher had a lovely explanation that sounded scientific and spiritual. We made our way through a standing series of asanas and then went to the mat for abdominals. As I closed my eyes for svasana I felt a quiet peace that I had not experienced since being a small child. 

This quiet peace was the communing with my higher power, my Isvara Pranadhana, this surrender was safe. I drifted into the space between awake and asleep, certain that I was not alone in the universe. When my mother put her hand on my shoulder to bring me back to my body on the mat I felt as though I was waking from a well needed rest. Many memories have faded and years have been lost in active addiction, but that moment has remained clear in my mind.

Over the next 16 years as I waded through active addiction, I made several attempts to return to that feeling through yoga, drugs, prayer, and sex. None of it worked. Addiction is a disease of the spirit, covering the light of the Atman in an illusion of separateness and self-sufficiency.  Finally in 2003 I was given the gift of utter desperation and the willingness to surrender to Recovery.

I embarked on journey to live a life based on spiritual principles through the 12 steps. I began to recall those childhood experiences of communing with my higher power, rekindling my desire to be of service to humanity. I returned to moving my body as my home, rather than a burden. I returned to meditation. I returned to practicing yoga at a studio with others. In 2007 as I rested in svasana, my heart bursting with gratitude to be alive, I knew that someday I would help others combine the therapeutic value of 12 step recovery and yoga.

Yoga and the 12 steps are two converging paths that ask us to engage in deep self examination so that we may be of service to others. Once we are committed to the 12 steps and yoga, the shape and direction of the path evolves and changes. Both are lifelong endeavors.

The 12 steps work primarily with cognitive and behavior modification that is driven by a desire to connect with a higher power and to become better able to serve others. Yoga adds the element of moving meditation, being able to not just modify behavior, but use the body as a messenger of the divine messages held within. Physical movement and spiritual serenity are not separate activities. 

Yoga for 12 Step Recovery meetings combine the bonding of the safe sharing circle with embodiment practices of yoga. As Nikki Myers (founder of Y12SR) says "issues live in our tissues", no amount of talking or writing can release the energy held in the body, we've got to move. When we connect the mind, body and breath in movement we create space for the Atman to shine through the light of the heart. Embodiment practices also give tangible experiences to esoteric concepts like surrender and gratitude. Yoga and the 12 steps are my way of life and I am honored every time I share these empowering, enlightening paths with people.

Eight things the 12 steps taught me about teaching yoga:

1. Class starts and ends on time.

2. My real value is in being myself, offer the class and let it go.

3. We all have our own relationship with our higher power, let the students have their   experience on the mat.

4. Experience shared from the heart is more effective than "expert" advice, teach from experience.

5. I am not the final authority on anything, I'm the guide for the class that day.

6. Gratitude speaks when I share, thank the students for sharing their practice.

7. Keep coming back, even when there are no students.

8. Miracles are possible, this applies to everything!

The Human experience is messy, painful, exhilarating, and mysterious. Thanks to Yoga and the 12 Steps I can embrace all facets of life. On the mat the breath carries me through each pose. Off the mat each breath carries me through grief, gratitude, hope, despair, joy and pain, allowing for a full experience of Life.

BLAKEY ELKHART KORNFELD 

YOGA FOR RECOVERY TRAINING DIRECTOR

Blakey’s mother took her to her first yoga class in 1987, as a troubled teen, the peace that she found on the mat had a profound impact on her life. In 2006 Blakey returned to a regular practice of Yoga as a way to improve her physical health and deepen her recovery from drug addiction; she knew then that she wanted to share the healing power of yoga with others seeking recovery. Since completing her first yoga teacher training, Blakey has been leading classes focused on the therapeutic value of yoga on the body and mind. She has completed several trainings in trauma sensitive yoga as well as 500hrs of yoga therapeutics. Blakey continues to deepen her understanding of the spirit/body connection through regular trainings and self study. She is delighted and honored to be a part of the Transformation Yoga Project.

 

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Thanksgiving in Prison (a letter of thanks from SCI Graterford)

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Thanksgiving in Prison (a letter of thanks from SCI Graterford)

(Note this is a letter received from Steve, one of our teacher training students)

Greetings to my Transformation Yoga Family,

            Before the commercialized holiday of Thanksgiving our ancestors celebrated harvest festivals.  It was a time to thank their God(s) and be mindful of the blessings that their hard work has brought forth.  Most of the food that they would need for the coming winter has been put up and a portion shared for this special day of thanks.

             On Thanksgiving Day most of us will sit down to a nice meal without one thing on the table having been grown by us.  Yet, we will say grace being thankful for the food before us and appreciating the many gifts shared with loved ones who are physically present or present in spirit. We may bring to mind all those who labored to bring the gifts before us: farmers, truck drivers, packers, etc.

             This year, I ask that you extend the mindful practice to the many generations that came before us. The hardships that they endured and the work they did so their family could make it through the winter. Sometimes we get lost in our comfort that we forget that life is still a struggle.

             When we stop and take that cleansing breath we can see that every moment is a true celebration of life. Even here in prison we are grateful for the community and fellowship of those who serve us. We try to pay it forward by serving those around us. We are grateful for those who acknowledge and give us a forum and listen to our voice.  We are thankful for the giving of your time, energy and non-judgmental faith in our spirit.  

             It is with this deep sense of appreciation that I want to send my love and gratitude to Brianne, Colleen, Frank, Jim, Joe, Rob, Mike and all the great people who support this work.

             May you and your family have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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Yoga Transformed Me

As Director of Development for Transformation Yoga Project, my role is to think about the best ways to fund and implement programs by applying for grants, formulating fundraising events, etc. However, because yoga has been a force for transformation in my life, I’m drawn to and connected to TYP's mission on a deeper level. 

As part of my own personal yoga practice, I regularly attend a donation-based trauma-sensitive Transformation Yoga class at a local TYP partner studio. Through this practice, I have fostered a deeper connection to my own resiliency and capability. I have discovered balance and healing from the pain, fear, and anger that comes with being the daughter of an alcoholic.  

Through warrior poses, I find strength I did not feel before. Strength that was within me all along... but to which I wasn’t connected. Through opening poses, I release grief, anxiety, and worry which seeks to hold me back from attaining peace. Through quiet breath and meditation, no problem seems too big, no challenge insurmountable. When I clear my mind through the practice of yoga, the path to my dharma is revealed.

This deeper connection reflects an unconditional truth: we ALL have an inner strength – a cosmic power – a core being capable of incredible resilience and growth. We all have the capacity for love and kindness. We are all superheroes, each holding our own individual super powers. Through yoga and mindfulness, we unlock these powers to TRANSFORM into something incredible: Our True Self.  

We are all Yogi TRANSFORMERS. First we transform our own lives through the practice of yoga. Then we band together as a yoga community to become a force for good in the world. Yoga means union and when we unite, our strength multiplies. United together as a community, we can transform 10,000 lives impacted by trauma, addiction, and/or incarceration in 2017.

So, I call on all our Yogi TRANSFORMERS to unite with me and the entire yoga community during the month of November. Unite to share the transformative power of yoga. Unite to be a force for healing and connection in our world. Unite to reach 10,000 Lives!! 

To meet our goal we will raise $50,000. 

How many lives can you TRANSFORM?

1 life: $5

20 lives: $100

100 lives: $500

200 lives: $1000

1000 lives: $5,000

Will you join us?

Reach me, Lynn Rosenstock, at lynn@TransformationYogaProject.org or 267-362-9216. 

Let me know if we can count you in!

LYNN ROSENSTOCK  

DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT

 Lynn’s career centers on collaboratively engaging, evidence-based practices that help people returning from incarceration to find and follow their life’s path. She was drawn to TYP as a way to help people restore the connection between mind, body and soul, so they can have more peaceful, productive and meaningful relationships with their family, employers and community. Previously Lynn served as Director of Reentry Strategy & Outreach for the City of Philadelphia Office of Public Safety. She also founded and led the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition, a diverse network of government agencies, non-profits, and returning citizens working to improve reentry.

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400 Yoga Classes/10 Facilities/7 Counties/3 States

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400 Yoga Classes/10 Facilities/7 Counties/3 States

Thanks to your support, Transformation Yoga Project's Prison Yoga Program has had an incredible year. We have held 400 classes, in 10 facilities, in 7 counties, and 3 states. Our team has been deeply moved by the work that we've been able to do throughout the greater Philadelphia Area and beyond. We could not be more grateful or more proud of our staff, supporters, and participants. 

We have built a department that operates 17 classes a week, and two monthly classes. We have piloted our first 200 hour yoga teacher training at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Graterford, and are kicking off a 20 hour intensive at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center. We have increased programming at our youth centers to reflect the needs of their residents, and have piloted a youth Think Tank encouraging critical thinking and writing.

We have held two 12 hour Criminal Justice CE workshops sharing our trauma sensitivity methodology with nearly 40 yoga instructors, social workers, and counsellors in the greater Philadelphia area. TYP was also invited and represented at Yoga Service Council's Best Practices Symposium to contribute to next Best Practices Book "Yoga in the Criminal Justice System".  

TYP hosted its first 200 hour Yoga Alliance recognized YOGA TEACHER TRAINING behind the walls of SCI Graterford. This maximum security prison houses some of our greatest yoga students and teachers. We held class and shared space, twice weekly, for six hours a week with poets, philosophers, athletes, sages, and change makers. We certified 8 men who are incarcerated at SCI Graterford and two men from the TYP community.

Those of us who facilitated the program have been forever changed by the depth and beauty of this profoundly human experience. Our newly certified Yoga Teachers now seek to facilitate classes at SCI Graterford for those in the Therapeutic Units in recovery, for those in oncology, hospice, mental health units, for seniors, athletes, and veterans. There is no community within Graterford which is excluded from the love and compassion of our recent graduates.

Through the inspiration of our staff member and youth instructor, Alexis Donahue, the men were even able to share some of their experience with yoga and life with the teens at Lima Detention center in Media. As community minded individuals, the men were eager to pass on the wisdom and wealth of experience that came from the community of teacher trainees. We are eager to expand our services and support of these inspiring individuals.

The following pieces and testimonials were written by Transformation Yoga Project participants within the criminal justice system:  

"I am not confined to this pose, nor the breath that I breathe in it. I travel beyond all of this: the time, the space, the moment which seems to be measured. I am not defined by the conformities of society's limitations, not by the thoughts conveyed by those who know nothing about me.  I am granted the ability to be, to exist, to explore, to transcend, to discover the life inside of me. I've been given wings to fly, to soar, to glide across a sky that was not only created for you and I, but for all who are able to see. " - NM, YTT Graduate SCI Graterford

"The mental benefits of yoga are unbelievable. The yoga path has made me a better person. I am a lot less reactionary- keeping my cool keeps me out of The Hole. The physical benefits have been increased flexibility and strength (it compliments my other workout routines), better digestive health (which is of the utmost importance...). And I sleep better." - SCI Graterford Participant 

"I have regrets every day I wake up in jail knowing how much harm I did to my friend, family, and neighborhood. I wish I could take it all back. Yoga helps me to slow down my thinking process and see life in a different way. I'm mindful that nothing negative can come from yoga and it feels great." - SCI Graterford Participant

"I got into yoga as a means to stretch and strengthen my muscles. While I did stretch and strengthen, I also began to notice things about myself that I never knew. Now I can try different things to change. Becoming a good person is about realizing the things we are not satisfied with in our character, accepting the circumstances that have contributed to the attitude or behavior and taking small steps to improve." - SCI Graterford Participant

Thank you for your support of TYP's mission and prison programs. All of us, we are the light bearers. Let us continue to shine our light through darkness. Love prevails. 

OUR PROGRAMS ARE PROUDLY SPONSORED BY:

Pa'lante Pa'lante. 

Together, we go forward.

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Yoga Fueled Teen Think Tank

The atmosphere of Lima's Juvenile Detention Center undergoes a seismic shift in early September. Gone are the listless days of a summertime cell block. Suddenly, a traditional school schedule begins. The teens who've been locked up at Lima for months go from zero programs and no opportunities for enrichment to full steam ahead overnight. 

This year, however, it's just as difficult for the academic team. Funding for the educational program at Lima comes through DCIU and, for some unexplained reason, the budget for 2016-17 has been stripped to its bare bones. Many teachers were laid off or transferred elsewhere and the ones who've remained are now shouldering double the workload. 

The kids are the ones who suffer the most, though. In my opinion, logic suggests that investing in an opportunity to reach out to a captive audience of troubled youth would serve for the betterment of society as a whole. After all, in the battle against ignorance (defined in the literal sense as a lack of knowledge), doesn't education always win the day?

The vast majority of these kids have either failed out, been failed by, or have altogether dropped out of our country's traditional system of education and are typically reading and writing at an early elementary grade level. Reinforcing the same style of learning which has been proven to be ineffective might not be the most intelligent choice. 

Perhaps a new tactic could be introduced? My method for teaching is simple, if revolutionary, and is based upon results I've witnessed due to its implementation over the last two years in various juvenile detention centers in the greater Philadelphia area. 

Once a week, the teens incarcerated at Lima begin their day with a trauma-sensitive yoga class before breaking for lunch. We then reassemble in a classroom for an open discussion about the philosophy of yoga and how we can deepen our practice by implementing these ancient principles into our lives.

At its core, this weekly workshop introduces the concept of critical thinking. Instead of telling them what to think, I provide a safe space for them to practice how to think for themselves while respectfully sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and opinions with one another. I explain that, just like when they are on their yoga mats, they have the freedom to choose their level of participation without expectations or fear of judgement.

Though it's difficult to stamp a definitive label upon this unconventional process, to me, it feels like a cross between a philosophical debate team and group therapy. I come prepared with readings (from books such as Buddhist Boot CampLetters To My Younger Self, and various other yoga/mindfulness resources) and ask questions which provoke some of the deepest and most insightful discussions I've ever had the privilege to witness.

Once the creative juices are flowing, I offer writing prompts and encourage them to express themselves on paper, either through the written word or any other form of art they feel inspired to create. Invariably, the kids come to their own conclusions and, hopefully, alight upon their own personal realizations.

While Transformation Yoga Project has been able to provide temporary funding for the weekly Teen Think Tank I've been facilitating at Lima Juvenile Detention Center, more funds will be necessary to continue cultivating this incredible program. Even the smallest donation can make a huge difference! Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution today.

 

TRANSFORMATION YOGA PROJECT IS GRATEFUL FOR THE SUPPORT OF TULA SOFTWARE WHICH SPONSORS A PORTION OF OUR WORK AT THE LIMA JUVENILE DETENTION CENTER, AND FOR THE SUPPORT OF ALL OF OUR DONORS WHO MAKE THIS YOGA SERVICE POSSIBLE. 

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Questions From Juvie / Answers From The Big House

Several of the teen boys who attended Transformation Yoga Project classes during August of 2016 at Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center in Lima opened a dialogue with the incarcerated men at Graterford who are currently participating in our 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training program. The following excerpts have been extracted from their lengthy written exchanges. 

Q. When did you get into yoga and what is the benefit to you as an individual? 

A. "I first got into yoga when I was in punitive custody/solitary confinement otherwise known as The Hole. It was very helpful to me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I felt more comfortable in my own body, mentally clear, alert, at peace and more in tune, or attuned, spiritually. Yoga is giving me a new tool for self-control and self-mastery."

A. "I got into yoga as a means to stretch and strengthen my muscles. While I did stretch and strengthen, I began to notice things about myself that I never knew. Now I can try different things to change. Becoming a good person is about realizing the things we are not satisfied with in our character, accepting the circumstances that have contributed to the attitude or behavior and taking small steps to improve." 

Q. Do you have regrets about the negative choices you've made in life? 

A. "I have regrets every day I wake up in jail knowing how much harm I did to my friend, family, and neighborhood. I wish I could take it all back. Yoga helps me to slow down my thinking process and see life in a different way. I'm mindful that nothing negative can come from yoga and it feels great." 

A. "Today I would love to take a different road, do things from a whole new perspective. Life has changed drastically for me because I now know the value of life." 

A. "I do have regrets. Regret is a big part of my life. The more conscious and keen and sensitive I become to the value of life, not just human life, the heavier regret weighs on me for having hurt one. I wish I could travel back in time to change my choices. But I wouldn't want to not end up learning the lessons I've learned and meeting the beautiful people that I've come to know. I just wish that I could undo someone getting hurt. I wish I could erase all the pain and replace the loss I've caused. But I know I can't, and I've learned that regret is the past crippling us in the present. So, I've committed the rest of my life to sacrifice and service for bringing about a more livable world and a healthier planet for all life."

Q. What is the best advice you can give to a kid struggling with the law and my parents? 

A. "The best advice I can give to youngsters who are like I was is to always make choices that are in harmony with your potentials or what you're really good at. If you're good at drawing, painting, building things, writing poetry, whatever it is, make choices that support or give you more opportunities to strengthen and maximize those gifts. Always choose the path that builds good character in you, the path that makes you a better person. If you do so, you will reach your highest destiny. The path to quick money, respect or thrills doesn't always lead to a higher destiny, but can lead to misfortune."

A. "Learn what respect really is. If you disagree with your folks, that's fine, we all do. Do it respectfully. Ask for help. At your age, someone is usually willing to help. When you get older, not so much."

A. "Mahatma Ghandi said 'Be the change you want to see in the world.' So, if you're having difficulties with your parents and you wish they were more loving and supportive, then you need to be more loving and supportive. You have the power to shape the world around you."

A. "If you are struggling with the law, stop breaking it!" 

Q. I wanna know, when and how can I get that spark to change and move on from doing the bad things? 

A. "Sounds like you already have that spark. I would try to explore what you wish to do with it. A spark is power and you can use your power to do good things as well as bad things. You just need to learn: A. You have power. B. What you are going to do with it." 

A. "You have to ask yourself what you want out of life. If it's nothing, then keep doing negative things and you'll have nothing. However, if you want your life to be full of meaning and possibilities, you'll find the things you enjoy most and you'll make those your goal." 

Q. Does yoga help you think about different ways to cope with your problems? 

A. "The mental benefits of yoga are unbelieveable. The yoga path has made me a better person. I am a lot less reactionary- keeping my cool keeps me out of The Hole. The physical benefits have been increased flexibility and strength (it compliments my other workout routines), better digestive health (which is of the utmost importance because both the food and the water here are bad), and I sleep better." 

A. "The violence of prison is easy. Putting myself through mental warfare is hard. Yoga and meditation has TRANSFORMED me for the better. Yoga helps me think of healthier and more creative ways to think."

TRANSFORMATION YOGA PROJECT IS GRATEFUL FOR THE SUPPORT OF TULA SOFTWARE WHICH SPONSORS A PORTION OF OUR WORK AT THE LIMA JUVENILE DETENTION CENTER, AND FOR THE SUPPORT OF ALL OF OUR DONORS WHO MAKE THIS YOGA SERVICE POSSIBLE

DONATE TODAY TO SPONSOR THESE COURAGEOUS INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE CHOSEN A PATH OF HEALING AND NONVIOLENCE, AND ARE MOVING AWAY FROM A LIFE OF TRAUMA AND PAIN.  $50 WILL PURCHASE ONE STUDENT'S 200-YTT TRAINING MANUAL.  $100 WILL FUND ALL OF ONE STUDENT'S SUPPLIES.  $500 WILL PROVIDE A FULL SCHOLARSHIP FOR THE TRAINING.

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A Practice In Perspective

What's it like to practice yoga at a detention center?

Imagine rolling your mat out on a dingy gymnasium floor, the film of filth brightened only by the unflinching glare of overhead fluorescent lighting. Open your imaginary ears to hear the incessant chit chat of staff members as they loudly socialize while you try to close your eyes in order to tune into your breath. Feel yourself startle as a walkie talkie unexpectedly comes to life in a burst of static and a metal door slams upon a sudden exit. Try to tune out the insanity around you when a fellow teenaged inmate starts a screaming match with a guard. Challenge yourself to shift your eyes away from the chaotic and violent scene to find a focal point for your gaze as said peer has to be physically restrained and removed from the gym by three additional staff members. 

Once the space has settled back into as close as it can possibly come to serene, imagine letting all that has happened - and all of the distractions that will continue to occur - to be let go. See if you can be present enough to close your eyes and find your victorious breath. W
hile a bully mocks you from the sidelines, be brave enough to invite your hands to prayer position at heart center and set an intention. Phrase this intention as a positive affirmation statement in the present tense. Believe that, even in the face of hopelessness and imprisonment, you already have the capacity for your heart's truest desire within yourself. Silently speak this affirmation to yourself in an "I Am" statement and repeat it to yourself three times with three breaths. Example: Inhale and think, "I am." Exhale and think, "free." Inhale and think, "I am." Exhale and think, "free." Inhale and think, "I am." Exhale and think, "free." 

Now, let's transition into balance postures. Try to focus on a drishti as the uncertain world that is a juvenile detention center continues to be just as unpredictable as ever around you. Remember that you are committing to the breath, not necessarily the physical attributes of the posture. Remind yourself that balance poses aren't really about staying in balance, they're about how we react when we inevitably come out of balance. As you struggle and fall out, you are tempted to give up, but your instructor encourages you to come back to it. She does this with deep empathy because her own life experience has taught her that anyone who has survived a traumatic childhood in the system is strong enough and has been through too much in life to let anything, much less a silly tree pose, keep them down. 

After completing another series of challenging standing postures, your ill fitting prison jumpsuit is soaked with sweat. You're more than ready to cool down and take rest in a final relaxation pose. You invite yourself to your back upon the mat and immediately begin to worry about closing your eyes. Will you be safe? You don't like to be vulnerable, especially in this hostile environment. Is it ok if your mind won't shut off? What if you can't stop worrying about your court date next week? Are you even doing it right?  

Your instructor assures you that she will be sitting up the entire time in order to watch over the class. She tells
you that keeping your eyes open is always an option and says you're free to take your final rest in any position that is comfortable for you. She speaks softly as she leads you through a trauma sensitive guided meditation and body scan. After some time, you sense your breath deepening and are able to imagine it washing over you like an ocean wave. The tide rolls in and the tide rolls out as your body slowly begins to feel heavy and supported by the earth below you. Then, just as your eyes grow heavy enough to softly close, an ear piercing fire alarm sounds. Your practice has been apprehended by the reality of life behind bars. You spring to your feet and follow the appropriate procedure. Your instructor watches as you file out in formation and hopes that, at the very least, you leave carrying a small piece of the peace you were able to cultivate during the one weekly prison yoga program you have access to. 

After reading this true life account of a day during the month of July 2016 at Lima Juvenile Detention Center, perhaps you will have a greater appreciation for your freedom and the privilege of your own personal practice. If so, please consider making a donation to support our continued work introducing the power of yoga into the juvenile justice system.  

Transformation Yoga Project is grateful for the support of all of our donors who make this yoga service possible. 

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Love & Marriage: Unlikely Advice from Prison

Having recently married, it seems everyone feels the need to provide marital advice.  I’ve been forewarned that marriage can be a minefield fraught with danger. There have been many well-wishers providing the secret to a happy marriage.  Wow, I didn’t know there were so many things to do and, more importantly, so many things to avoid! I take these words of encouragement with a grain of salt. We all have our own experiences, nuances, and personalities as individuals and as couples. There is no one magic formula for a loving and lasting marriage.  

So, I was taken by surprise to receive a letter from an inmate with relationship advice.  Steve is incarcerated at Graterford prison and was one of the individuals selected to participate in Transformation Yoga Project’s 200-hour yoga teacher training program at this maximum security prison. 14 men are participating, many of whom are lifers, in this intensive study of both the philosophy and practical applications of yoga.  I’m proud to be a member of the Transformation Yoga Project team running this amazing program. 

We are about 100 hours into the program and have spent a great deal of time diving into yoga’s ethical and moral codes— the Yamas and the Niyamas. Contrary to popular belief, yoga in prison is not all about asana (the physical aspect of the practice).   

Steve is a lifer who’s never been married and has been incarcerated for thirty years.  One would think that he would be the last person to provide marital advice.  However, he has a deep spiritual side with insight into many world philosophies and religions. Steve likes to think of himself as a modern day monastic. Instead of retreating into a cave, as monks did thousands of years ago, he retreats into his cell, which is stripped of modern conveniences/distractions, to contemplate and meditate on the world condition.  

Steve provided the following heartfelt words of insight and wisdom which I believe capture the essence of yoga:    

Greetings and congratulations,

Monday is the Summer Solstice, a celebration of the year’s coming of age, its achievement of maturity. So has your love reached an achievement of maturity as the two of you become one.

I’m a heathen but I must share something from the Bible with my own commentary:  

As he slept God took one of his ribs and he created women. 

     It was not a bone of the foot that he took for the man to walk over the woman. 

    Nor was it from the top of her head for the woman to rule over the man. 

    He took a rib so they could walk as equals – side by side but his strong arm is

always there to protect her.

 

I wish you many lifetimes of happiness.

I’m reminded of the words so eloquently spoken by the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery highlighted in Timber Hawkeye’s book Buddhist Boot Camp:

‘Love does not consist in gazing at each other,

But in looking outward together in the same direction’

Light, life, love & luck,

Steve

 

Now that’s marital advice I can embrace. 

 

DONATE TODAY TO SPONSOR THESE COURAGEOUS INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE CHOSEN A PATH OF HEALING AND NONVIOLENCE, AND ARE MOVING AWAY FROM A LIFE OF TRAUMA AND PAIN.  $50 WILL PURCHASE ONE STUDENT'S 200-YTT TRAINING MANUAL.  $100 WILL FUND ALL OF ONE STUDENT'S SUPPLIES.  $500 WILL PROVIDE A FULL SCHOLARSHIP FOR THE TRAINING.

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Summertime In The Slammer: Detention Yoga

At last, the summer season is upon us. For most teenagers, the break from the regular school schedule creates an opportunity for increased recreation, fun with friends, and vacations with family. Adversely, for the incarcerated teens locked up at Delaware County's Detention Center in Lima, it translates to separation, isolation, and less opportunities for enrichment. There are no summer school classes at this facility and limited funding from the county/state makes it impossible to offer alternative educational programs or physical fitness activities. According to staff members, this idle time generally equates to restlessness, short tempers, fights, and behavioral issues. 

Transformation Yoga Project's Tuesday sessions are a true respite in the monotony that is a life behind bars and barbed wire, especially during this time of year. The difference we're making is all too evident. It's remarkable to witness the change in attitudes and energy in a group or individual from the time they enter the gymnasium- trudging feet, hunched back, gaze down- to the time they emerge from the surrender of savasana- eyes bright, shoulders relaxed, spine straight. 

At the beginning of each class, we go around the mat circle and "check in". The kids are asked to share their name and something simple, such as how they're feeling or how they'd rate their energy level (balanced, high, low). This morning, one young man reported that he was "tired". That didn't stop him from giving his all to the practice. It was his first experience with yoga and, judging by the noticeable shift in his energy at the end of class, it will certainly be a memorable one. The boy had stepped onto his mat hesitantly in the beginning but, by the conclusion, he was practically levitating. He reported feeling "GREAT" and literally skipped his way out the double doors to return to his cell block in happy-go-lucky fashion.

Not all of the kids are quite so eager to give yoga a chance. There's usually a contingency of hold outs and benchwarmers observing the practice from a safe distance. Just because I can't reach them through breathwork, asana, and guided meditation doesn't mean I'm willing to give up on them entirely. I keep a case of books stashed away in a storage closet as an alternate option for participants. The crowd favorite is Letters to My Younger Self: An Anthology of Writings by Incarcerated Men at S.C.I. Graterford.

Summary: "In this anthology incarcerated men in the Prison Literacy Project at S.C.I. Graterford contribute pieces about regretful decisions made or painful experiences in their youth, fearlessly exposing their vulnerability. The men chose many methods for sharing their messages; some wrote letters to their young selves or family members, telling of their struggles growing up in difficult circumstances. They reached out from behind the prison walls to caution young offenders while they still have time to change their lives, but they speak to us all. They remind us all about choices, consequences, and caring for others."

As I present a copy to each seemingly skeptical teen, I explain the premise of the paperback in my trademark real-talk-street-smart style and inform them that we're currently in the process of training a group of men at Graterford to become registered yoga teachers. At the end of class, I make a point of reconnecting with each kid to collect their book and ask their opinion about what they read. Today, one teen who's been faithfully reading on the sideline for two weeks clutched the book closely to his chest and asked if he could borrow it until we meet again next week. 

After permission from staff was granted, I happily presented him with a second title from my secret stash, We're All Doing Time: A Guide to Getting Free, and gave him a bit of a homework assignment. I asked if he'd be willing to write a letter to his younger self to share on the Transformation Yoga Project blog. He was surprised that anyone would be interested in something he'd write, but assured me he would give it a shot. He lined up with his peers and exited into the hallway bearing his precious cargo with a sense of purpose amidst the summertime detention doldrums.

Judging by the engagement we've been experiencing over the last year while offering only one weekly class per cell block, I can only dare to imagine the positive impact we'd have upon the troubled youth of Delaware County if we were able to expand our reach at Lima. The lack of summer programs has created a gap and the administration at the facility has expressed an interest in allowing Transformation Yoga Project to fill it, but we need your support! Your tax deductible contribution will make this aspiration a reality.  Please consider making a donation today!

Transformation Yoga Project is grateful for the support of Tula Software which sponsors a portion of our work at the Lima Juvenile Detention Center, and for the support of all of our donors who make this yoga service possible.

 

 

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Yoga Teacher Training: SCI Graterford

May 3, 2016 marked the beginning of our Yoga Teacher Training at SCI Graterford. This was a monumental occurrence for me personally, as I set out upon the path of yoga service with this dream five long years ago. This facility holds some of the best and brightest souls I've ever met, many of whom have played a special and significant role in my personal evolution.

I can remember the first time I drove up to the facility.... It was in the dark of a cold winter's night, which was fitting. The complex's dreary, draconian exterior a tangible reminder of our need to heal our nation's darkest wounds. The process to enter was typical in its tediousness. 

The day of our first YTT class is no different as we are escorted back by a somber guard. We realize when we start that it's at least quarter past our appointed time. Considering all of the red tape that our contact and administration had to go through to get us through these purposely impenetrable doors, the delay seems almost inconsequential.  

When we arrive in our classroom we have about half of the students we were expecting, but the presence of the men we do have is not lost on us. We begin our introductions, all of us seeking to articulate our purpose and interest in yoga fully and as best we can with words which don't always suffice.

As we make our way around the circle I recognize this space, this comforting feeling of community with wise and self aware beings. All are hungry to do the work in order to liberate their minds and selves. When confronted with people who are so full of this sense of seeking, the only right thing to do is to share openly, freely, to learn how to spread light like wildfire. 

The men share themselves and their stories. Some are nearing release, some are in the middle of decades long sentences, and some will remain for life. The goal of yoga remains the same no matter who/where we are physically. It unveils its presence in every breath that we can remember, seeking to unite and liberate. 

Like any other YTT students, these men are hungry to partake of the gift that is yoga. They are eager to utilize it in order to give back to those who have supported them, to those who have struggled like them, to those in their communities. This sense of service is the red thread that runs through the group.

There is too much that I cannot articulate about this group and about this training, and I dare not reduce any individual or interaction to descriptions that could never suffice. Their voices are so deserving to be heard... if only those outside the walls should choose to listen. As we progress through this process, their words, art, and stories will be shared at their request. It is with deep privilege and gratitude that I am able to observe this garden of beings firsthand, to watch as the seeds flower and grow within and around us.

For myself, I am in awe. I'm now further committed to rejecting all efforts to restrain and confine such love. I will not let such beauty fall upon closed ears or into idle hands. For me, hosting a Yoga Teacher Training behind the walls of Graterford has served as a landmark, a sign of the tide turning. If I could dream so big, I would envision myself working closely alongside of other like minded individuals to expand this training to prisons nationwide. 

It is not enough to provide services, the justice that we seek is more equitable, more just. We hold no answer for any other. For each person is his or her our own Guru. This is why Transformation Yoga Project's prison yoga department operates our programs in the fashion of the age old adage, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime." 

It is because of the men I've met in Graterford that I continue to do the "work" that I do. It is their names, their faces, their stories that I carry with me through the most challenging and the most inspiring parts of my job. It is all for them, it is all for me, it is for all of us. To quote Lilla Watson, "If you are coming to help me then you are wasting your time, but if you are coming because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together."

As a nation, choosing to forget these men and others like them.... To allow the system to swallow such large chunks of their time, to keep them away from the communities that they could so deeply serve is the greatest harm that we as a nation can do. Are we really willing to risk a future without such brilliant minds free to strengthen our communities and our world? Do we really want to keep choosing fear over love? 

Sadly, the majority of our society seems to be complacent about mass incarceration, whereas yoga seeks to unite every bit of ourselves with our world. In a space that seeks to objectify, police, regulate, silence, and dehumanize so many people, yoga reveals that which can never be taken away from us. 

 

DONATE TODAY TO SPONSOR THESE COURAGEOUS INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE CHOSEN A PATH OF HEALING AND NONVIOLENCE, AND ARE MOVING AWAY FROM A LIFE OF TRAUMA AND PAIN.  $50 WILL PURCHASE ONE STUDENT'S 200-YTT TRAINING MANUAL.  $100 WILL FUND ALL OF ONE STUDENT'S SUPPLIES.  $500 WILL PROVIDE A FULL SCHOLARSHIP FOR THE TRAINING.

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Yoga Service: Path of Privilege

One of my yoga classes at Lima Juvenile Detention Center this month was very emotionally charged. A participant was autistic and all of his peers were openly mocking him for trying so hard to perform the physical aspects of the practice. After accepting the fact that none of the other kids were engaged or participating, I ended up pulling the special needs student out of the group for a private lesson on the other side of the gym. Away from the cackling and criticism, he was able to fully focus on the breathing and poses. After just a few moments, as the tension and strain melted away, calm seemed to descend upon him. 
 
I'm so proud of him for all of his effort, especially in the face of so much adversity. I'm also proud of myself for holding it together without lashing out in anger at the bullies. Instead, the overwhelming sense of compassion which was overflowing from my heart expressed itself through my teaching. Still, I find myself suffering from an unbearable ache in my chest just thinking about the treatment such a child may be subjected to on a daily basis.
 
Though this incident is yet another confirmation that there's entirely too much ugliness in our world, I'm filled with gratitude for the opportunity to be there for him in that difficult moment. It was an honor to encourage him, to let him know that he's good enough exactly as he is, regardless of what anyone else has told him. As painful as it is to witness such cruelty, I'm all the more aware that it's a privilege to be on the path of yoga service.
 
While on my way out the door after class, one of the academic teachers stopped me to say thanks. She wanted me to know that the entire teaching team has noticed the change in the kids on Tuesday afternoons after yoga. She reported that they are calm, positive, and seem to be able to focus more effectively. Yet another thing to be grateful for... especially after such a challenging day.  

Transformation Yoga Project is grateful for the support of Tula Software which sponsors a portion of our work at the Lima Juvenile Detention Center, and for the support of all of our donors who make this yoga service possible

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Freedom in the Big House: Graterford YTT

What does yoga mean to you? Why do you practice? 

We all have our personal reasons why we practice.  For the 15 men at Graterford state prison enrolled in Transformation Yoga’s first 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training certification program, which began this month, the answer is simple yet profound: Yoga means Freedom. 

Freedom…literally and figuratively. Freedom means finding non-violent ways to deal with violent situations. Freedom means having the strength to live an authentic life in an environment which demeans the human spirit.  Freedom means finding joy in the present moment in a joyless environment.

TYP’s Teacher Training is unique.  It provides an intensive study of both the philosophy and practical application of yoga.  But it does all of this within the context of the criminal justice system while preparing the men who will be released back into the community with tangible skills and career options.

The program goes well beyond the physical practice.  It involves intense inquiry in ways to apply yoga’s moral principles (yamas and niyamas), to cultivating self-care, repairing fractured relationships, coping with shame and disappointment, and identifying approaches for living a meaningful life. 

We have been thrilled - even stunned - by the intensity, commitment and insight gleaned from these men. The level of participation, learning, and sharing greatly exceeds anything we have seen in studio-based training programs. It seems that the level of intensity of the living environment directly correlates to the intensity of the breakthrough. You can literally see old non-serving patterns (samskaras) being re-worked into vehicles of growth and self-inquiry.  

Why teach people who are incarcerated to become yoga teachers?  I’ve heard this question many times as well as the comments and judgements including “they deserve what they got, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time, taxpayers shouldn’t be funding ‘recreational’ programs for felons” and many others.

There are two strong motivators for training people to become certified yoga teachers ‘behind the walls’.

Firstly, it’s about simple math. There are over 4,000 men in Graterford, Pennsylvania's largest maximum-security prison!  We can only reach 20 of them at a time in our classes…in fact, there are wait lists to get into the program. We have seen the life transforming impact yoga has had on the few who can attend our classes.  Training more instructors will reach more people within the prison. More should and can be done to reach those men who are committed to working on self-inquiry and personal freedom.

Secondly, over 90% of people in prison will eventually be released back into our communities. Mindful of this fact, our curriculum contains a re-entry program for men who will be released within the next couple of years. Transformation Yoga Project will work to place men into teaching positions either within our organization or within the community.

We have a moral obligation to returning citizens and our neighbors to provide the tools for successful reintegration. It is simply unacceptable that about 66% of people released from incarceration return to prison or jail within three years of release.

Our next step will be to work with probation and parole officers to make this job option a reality. We strongly and passionately believe that providing tangible skills and training will assist these men in finding meaningful employment and a renewed sense of self-worth.

This program is funded solely through donations from individuals who care about our fellow man and woman.  Not a penny comes from taxpayers.

Earning a recognized professional certification will empower these men as they regain a sense of their own abilities and worth.  With continued and increased support from people like you who care, we will be able to offer more growth and healing through yoga classes and teacher training programs! 

Donate today to sponsor these courageous individuals who have chosen a path of healing and nonviolence, and are moving away from a life of trauma and pain.  $50 will purchase one student's 200YTT training manual.  $100 will fund all of one student's supplies.  $500 will provide a full scholarship for the training.

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Surrender Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

 

A few weeks ago, I participated in Transformation Yoga Project’s weekly Yoga for Recovery class at one of our community partner studios. There was a sense of anticipation as one of the local news organizations was coming to report on this class in order to provide exposure for our programs and tools to serve the recovery population.  Nineteen people attended this class taught by an experienced and compassionate instructor (who also happens to be in recovery). After class, we sat down with the reporter to talk about how yoga provides invaluable insights and practical ways for supporting traditional recovery methods.         

However, when I read the published article. I was surprised that it focused quite a bit on my background. You see, I spent nine months in prison.  This is a fact, this is a part of my history, but it certainly doesn’t define who I am. When I read the article, I was a combination of mad, sad, and embarrassed by having a painful part of my life thrown out there. While our yoga practice teaches us to release the things that do not serve us, this is not always easy to do.   

During class I often use the term ‘lean into our discomfort’ to help us face our fears head on.  I hesitated posting this article on social media as I have a significant ‘discomfort’ about being categorized as a former prisoner.  However, upon reflection, this is just another way to strengthen my practice by surrendering to what I can’t control.  

Surrendering doesn’t mean giving up. It simply means acknowledging your situation and surrendering to the truth. It gives you the power to shed the burdens, fears and misconceptions that hold you back from living your true life. Your decision may fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but making choices that are true to your core values will allow you to surrender and live life authentically.

By surrendering to the discomfort of being defined and labeled by others, the worrying about what people think of me has started to fade. Surrendering to what I cannot change has helped me return to who I always thought I was and change the trajectory of my life. The transformational power of surrender is only one of many reasons why I happily and humbly choose yoga service... and all the discomfort and growth that comes with it. 

 

 

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Grace Under Fire

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Grace Under Fire

The expression "grace under fire" has been exemplified for me by recent participants of Transformation Yoga Project's Juvenile Detention yoga program at Lima. Due to the fact that classes are voluntary rather than compulsory, there's often a small contingency of students who choose to sit out. For the most part, these teens are respectful of their peers who decide to participate. 

Occasionally, however, there's a bully in their midst. These individuals seem to derive a perverse enjoyment from standing on the sidelines and openly ridiculing everyone and everything. From rude comments to outright insults and inappropriate hand gestures, no measure of nastiness seems to be off limits. It's not their disrespectful behavior that strikes me, though. It's the resolve and resiliency of their targets who inspire me. 

The brave young adults who stand tall in mountain pose in spite of the barrage of negativity being hurled in their direction motivate me to keep going, even when the verbal barbs are being directed at me. In the unnerving and potentially dangerous environment that is a detention center, I recognize it would probably be easier for them to follow the in-crowd by stepping outside of the mat circle. That's why it never ceases to amaze me when kids rise above the influence of peer pressure to pursue peace through yoga rather than seeking the perceived protection of popular pack mentality. 

These select few who make the choice to shift their focus inward, even in the face of overwhelming outward distractions, serve as living examples. Not just for my continued dedication to providing yoga service to incarcerated youth, but in my own personal practice- on the mat as well as in the world. 

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