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Meet Brianne Murphy! Director of Yoga for Justice

Get to know Transformation Yoga Project's amazing Director of Yoga for Justice! Bri shares a little about what led her to working with TYP, why yoga service is so important, and her own personal practices. We are so grateful for your passion and commitment to those we seek to serve!

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How long have you been working for TYP?

I’ve been working with TYP since February of 2015. I met everyone from TYP in 2013 at a double booked, sold out training in NYC for Prison Yoga Project… A training I had planned to attend two years prior. As we introduced ourselves around a room filled with people from all over the place, across from me sat folks from my hometown, who I would later come to know as the founding forces behind TYP. To me it was affirmation of this deep knowing that I felt. I ended up working with another individual from that training for a few years but always kept in touch. As TYP grew and positions developed I jumped at the opportunity to be an official part of this.  

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and brought you to work with TYP?

Without the intention to do so, I became a religious studies and visual anthropology major during undergrad. I focused on Buddhism and was fortunate enough to have a professor mentor me in beginning to practice meditation during a critical time of anxiety and depression. As I began to see the shifts, I knew that I wanted to be a small part in making the practices that so deeply impacted me accessible in spaces that it was not currently. At the same time I became actively involved in campus organizing and Philly was alive with protest. I realized from those experiences that though I truly hope to see the evolution of consciousness embodied through every system in our country and world, that some folks will live the rest of their days in prison, and will never see that change. I work for them.

What do you love the most about your work?

The people. Being able to see them for the highest capacity… but also the gift that is having people let you in enough to see that part of themselves.  It truly is an incredible gift that time and time again makes me want to be better, and inspires me to try as hard as I can to see people more often. There’s also raw energy in being in community with people who are so enthusiastic to learn more about themselves, this practice, our connectivity, and how we can be of impact. I can’t help but be uplifted by that. I want to say it’s magic, but I think it’s just how powerful we can be together. There are several people who are now a part of my family, we’ve chosen to support each other and this mission. That is something that I could never fully express… just how fortunate I feel for that.

What inspired you to become involved in yoga service?

We are so quick to disconnect. I am so quick to disconnect. We are tough on our bodies and on each other, often times our bodies aren’t even seen as our own. I believe that the same healing connection that we can make with our own bodies and mind connect us with our communities and those around us. Yoga teaches me that our body/mind, our community, our planet… this life is sacred. I want to always be in conscious relationship with that. And I need the community of folks in yoga service, so that I can continue to find the strength to deconstruct those things that deny love as our foundation, and the unlimited capacity of human beings and life in general.

What keeps you coming back to serve?

I can’t imagine not. In part because of the TYP team, who help keep me grounded and moved to continue this work. In part, because the world is unlimited as we see everyone as limited. We don’t have to live out a story that we’ve been sold about who we are and who we can be, we can shift it and write our own.

What do you do for self-care?

I spend times with animals. I do my best to meditate. I try to be outside and be in space where I put work down. But really I lean on the incredible people around me who allow me to be messy (emotionally and literally) and colorful. I lean on people who uplift me and permit me to be on the full spectrum of being. There are people in my life that I would be lost without. Again, I don’t think I could ever fully express what that’s meant for me.

What has your yoga practice taught you or what tools do you use regularly in your life?

I’ve “managed” my own mental health for years through mantra and conscious breathing. It hasn’t always been a smooth go of it, but those two things have been solid anchors in a fairly tumultuous mind. Most importantly this practice taught me that we are not the contents of our thoughts and they do not diminish our value. Ever.  

Any inspiration to share?

“When you do everything to serve your life is yoga.”

“There is suffering and you have the remedy to eliminate suffering. You get to illuminate the world.”

Reverend Jaganath Carrera

Thank you Bri for sharing with us! You can hear Bri speak about the Intersection of Yoga & Justice on July 3rd at Eastern State Penitentiary. Bri will be joined by Kempis Songster, a former juvenile lifer and TYP Yoga Teacher Training Graduate at SCI Graterford, and Colleen DeVirgiliis, our Director for Training!

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The Paradox of Being White, Male and Woke in America

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Andrew Moore, a Graduate of TYP's Inside/Out Yoga Teacher Training Program at State Correctional Facility, provides his reflection on what it means to be white, male and "woke" in America today. 

It was late afternoon on a Tuesday. I was driving south on the pothole riddled I95 towards Chester, PA. I had been making the drive every Tuesday since early October to participate in a 200 hour yoga teacher training inside the State Correctional Institution there, through a partnership with the Inside/Out Prison Exchange Program and Transformation Yoga Project.

I exited the interstate towards the prison and was met by my usual feelings of excitement. Learning and practicing next to an inspirational group of guys, serving out their long sentences with dignity and grace, led me to grow quite fond of my experience there. How could I have guessed there would be a period in my life when I would find satisfaction spending my free time inside of a state correctional institution?

Nearing the penitentiary, I noticed a commotion on the road ahead. It was blocked and cars were being rerouted into the neighborhoods of the economically stressed communities of Chester. I assumed there was a car accident, a common story in southeastern PA for that time of year.

I maneuvered my way through the side streets and tried to access the prison from the opposite direction – no go. The roads were blocked from that side as well. I began to worry that something bad had happened inside the institution. I tried to think rationally to avoid worrying for the safety of the people I’d come to call friends.

I found a place to park behind a warehouse, unaware if it was legal to do so, but not caring much either, and made my way on foot. As I approached the main road leading to the prison, I was taken aback by the scene that was unfolding. Hundreds of people were gathered near the main entrance. Police cars, security officers, barricades, reporters, and news vans lined the streets. Young girls and boys were running around and weaving in and out of the crowd on bikes.

This can’t be good, I thought to myself.

I continued on through the crowd and decided to ask a spectator what was happening. A young black woman taking pictures with her phone turned to me and with excitement responded, “they lettin out Meek Mill.”

My initial reaction was relief mixed with a little dismissiveness. “That’s what this is all about?” My tone emitting more surprise than curiosity.

I was happy that nothing bad had happened inside, but was also thinking that a crowd of people standing around to watch a celebrity get out of prison was a little excessive or even ridiculous. Wasn’t this all part of celebrity worship culture? The release of a rapper should be no more important than the release of anyone else, right?

I stuck around and listened to people’s commentary while they streamed live videos and shared their experiences on social media. Thankfully so, because that’s how I learned that this gathering was profoundly more meaningful than my lazy assumptions would have had me believe. This was part of a much larger movement of civil rights and justice reform. This was about abhorrent prison sentences disproportionately ravaging families in the black community. People organized and fought to free Meek, lifting him up as a symbol of the larger fight, exposing even more of the dirty underbelly of the American justice system.

While I became even more aware by the moment that I was a witness to history in motion, a couple realities donned on me. First, was that my reaction to that young woman was totally inappropriate. Here she was, participating in a moment of historical significance for black Americans, and what does she get? Indifference from one of the only white men in the crowd. And I do work inside prisons and youth detention facilities. I care about justice reform. My family has been directly impacted by this system of mass incarceration. I watched a loved one struggle for more than fifteen years trying to break free from the constant threat of jail time because of poverty and drug addiction. Nonetheless, I, this “woke” individual, was almost too completely closed off to glimpse the reality that was right in front of me. The reality of how different the American experience really is for black people.

This point is obvious, or should be, but so many people don’t take the time to truly understand it. Due to stigmas and stereotypes, there are these misconceptions about about what type of experiences are comparable to the black American experience. For example, I could think that since I grew up poor then I’ve struggled like black people do. Therefore, on some level I “get it.” Although there are aspects of being poor that transcend race, that doesn’t mean I understand what it’s like to be black, only what it is like to be poor. There are plenty of black people who have no idea what it is like to grow up in poverty. That’s great, but that doesn’t insulate them from the tragic history, systemic injustices, and threats of violence that may be waiting for them at work, school, and in the public spaces most white people take for granted.

We can learn about the slave trade and we should. We can experience the culture in terms of food, music, and art, and we should. All of these experiences can help us to be more compassionate and understanding; to be better allies, friends, colleagues, and lovers. But the history of slavery paints the experience for black Americans in a way that others can’t feel on the deepest of levels. Regardless of the hardships that many of our ancestors were facing at home or encountered when they came to this country, they had the hope and promise of a better future here in America. The attitude that their hard work could pave the way for a better life for their children and children’s children.

Not to undermine the miraculous resiliency of those generations of humans enslaved from Africa, but how much despair must there have been among them, being ripped from their families and lands, to have been shackled, tortured, and forced into servitude halfway across the world? That is just the beginning of the tragic legacy handed down to black people in this country and the reality is, as much as we can show compassion, empathy, or even feel outright disgust at the atrocities committed against Africans, and then African Americans, we can never allow ourselves to feel like we “get it” or have achieved that state of “being woke.”

We don’t get it. Never will. That’s why I use the word paradox in the title, because despite our best efforts there will always be more stones to overturn, new truths to discover. Again, I will use my own experiences as an example.  I’ve had significant exposure to both African and African American communities. I was taken in by a black family during a time of financial hardship, and lived as a member of their family for more than a year. I worked in a school for court mandated students, the vast majority of whom were black. I lived on a family homestead in a village in Namibia for two years working on community health related projects, and truly became immersed in the culture and embedded into my family.

All of these experiences have shaped me in some way, and I do believe have made me a more accepting and understanding person. They’ve grown my passion for social justice and furthered my drive to make the world a better place. Sometimes it’s tempting for me to feel like, I’m someone who gets it or woke, if you will. Nonetheless, I’m a white, straight, male who was born in America. That means there are a lot of American experiences to which I can’t truly relate: being a woman, a person of color, an immigrant, an LGBTQ person, etc. And as much as I want to be “down,” there are times when I revert back to my default setting, this place of privilege to where I was born.

The point isn’t to say definitively that white men can’t be “woke.” It’s all relative, and getting wrapped up into a debate on what that word even means would be a distraction. I just wanted to call myself out and share a reflection. I can’t be sure, but maybe we straight white males shouldn’t be so wrapped up in how much we understand others as much as how we treat others. Sometimes it seems we use this idea of not understanding as an excuse for complacency or inaction. Maybe it’s not deep rooted empathy that really matters at this stage in the game, but how we use our positions to help create safe spaces for others to express themselves and to fight for the change that society needs. We can’t feel what it is like to be women in this society, but we can stop using derogatory language towards them or cast a vote to move in the direction of equal pay. We can’t live the black American experience, but we can listen better, go to a black lives matter march, and talk to folks about the movement.

Let’s not use the idea of being woke as a selfish attempt to stay relevant or hijack the conversation. First we need to be quiet, we must listen to others, and be receptive to their words. Otherwise, we won’t accept our historical placement in society and how that has led to real inequality in our country and around the world. Until we do so, we will continue to make choices that thwart the progress of a more beautiful and just world. In a world where we discriminate and hate each other based on our biological differences, our only hope is to prove our differences trivial. In a world where we embrace each other despite our differences, we can show they are, in fact, beautiful.

Thanks for reading,

Andrew

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About Andrew

Andrew Moore is originally from Clearfield, PA. He left  town at the age of 18 for the Army where he served as a cannon crew member in the 82nd Airborne Division. After he turned 20 in Afghanistan he knew he would not be re-enlisting. Instead he attended college at Penn State and majored in sociology. After graduating, he moved to the Philly area and worked in a school for adjudicated youth. Then he pursued a master’s degree in statistics at West Chester University and landed a corporate job. In the midst of all of this, he began my yoga practice at Seva Power Yoga with Colleen in downtown West Chester. "My first day in her studio is still one of my most memorable experiences and yoga really helped me stay centered during some difficult transitions in my life," says Andy. 

He left his corporate job in 2015 for a two year Peace Corps service in Namibia. When he got back to the states, he returned to Colleen’s studio to practice in a familiar space and reconnect with his old community.  Through Colleen, He met Brianne Murphy at TYP, which led to his involvement with TYP and the YTT at SCI Chester. In the Spring of 2018, Andrew graduated from TYP's 200-Hour YTT along with 16 other incredible individuals. 

Andrew originally published this blog on his own website. Read more of his writings on a variety of topics there. 

The TYP team is So grateful for your commitment, Andrew, to Service and to creating safe spaces for people to express themselves. Namaste. 

 

 

 

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Get to know David Meyer! TYP Instructor

 David Meyer has been leading TYP Yoga for Recovery classes since 2015. We are so grateful for his commitment to yoga service and his desire to share hope and light with others. 

David Meyer has been leading TYP Yoga for Recovery classes since 2015. We are so grateful for his commitment to yoga service and his desire to share hope and light with others. 

Please share with us a little bit about your background and what brought you to work with TYP?

 I took my first yoga class in 2011 while in treatment for substance abuse. Prior to treatment, I had a long time interest in Eastern Philosophy. I believe that much of my drug use was directly related to my desire to journey inward. Unfortunately, drugs were more powerful than I would have ever imagined. Shortly after I smoked pot for the first time at age 12, drugs became an extrinsic force that would wreak havoc on my inner and outer worlds. When I ended up at treatment in 2011, I was 31 years old and strung-out on heroin. There was hardly a flicker of internal light left in me. I came to find out that the light was still in me; but, covered and armored by a barrage of fear, shame and guilt. Recovery became the process of uncovering this intrinsic flame. Yoga and meditation have been the fuel for the fire that has transformed my life in ways that I never imaged. In 2015, I taught my first class for TYP at a recovery house. More recently, I shared the practices for TYP at a partial hospitalization program. I do what I do to share hope, as well as, tools that support transformation. I do what I do because I know that regardless of one’s past it is possible to expose the light that burns in each of us. In addition to being a yoga instructor, I am a social work student at West Chester University and the Program Managers of the Synergy Houses (transitional living for men in recovery).   

What do you do for self-care?

Other than yoga and meditation I love to cook and eat healthy foods. Traveling and being outdoors are forms of self-care that I also enjoy.

How has working for TYP influenced you?

TYP has influenced me to start my own recovery yoga group in my area which has been meeting twice a month for almost two years.

 What keeps you coming back to serve?

Service is the cornerstone of recovery and necessary for me to maintain my own recovery. 

Want to share any wise words or inspiration to anyone on a similar path?

The Bhagavad-Gita states, “It cannot be cut or burned; it cannot be wet or withered; it is enduring, all-pervasive, fixed, immovable, and timeless. It is called un-manifest, inconceivable, and immutable…” There is a space within us that remains unstruck, pure in essence and is the light that shines within the hearts of all beings regardless of the suffering, conditioning, trauma, and addiction one has endured. Yoga is the process that reveals this to be so. 

Thank you for sharing with us David! Namaste. 

If you are interested in joining TYP's team as an instructor then be sure to register for one of our upcoming Trauma-Sensitive Yoga trainings! The trainings are required in order to lead classes for us in Recovery, Behavioral Health and Justice settings. Check out the next dates and register Now! 

 

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Meet Colleen DeVirgiliis!

Get to know Transformation Yoga Project's inspiring Director of Training! Colleen share's a little about her personal yoga journey, how she got involved in yoga service, and what the practice has taught her. 

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