Downtown jail yoga programThis is Seattle’s downtown jail. Every day, thousands of people drive by on Interstate 5. I know because I can see the cars whiz by from a high window in the room where a team of 6 YBB instructors offer yoga. The jail is our very first program site with classes running for more than ten years.

The room is always completely full: 12 students from one of the “men’s units”. They represent all walks of life, all ages (some of them look so young, others frail), all races and ethnicities, physical ability, and several speak English as a second language.

An Invitation to Pay Attention

For me, every class I guide is an invitation to pay attention, hold space, and be with the people who show up. When you truly try to see someone you can’t help but feel connected. Witnessing the focus in class yesterday, the goofiness and joking around, the choices people made to make the practice their own…all the while surrounded by metal, concrete, fluorescent light, and under camera surveillance. It almost brought me to my knees.

At one point, we were practicing variations on a runner’s lunge. Everyone was holding their legs relatively still while exploring moving our arms and spine. I invited the group to notice their feet and legs as a strong foundation, while our upper bodies and arms were in fluid motion. Someone casually said: “I think that’s what’s missing for us. A strong foundation.”

Teaching Trauma-Informed Yoga Means Offering Choices

When we were practicing versions of Tree, I noticed and acknowledged that one student chose to remain standing firmly on both feet. In Mountain, the room was filled with all kinds of arm shapes and positions. It was beautiful; I love this kind of choice making. It’s a big deal to truly listen to your body and do what feels right for you. I am still working on that.

It’s never easy to be vulnerable. But in an environment like a jail—it takes true courage. At the end of class, when everyone was either sitting or lying down for a final rest, I was awed once again by people’s willingness to let down their guard, even just a tiny bit. Meanwhile, the cars on I-5 kept speeding by.

 

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