Roisin McGlynn is one of YBB’s volunteer instructors at the Maleng Regional Justice Center, a county jail south of Seattle. Read her story about the impact of trauma-informed yoga on our students – and their impact on her.
Yoga has never been just a physical practice to me. The physical and emotional release I had experienced from my very first class captured my attention and stills keeps me on my mat today. But it had also left me with many more questions: Why did that happen? What did my body and mind need to express? How did yoga wring it out of me? Why didn’t I have similar energetic experiences doing other physical activities like swimming or hiking or skiing?
Fast forward almost two decades and many varied experiences with the Yoga, I completed YBB’s training program in 2016 and left knowing I had to do a 200-hour YTT so I could offer yoga to under-served populations like this! YBB’s training was the first to substantially answer the questions I had, from the perspective of neuroscience, physiology, yoga philosophy and social justice. A year later I completed a 200-hour YTT and became a volunteer teacher with Yoga Behind Bars in November 2018.
Teaching at the MRJC is a gift that I’d like to share.
As I teach in a King County jail system, it means that I don’t usually see repeat students but recently, I’ve been seeing the same woman returning with gusto bringing new recruits each time. I feel lucky to be able to expand her knowledge of yoga and have observed her practice self-advocacy, making different choices for herself because she knows it soothes her.
On Indigenous Peoples Day this year, a First Nations student happened to be in my class. All along I had planned a class on the theme of “resilience”. I reminded the students we were on Duwamish land and that the brutal truth of the past was slowly coming to light, reframing the white male-centered narrative of Christopher Columbus; that this was happening because of the resilience of the First Nations people and their supporters. The Sahnish woman from North Dakota smiled and enthusiastically shared some information about her culture, offering back a word of peace in her native tongue. The rest of the class was so happy for this student and for the focus of building physical and mental strength in community. Some women for the first time were able to isolate where they felt stronger than other places in their bodies while recognizing where strength was still called for.
And during savasana one other night, I shared a story about my friend who was so sad to see a bird smack into her kitchen window and knock itself into a stupor; how that migrating bird was going along its path and hit an unexpected obstacle. The bird kept very still and slowly, slowly began to move until it was ready take flight again. I shared there was nothing my friend could do to help the bird – it had to help itself (at this point there were a few gasps in the room). I continued to share that we all run into obstacles, sometimes even the same ones over the over again, but like the bird, we share this preservation instinct to ground in order to protect ourselves, and with the right tools, like mindfulness, breath and body awareness, we can prepare ourselves to take flight again. The women were particularly peaceful as they came to an upright position and asked me to translate “Namaste”. I said, “I see you.” A few women said, “I see you too.”
Thanks to YBB for the beautiful supportive structure of this program and the dedicated staff and volunteers that have helped guide my way. I’m so grateful for these experiences.