How did you become involved with YBB?
I first learned about Yoga Behind Bars when I was living in Wyoming, teaching yoga for an outpatient substance abuse parole program, and looking for a network of support and experience to help me better serve my under-served clients. It was inspiring and so hope-growing to learn about YBB’s work and to discover that yoga for incarcerated populations was flourishing in the state of Washington. A desire to train with and teach for YBB was one of the major reasons for my relocation to the Pacific Northwest. I was stoked to do the YBB training in the Fall of 2016 and jazzed to hear that a teacher was needed at Echo Glen last Spring. YBB’s engagement with social justice, advocacy and cultural awareness is also hugely inspiring to me and deepening that perspective in my life and work teaching yoga around Seattle has had a huge impact on me.
Do you have a YBB teaching experience/anecdote you’d like to share?
I teach at Echo Glen, mostly to teen boys. There are a lot of rewarding experiences to speak to, but the ones that stand out are the few impossibly wonderful moments when a group of teenage boys sync into the practice, and, even if for just a few minutes seem embodied, engaged and even, possibly, relaxed.
I teach one student who doesn’t seem to talk much. In a room full of very verbally social teenagers, I see him observing a lot, but not engaging directly with any of us. At first I was worried that it would create a barrier in the process of our yoga time. After introducing more hand gestures into class, I was glad one day to see him give me direct eye contact, a smile, and a big ‘thumbs up’ about a balancing pose he likes. It’s not an exact science, doing yoga with incarcerated youth, but when something works, we all get to celebrate that success.
What have you learned through teaching with YBB?
I have learned so many invaluable lessons from teaching with Yoga Behind Bars- it is difficult to find the right way to express gratitude for this kind of learning. Humility and authenticity are always on my mind when I teach in the facility. People ask me frequently why it is I want to teach yoga with under-served and incarcerated individuals, and I have heard a lot of really heartfelt, intelligent an even scientific answers to that question from some of fellow YBB teachers. For me, it is a gut feeling. I just find that incarcerated people are exactly the sort of people I want to spend my time with. Learning to honor the validity of that gut feeling to bear witness, and be in community with non-conventional yogis is the most express-able piece of learning I’ve gained from teaching with YBB in the past year.
In mid-March, we decided to pause all our volunteer-led programs to protect or students and volunteers. Ever since we have been working tirelessly to find alternative solutions to reach our students and we are confident that what comes out of this will be a stronger, more connected organization.
Check out these yoga cards for youth from a YBB community member – 50% of proceeds go to YBB!
The Vagus Nerve – read about yoga for anxiety.