The question of lineage in yoga is a loaded one. In the United States and the West in general, yoga is fraught with cultural appropriation, colonialism, racism, capitalism, and abuse of power to name a few. Wading into this conversation feels like stepping into a minefield. But without dialogue, we can’t address the issues and challenges.

We don’t believe in one version of yoga as more authentic than another

This doesn’t mean that we don’t make intentional choices about the kind of yoga we offer, but we recognize that yoga has continually evolved and been in conversation with its context/time starting thousands of years ago in India. There have always been multiple lineages, interpretations, disagreements, and approaches. We can honor these traditions while continuing to explore how to keep yoga relevant for this time in human history.

We believe it harmful and inaccurate to essentialize yoga to one static thing, especially as this is often done to sell a teacher’s version of “real” yoga and dismiss all the others as “fake”. The claim of authenticity sells in our age of yoga celebrities and the search for unique, peak experiences.

A youth student rests on their mat at Echo Glen Children’s Center. PC: Ferrah Seifert

Many threads: Our trauma-informed yoga classes and vision

Our organization has always been held up by multiple people and perspectives. There have been many different threads coming together in our teaching from the beginning. Gradually these threads have coalesced into our definition of trauma-informed yoga: embodiment practices that encourage participants to (re)claim their agency through nervous-system regulation.

We draw not only on the yoga tradition and techniques, but also on other somatic practices, neuroscience, trauma research, mindfulness practices, and psychology. However, yoga is the primary practice we use to reduce harm and undo systemic problems. As we do that, we acknowledge that we participate in a system that profits from cultural appropriation and continue to question and explore our role in these systems.

Prenatal Yoga Class at Washington Corrections Center for Women. PC: Rosa Vissers

Cultural Humility: Listening and learning are key to our approach

Youth and adults who are incarcerated are at the center of our work, and in leadership roles whenever possible. Their feedback, requests, and expertise deeply inform our approach to trauma-informed yoga. This is true especially in recent years as we’ve offered Yoga Teacher Trainings in prison and now have several teachers who are incarcerated.

We see it as an honor and great responsibility to be part of an ever-evolving, living practice. We will continue to learn and adjust, we will make mistakes. As we do that our focus will remain on offering practical, accessible practices and methods to nurture resilience, balance, and inner calm, behind bars and beyond.

Trainees in our Yoga Teacher Training at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. PC: Rosa Vissers

An incomplete list of people who have influenced our work through the years:

YBBs students
Hala Khouri
Be Scofield
Rev angel Kyodo williams
Andrea Jain
Donna Farhi
Lama Rod Owens
Cultures Connecting
Yoga Service Council
Aadil and Savitri Palkhivala
People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
Anne Green-Gilbert
Bessel van der Kolk
Stephen Porges

Why I Teach by Dwayne, a YBB Teacher Behind Bars

Why I Teach by Dwayne, a YBB Teacher Behind Bars

“I love doing this, I love teaching yoga. I love my students who come to class with an open mind eager to learn, I love to see when the light comes on and a person “gets it”. This is so rewarding, and it is what keeps me engaged and loving yoga.”

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Be a Yoga Behind Bars GiveBig Champion

Be a Yoga Behind Bars GiveBig Champion

Yoga Behind Bars is excited to be participating in GiveBig Washington's online fundraiser on May 5th & 6th and we hope that you will join us! The need for your support is bigger than ever, as we have had to postpone our annual fundraiser, and cancel our most...

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