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.
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.
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.
An incomplete list of people who have influenced our work through the years:
Rev angel Kyodo williams
Lama Rod Owens
Yoga Service Council
Aadil and Savitri Palkhivala
People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
Bessel van der Kolk
Join us in Seattle for our Trauma-Informed Yoga training: October 30 – November 1 (register now!)read more
Thank you and goodbye message from our beloved Executive Director Rosa Vissers as she looks back on her time with Yoga Behind Bars.read more
Jessamyn shared honestly and tenderly with our students, and it was so filling to be witness to that exchange.read more