Taking Yoga Where it Isn’t

I want every human to have access to the healing benefits of yoga. For my 55th birthday, I am asking you for a favor.

I need your help taking yoga where it isn’t. Our new non-profit www.yogaforward.org is up and running and we need donations to help us get started. We’re expanding our work in prisons. We have a goal of bringing mindfulness and yoga into 55 schools in the year ahead. It’s a big project, and we are up for it. A donation of any size will help a great deal.

Here’s a story that might inspire you. (Fox13 News Story)

For 8 years I have been training yoga teachers. And for 8 years, I have been asking them to volunteer ¬†their time, teaching to a population that otherwise wouldn’t have access to the life changing benefits of yoga. Over the course of these years, we have provided over 5000 hours of free yoga in schools, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, senior centers and many more. We quote Seane Corn often, who said, “If you want to know where to serve, go to your wounds.” I finally took that advice, and what has transpired has touched my heart and changed my life profoundly. My wounds lie here…inside the Utah State Prison.

When I was 13 years old, my Dad ended up here. He was an alcoholic, and made some pretty stupid choices when he was intoxicated.  Over the next 15 years, he served 3 sentences. My Grandparents begged me to go visit him, and I did to appease them. But I hated it. I hated being looked at by the men in there. I hated those big steel gates, and the stark nothing-ness I felt inside. And I hated him for putting me in that situation.

Fast forward. He got out, got sober, and I got 20 good years with him. My boys will never forget the role he played in their lives. But it dawned on my recently that my wounds were still open. I still had a hard time even driving past the prison. And then I knew. I had to go back.

You know how when something is meant to be, the YES shows up and it’s almost too easy? I wrote an email to Lieutenant Pei who immediately connected me with a wonderful woman, Jane Wallace who has been teaching yoga in the women’s prison for 12 years. She immediately put me on the schedule, and on June 28, 2017, I taught my first yoga class inside the Timpanogos women’s gym.

I can’t describe the feelings I had waiting to start that first class. As is common, inmate count took a while, so I had time to sit on my mat and wait. My palms were sweaty, my hands were shaking, my stomach in knots. I’m not sure what I expected, but I didn’t expect to fall in love that day.

One by one, the women started filing in. Dressed in grey sweatpants and white T-shirts, smiles on their faces, they greeted me warmly and unrolled their mats. I don’t remember anything about that class, except that during Savasana, I cried. I pictured each of them having a family on the outside that is missing them. I pictured the pain their families must feel. And I felt their pain. I knew that I was there for one reason only…to simply SEE them. To acknowledge their beauty and worth, in a place where they probably don’t get much of that. And as I shared my favorite translation of Namaste with them, we all cried.

“There is a place in each of us where all goodness, love and light resides. When you are there in you, and I am there in me, WE ARE ONE”

Shortly after this, we decided to ask about yoga teacher training for these women. The answer was YES again! So in October 2017, Cynthia Wand and I began a 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training program for 10 women who received scholarships. They are now about halfway through their training and are teaching within the prison system. Their stories rock my world. They are making a difference in the lives of other inmates, the guards, and of course their own lives are healing.

This is just one place we have found to train teachers. There is so much need. Please share this article if you find it compelling, and consider a donation to www.yogaforward.org

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

 

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