January 27, 2015

Yoga 4 Change Teacher Talks about Teaching to Incarcerated Women.

 yoga jail

Since I was young, my heart felt a strong connection to anyone in need, especially kids who were poor or abused—knowing they had to struggle and overcome more in life.

Growing up, I was very social and had a good sense of what society expected from me. So, I performed well, made friends, and met societies expectations.

However, there was always someone in my class who was not as accepted.

I sensed their pain and I was empathetic to their suffering. I knew they didn’t have some of the advantages I was born into —loving parents, encouragement and happiness. I never let myself take what I had for granted. I knew I had it better, simply because I was born into a different family—even then, I knew I was a lucky one.

The lucky ones aren’t dealing with the type of suffering taking our emotions on a roller coaster, leaving us living in a gray world. The lucky ones aren’t haunted by demons. They wake up happy and have the life they wanted since they were born. They are polite and always do the right thing.

They walk through life like it’s a dance where everything is fine. They seem to be in rhythm with the world around them.

I have friends like that. Their biggest “problem” is choosing which type of milk to go in their coffee: not really problems.

And that’s who I was until I wasn’t.

That is not who I am now.

Now my mind talks all kinds of crazy stuff and I don’t know why I made wrong choices. Add in the judgment I put on myself and it only brought me to a deeper, darker place.

I realized there a lot of women like me. We are trying really hard, sending good energy into the world, working and going to school, doing the next best thing. And then we made a mistake, then another one and then another one. It’s not like we didn’t learn our lesson. It’s not about lessons. It’s about the power of attention. We are just going through life and it goes fast.

At the age of twenty-one I dealt with severe depression, I didn’t want to be alive.

Everything was going wrong. I reached out for help, but still life kept happening. I spent several years in this dark place and for brief moments I faked feeling good, hiding my true feelings and trying to be okay. But, I wasn’t.

Then, I found yoga.

My life changed forever that day. It was not the seven years of therapy, or all those self help books that got me on the right track. For me it was yoga. When I finish taking a class I have a sense of peace and serenity that therapy or all the self help books will never give me.

That feeling is always there when I step onto my mat.

I teach yoga to women who are suffering a type of pain which cannot be described—they are incarcerated.

Their pain is beyond understanding. We can try and pin point it and say their pain results from low self-esteem. We can blame it on their current surroundings, analyze their past, try to find the smallest detail of abuse or bad parents in an attempt to pinpoint exactly what went wrong.

Something that we could have changed. We can do this for years, but there is no point. That is not going to solve anything now.

I believe I have one solution for them, and that is yoga.

Last summer, after completing my 500RYT in India, I wanted to teach yoga to the underserved communities in the Jacksonville, Florida area.

I didn’t know the demographic. I did know, however, the power of yoga was needed by those who couldn’t afford it. This was my goal but I couldn’t get into the system.

Then I found Yoga 4 Change, an organization based right here in Jacksonville, Florida.

I could not believe my eyes when I first encountered their website. I was so excited, I immediately got in touch with the director and founder, Kathryn.

She picked up the phone after two rings, asked me several questions and then she explained everything to me. There were going to be meetings and training and all sorts of things. Big things were happening. I hung up after 20 minutes and I saw my dream coming true in front of my eyes. I’ve never been so excited or grateful.

I now teach at the Duval County Jail and at the Women’s Center of Jacksonville.

We start each weekly class with a theme or a word: self-acceptance, gratitude, expectations, vulnerability, forgiveness.

This is part of the Yoga 4 Change curriculum. This is one beautiful layer to the classes I teach. The students love having a theme—they ask for it before the class even starts.

It helps them focus through the 60-90 minute practice on one specific area. It brings their attention to this one thing, a word sometimes even I sometimes take for granted. It helps them discover new things within themselves, bringing them to a better sense of who they are.

We finish the class with a 10 minute meditation and another 10 minutes of reflection.

Yoga gave me peace from my crazy mind, and I want the same for them. Through the transformative power of yoga I feel the radical change that is happening inside of them; just as it happened for me a few years back.

I see the change in the small conversations we have before and after class. I see it on their eyes. I see it in the persistence of their practice. I know they are learning to turn off the chatter in their mind, to see the reality of their past and the power of their present. They see the possibilities which lie ahead for their future.

I know their life is changing for the better.

I found my purpose in life, my mission, the reason I was put on this planet.

The one thing I know I can do for the rest of my life and be happy. My life has changed not only because I teach yoga, it changed because I found the perfect organization where I feel supported and encouraged to be kind and compassionate, to drop the ego and focus on the peace and love that can be created in others through the practices of yoga.


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Author: Aidee Chavez Frescas Douglas

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr

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