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Embodying Trauma-Conscious Facilitation with Chia-Ti Chiu

Updated: Mar 21

In this episode, Chia-Ti Chiu, speaks with Prison Mindfulness Institute's Executive Director Vita Pires on her work with Lineage Project.

  • Embodying a trauma-conscious and resilience-based methodology

  • Unpacking privilege, biases, and blind spots

  • The evolution of the Lineage Project

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Chia-Ti has been working with the Lineage Project since 2009. As a senior teacher, she shares embodied awareness practices with youth in detention centers, alternate-to-incarceration programs, and public high schools. Chia-Ti leads trainings and professional development workshops, which promotes mindfulness through a trauma-conscious, social justice, and resilience-building lens. She also develops curriculum and mentors new teachers. Outside of her work with Lineage, Chia-Ti leads international yoga retreats and provides wellness justice consulting through her business onelovewellness. She is on faculty with the Garrison Institute's Contemplative-Based Resilience Project, which supports the sustainability of humanitarian aid workers, social service providers, and Congressional staffers. She believes in making wellness accessible, affordable, and relevant for all.

Podcast Transcript

Vita Pires: 

Welcome, everyone. This is Vita Pires here for the Prison Mindfulness Institute. I'm happy to be here with Chia-Ti. Chia-Ti has been working with the Lineage Project since 2009. As a senior teacher, she shares embodied awareness practices with youth in detention centers, incarceration programs, and public high schools. 

Chia-Ti leads training and professional development workshops, which promotes mindfulness through a trauma-conscious social justice and resilience-building lens. She also develops the curriculum and mentors new teachers. 

Outside of her work with Lineage, Chia-Ti leads international yoga retreats and provides wellness justice consulting through her business, One Love Wellness. She is on faculty with the Garrison Institute's Contemplative Based Resilience Project, which supports the sustainability of humanitarian aid workers, social service providers, and congregational staff. She believes in making wellness accessible, affordable, and relevant for all. Welcome, Chia-Ti. 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Thanks so much, Vita. Thank you so much. 

Vita Pires: 

You've been teaching for quite a while and running Lineage Projects. So, what got you into this work? What was your inspiration? 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Well, I first started teaching yoga about 19 years ago. And when I first started teaching, I was teaching in public high schools. And then, I also taught in foster care. And so, it was kind of a natural progression for me, thinking, "Hmm. What other populations of young people do I want to teach?" So, I wanted to teach young people in detention. 

And so I kind of did a little bit of research and found the Lineage Project, I went through their training, became a volunteer, and I was volunteering at Crossroads, which is a detention center in the Bronx that is now closed. And from being a volunteer with Lineage, I became a teacher and have been a teacher with Lineage for the last 13 years. 

Vita Pires: 

How long has the Lineage Project been around? How did it evolve as an organization from its beginnings? 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Yeah, the Lineage Project has been around for over 20 years. It was started in 1999. It kind of evolved, even in the practices that it offered. I believe it started off teaching meditation to young people in detention. And then, yoga was added in. And so, now we say we offer mindfulness practices, a combination of mindful movement and meditation. 

In the 13 years that I've been with Lineage, I feel like it's also evolved not only in the practices that we offer but also in its centering on anti-racism and anti-oppression. When I first started, it was mostly just, "Oh, these are the practices that we offer." I think we're the ones to lift up our co-executive directors, Jessica Mingus and Gabrielle Prisco, for really centering anti-oppression and anti-racism as part of our core values. 

We work with mostly Brown and Black youth. So, to not talk about systems of oppression and to talk about racism and its impact on the young people we serve would be a disservice. And so I think because we've been around for 20 plus years, having that accountability and really thinking about what is the best that we serve is really important. 

There was a tagline. This was before I became a teacher of Lineage. That was like, "We go in to keep them out." That was really cringy for me. It's very much like a White Saviour nonprofit kind of way of thinking about it, and really kind of moving away from that to centering youth needs and youth voices and youth resources, and their voices and knowledge and wisdom. It has been a really beautiful thing for me to witness being a teacher with Lineage. 

Vita Pires: 

So, it's important that facilitators unpack their own privileges and biases, and blind spots in relation to the work. And so, do you train your facilitators and do extensive work on that? 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Yeah. We do a lot of internal work at Lineage. We offer our teachers different types of professional development. Last year, we, as an organization, participated in a nine-month program called Communal Consultations with Resmaa Menakem, who was a trauma therapist and also a somatic abolitionist. He talked about healing racialized trauma through the body, through somatics. 

In that work, we were able to also, as an organization, talk about these very things of privilege and oppression and unconscious and conscious biases and how they might show up in our work. It's super important. We also lead training that is for the general public, like our 21-hour training, and for people interested in teaching mindfulness practices to young people or other people. 

I remember one of the participants. She's a White woman. She's like, "Well, can I do this work? And being a White woman, can I do this work?" I very gently asked her back, "Can you?" Because that's when we really kind of pause and lean in and unpack that. I'm an Asian American woman. I identify as a person of color. I also know I won't be stopped first on the street, perhaps like another person of color, a Black male, for example. 

And so, really being able to understand your social location and your identity. And also kind of the ways mindfulness practices too can also sometimes be kind of colonized and then unpacking that. I think all of that is relevant and important in this work. 

Vita Pires: 

I like what you wrote here in the email you sent to Melissa. It said, "Embodying a trauma-conscious mind and resilience-based methodology is a framework that shifts away from the deficit-based approach of what's wrong with you to a resource-based mindset that can support you?" Can you talk a little bit about how your classes might reflect that sort of mindset and framework? 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Yeah. What we offer are mindfulness practices through a social justice and trauma-informed lens. Those are all kinds of buzzwords these days, you know, mindfulness, trauma-informed lens, all of that, but really thinking about kind of contextualizing any practices that we offer to young people with an understanding of how trauma has impacted us, not only as individuals but also collectively, especially people who are directly impacted by systems of oppression. 

I think when we can move away from this idea of like, "What's wrong with you?" to "How can we support you?" What we're doing is leaning on strength building and resiliency building. That's super important. I mean, it's one thing to teach a breathing technique as a mindfulness practice. It's another thing to mirror back to a young person that they already have strengths, and they have resilience in them. 

Because young people, especially young people who are incarcerated, hear all the time, "There's something wrong with you." We internalize that. We internalize that message that there's something wrong with us, and I'm defective, I'm not good enough. And then perhaps, then that turns out as behavior. Young people can act out, or we as people can act out. And so, when we can mirror back and reflect strengths instead of deficits, that can help any of us towards feeling less broken and more with a sense of belonging. 

Vita Pires: 

Yeah. I was working in one facility. I noticed that, well, I'm just kind of blatant. The staff all referred to the young men as scumbags. They would say the word scumbags over and over and over, and they would yell, "Okay. Scumbag 1, get over there. Scumbag number so and so, get over there." I was kind of like it was the overkill of these words. It was kind of crazy the use of the word scumbag. 

Then the kids get in there, and they've been called this. It's almost like conditioning their minds over and over and over again that this is the way the whole world views them. How would you get to work countering that? Because in these young minds, this is what they're learning. This is what people think of them and label them. 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Absolutely. Yeah. And that's such a great question because it's true. We internalize those messages. I'm thinking about a class I taught in the detention center. The young man was like, "Oh, well, I'm always angry. I'm told I'm angry. I know I'm angry. I'm always angry." He had been in my class maybe two or three times, so not many times. 

I said to him, "That's really interesting because in the times I've known you in the three hours of the three classes we spent together, I didn't get that impression at all. You weren't angry once in my class." He just kind of paused, and it was like, "Oh, wait. Oh, there were times I was not angry." because it can become a generalized blanketed identity. 

And so in our classes, what we try to offer and what I try to offer, just in general, is calling up strengths. In addition to teaching mindfulness practices being like, "Oh, I saw that you persevered through that twist in that yoga pose. How did that feel for your body?" And really being able to name up strengths is a tool of resilience building. 

When we feel resilient in the body, we feel like we have the potential to thrive and flourish. And a lot of our young people or people who have experienced trauma they're just in survival mode. When you're being called a scumbag over and over again, when you just feel like you're angry and reactive all the time, you are in survival mode in your brain and your nervous system. 

Our classes, perhaps, can offer a chance to ground and settle and not be so hyper-vigilant. And then also for young people to access their humanity, for young people to access what it's like to lean into their identity that's not what someone else has labeled them as. 

Vita Pires: 

Yeah. And also to be heard. Sometimes I noticed there was a lot of mumbling going on in classes that I was teaching. And then I said, "Well, what's up with the mumbling?" And they said, "Well, everybody says that to us." And I said, "Why do you think that is?" "Well, nobody really wants to hear us. You know?" "Yeah, I want to hear you." And he was like, "Oh, really?" "Yeah." And then, it kind of opened up the space. And then they all felt like, "Yeah, your voice is important. It's important to hear what you have and what's inside of you?" 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Absolutely. Absolutely. And that whatever they're going through is valid. There is also a culture of shame and blame, just in general. And for example, in one of my classes, we were talking about what helps you cope with stress. A couple of young people said, "I smoke weed." 

The juvenile counselor was like, "Don't say that. Why'd you done that? You shouldn't do that." And it's like, well, if I live in a neighborhood where that's what's available to me, and actually, what a blessing it is that I want to actually try to get to a place of calm and settling in my nervous system, so I know to reach for a resource. Now, maybe marijuana, you know, there's a debate whether or not that should be the resource, but the young person's reaching for a resource. 

So, instead of shaming and blaming their actions or the thing they do, really lean into, "Okay, your body wants to be resourced. Let's talk about that." Mindfulness practice can help that, perhaps. Meditation can help that, perhaps. But I also don't walk in there thinking mindfulness practices are the thing that's going to cure systemic oppression and make you feel good for the rest of your life. 

No! It's just a technique that perhaps can be useful and helpful, and more so, that hour we spend together can be an hour of connection. Can it be an hour where, again, you don't have to feel hypervigilant? Can it be a time when you feel heard? 

Maya Angelou has this quote, "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." And so, in the Lineage Project, in our classes, we want young people to feel a sense of trust in themselves and within the class, and to feel validated, to feel heard, and to feel empowered in their bodies. 

"Oh, I can do this with my body, and it feels a certain way." "Oh, I can make this choice for myself." And so, really kind of countering all the mumbling, like you were saying, or all the kind of other people's ideas of who they are so they can start to kind of really understand, like, what works for me, what's good for me, and what's beneficial for me. 

Vita Pires: 

I had a class where, you know, these guests, they're very funny. They're kind of funny, and they like to talk about the penny stores. They got into this rant with each other about like, "Oh, so and so, did you hear this person got shot?" And then, they were all like, "I've been shot." And then, they're all going back and forth about how many times you have been shot and pulled out their shirts and showing their wounds and all this kind of stuff. 

And then, one guy started yelling, "These guys are making all this up. None of them have been shot." It's kind of like vying for who's been shot the most times. These were 15, 16, and 14-year-old boys. And they're how many times they've been shot. And it was kind of breathtaking, actually, to see that this is their reality and this is their badge of honor in a way that they need to feel some kind of camaraderie or empathy, like group empathy with each other around this severe wounding to their bodies. It's kind of this profound moment. And the only way they had to do it was to see which one had been shot there most times. You know, that was the toughest guy in the room. Right? 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Yeah. And I think there is, you know, this kind of idea, especially with young men, and this is given by society and by different cultures of masculinity. That's why sometimes it's difficult to get buy-in to do mindfulness practices. Like, "Oh, yoga is gay, or it's only for girls." Mindfulness is soft, you know. 

And so, I think that we want to meet young people where they are and not just count their lived experience and what they've been through, both the trauma and the resilience of what they've been through. And then to be able to connect because what I'm hearing from the story you shared is connection. Young men are showing each other their scars, but they're really looking for connection. And so, we have basic human needs. Human needs of safety, connection, and satisfaction. 

And so, however, we can find those things through whatever channels it's important to kind of meet young people where they are. And sometimes, when I see a young person's behavior, especially young people kind of wailing out, I'll often think about what's the need behind that behavior because there's a need. A need for safety, a need for connection, a need for feeling a sense of satisfaction like purposefulness and meaningfulness. 

When we can kind of look at behavior through that lens, it also takes us from what's wrong with you to what's working for you and how we can support you. And then detention centers are divided not by gender but by biological sex. So, it's like cisgender male and cisgender female. There's a whole thing because there are some trans kids, so that in itself can be really traumatizing. 

Our Lineage model is a three-part model. We have guided discussions based on the theme of mindful movement and meditation. Sometimes a group is more chatty. Girls may tend to want to share a little bit more of the jump, meaning kind of the first class versus maybe for the young men, it takes a little while, like a little bit more trust building for them to share a little bit more vulnerability and openly. 

Sometimes the young men like to do a little bit more vigorous movement practice, so we'll do more arm balances, for example, or anything like that. I've seen no matter what gender you are, though, I think that there are some aspects of the class that perhaps can be of interest to you. 

Having a moment of introspection during meditation, having a moment where you connect to a stretch in the body, having a moment where there is a connection over the theme, or where maybe we're talking about the difference between pain and suffering. And talking about what it is? What's the difference between being reactive and being responsive? How do you find support? What do you think? What are some strengths that you have, mental and physical? 

And so, I think that there are differences. I think that it could be somewhat biological. It can also be societal and cultural differences. I also think about leaning into the commonality because I think that's what creates a sense of community is a sense of shared experience and shared humanity. And so, when we kind of set up our classes in that way, we can access those things, hopefully. 

Vita Pires: 

So what about working in public high schools? How is that different from working in an institutional setting? I mean, that's another form of the institution, but it's a little bit, you know, kids get to go out at the end of the day. So, what are the differences there? What are the challenges there? 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

For me, it doesn't really have so much to do with the setting. Young people are young people. I love working with teenagers. They are, like you said, super funny. I learned so much from them. I'm inspired by them. I'm inspired by their resilience. And whether it's teaching online or in person in these different facilities, I think connecting to, again, those basic human needs of connection, satisfaction, and safety. When we can set up the conditions for those three, magic can happen in classes. 

I think perhaps, though, the difference I feel in working with young people, again, this is not site dependent, but really about kind of, are they signed up to do this? Are they kind of forced to participate? Versus do they choose to participate? Sometimes working with young people in detention, they have kind of encountered a situation where they may have thought they were going to be in. like, a couple of young people I talked to were like, "I knew I was going to be locked up." But kind of thinking about imagining it and being in it are two different things. And when you're 15, and your sex hormones are raging, you're like, "I do not want to be locked up." 

And so sometimes you're kind of like, what's going to help me get out? And so, I've seen in some young people an openness and a receptivity to the practices because they want to find different resources to help them help themselves make different choices. So whether that's in detention or in public schools where there's this relentless focus on doing well on tests, and young people are just feeling so much pressure to do well in school and being competitive with other people and having to go to every single after school program or feeling like you're struggling, and not being able to reach out for support on basic things like reading and writing, and literacy and math, all those things add a lot of stress and overwhelm to the nervous system. 

And so, sometimes young people come to our classes, and they're like, "Oh, wow, these are great resources because I can actually feel myself breathing because I feel like I've held my breath for this long, like trying to get through my day at school, or trying to get through my sentence or whatever that is." 

Vita Pires: 

Yeah. Well, think about the name of your project, the Lineage Project. Do you do anything around Lineage? Like connecting with the Lineage of people, however, your people or your culture or lineage. Do you work with that at all, that idea? 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

I'm smiling because that's kind of the tennis ball that's served back and forth in our team meetings. We all inherited this name, Lineage Project. We're actually not even sure what kind of the thinking behind it, to be honest, you know, but it's sort of like the Lineage of these practices that come actually from Buddhist and East Asian wisdom that I think sometimes gets filtered, especially for teaching in DOE schools, they wanted to be very secular. But really honoring those lineages because that's where these mindfulness practices have come from. And then, our own personal lineages, like the way where each teacher has studied, like, I did my yoga training in India and had a very deep reverence and gratefulness for those lineages that I study through. 

And then to also thinking about with the young people, their own personal lineages, and kind of thinking about, like, when we talk about mindfulness practices, do young people already have embodied awareness. It doesn't have to be Chi Gong. It doesn't have to be meditation, but they have some sort of resourcing practices. We're curious to hear what those are so that we can build our lineage together. And then, kind of thinking about this idea of lineage, kind of like what passes through us to our descendants, whoever those descendants may be. 

And so, with the Lineage Project, we are creating and planting the seeds to create a branch of our organization where we have students who were formerly in our programs becoming teachers with Lineage so that they can teach with us. And so, really being able to have young people who were formerly incarcerated or credible messengers is wonderful. We don't have any teachers who have that lived experience. I think that will be such a wonderful, enriching experience for everyone involved in our Lineage. 

Vita Pires: 

Beautiful. As you're talking about credible messengers, one of the things that you wanted to talk about as a longtime teacher and trainer, what do you think of some of the core competencies for skillfully holding these practices? Say you're going to train a formerly incarcerated person or someone who's been, you know, whatever, you know, in any kind of situation that would give them the credible messenger status or identity, you know, whatever, they could embody that or they are embodying that. What are the core competencies they need to work on and develop in order to be able to hold the space? 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Yeah, that's a great question. Thank you. I think, first and foremost, having some sort of practice yourself as a facilitator. I meditate every morning. I have yoga and Qigong practice. I also like to take breaks and go into nature. I have a Lineage colleague that I call specifically. He's a friend of mine as well. But I call him specifically about Lineage classes because he's worked in detention centers as well. So he has an understanding of that setting and those needs. And so, being able to have the resourcing for yourself so that you can show up fresh and curious and open to classes. 

I was teaching in this. It's called the ALC (Alternate Learning Center). It's in public schools. If you're suspended from your regular high school, you are placed in these alternate learning centers. And so it was middle school, and it was tough. It was a 12-week residency. I had to pull every trick and game and tool and strategy in all my pockets. The young people were not having it. They did not want to participate in class, and the teachers and staff were burnt out. We have kids literally leaning halfway out the window and just trying to coax them back inside. 

I felt myself, you know, like heat rising into my face, like my heart beating fast. This was in a boys club on the Lower East Side. There was a plant store two blocks away. And so, I made it a point. It was like a ritual after class to walk to the plant store and just walk through the store, touching leaves, listening to this calming music, you know, the store clerk saw me week after week and was like, "Are you going to buy anything?" 

I'm like, "No, I'm just being here with the plants." because it gave me a chance to kind of release the energy that I was holding from that class so I can go back the next week, open and curious. And not with this kind of thing, you know. Because you can go in very closed and very judgmental, and so I think having practices as a facilitator is so important so that you can stay alive and present to work with authenticity and to show up in the best way for the young people. And then to also continue to unpack the privileges and the blind spots, and the biases that we may have. 

I also think what's really, really important is to not reduce the young people to the experiences that they had or the traumas that they had, recognizing that we all live in a system of oppression. But Black and Brown youth are five times more likely to be suspended from school, arrested, and to be sentenced than their White counterparts. So just kind of knowing that and holding that in your mind as a facilitator can be really helpful in terms of how you relate to the young people. 

I think also it takes some of the onus of responsibility off the young people. One of my biggest struggles is I go in to teach young people mindfulness practices but is it really making a difference because the systems are designed to continue to oppress them? So it's a lot to ask a young person to get it together, get control over their anger, get control over their impulses, to not act out when they are living in systems that are designed to be threatening to their well-being and their safety. 

And so, really being able to hold all of that while you're teaching the class. And really being able to call up the strengths and humanity of each young person is kind of a life learning. I'm still learning, after so many years of teaching, how to be the most efficient in doing that because that's the kind of facilitator I want to be. 

Vita Pires: 

Yeah, that's great. As you were describing what you do to resource yourself afterward, you know, where you walk to the plant store, or you know, I don't know. There are various things you could do. Look in the sky or whatever you do. 

A couple of our programs in a couple of different states were training the inmates and the folks who are in prison to be the facilitators. They don't have any kind of place like that to go to refresh their minds. Just as you're saying that, I thought, "I wonder if we could have a conversation with them." Like, what do you do to refresh your mind in that way? 

I mean, maybe go out to the yard, but even there, that can be not exactly refreshing. So what would you do? I think that's interesting because they seem to have a lot of resilience. So, where does it come from? When you don't seem to have a lot of options, and you're being institutionalized, it's just an interesting inquiry that I'd like to have with them. 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Yeah. That's why I appreciate that part of our model when we have time for guided discussion because you hear a lot. That's how I learned about different ways of resourcing and resilience. One young man in a detention center said when the lights go off at a certain time at night when they have to go to bed, he lies in bed and thinks about his favorite place to be, and that's his meditation. 

I'm like, "That is a beautiful meditation." Meditation doesn't have to look like sitting cross-legged. I know I'm breathing in. I know I'm breathing out. That is a beautiful practice, but also playing basketball, working up a sweat, and busting chops with other young men. That is also another type of resilience and resourcing practice. So, it's definitely something we've thought about in Lineage. 

It's like, "Okay, we offer mindfulness practices. We're starting to now incorporate more somatic practices in the techniques that we offer. And then it's like, yeah, we need to ask the young people what they do. It's like, oh, how radical is that? You know, like the people that we serve. Yes. Let's ask them what they already do. And so that shifts it away from, oh, we know these practices could work because yes, I know, for myself, personally, these practices work. We don't know how it's going to land for someone else.

And so, we have something called a community cohort program, where we take young people through this 10-12 week program. And from there, perhaps a couple of them will apprentice with us to potentially become teachers. And so through that program, we want to design a student handbook, a handbook of different mindfulness practices written by and for youth. So sure, perhaps there's meditation in there. But let's see what else shows up in there. 

I'm so curious to know. And a lot of young people, you know, they journal. They make TikTok videos, and their TikTok video is a meditative process. And so, not to discount, kind of the ways that each of us can resource. I think we can then broaden this idea of what embodied awareness practice is. 

Vita Pires: 

Yeah. As you're saying that, I thought of all the ways, you know, reading books or drawing, painting. Some can do paintings. Some could do poetry, writing, all kinds of things, writing letters to people. We get lots and lots and lots of letters. So, what's the most challenging thing that you have encountered? 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Well, I think I've mentioned earlier the kind of challenge of teaching mindfulness practices within systems of oppression. So, I already mentioned that one. The second challenge is that a lot of our programs are residency based. Meaning ten weeks, 12 weeks, or maybe a year. 

I was at a state-run facility called Ella McQueen in Bushwick, and they got funding for five and a half years. Consistently through the years, I was there. It was amazing. But the young people themselves were only there for two weeks. It was a processing center. So they were being processed for all different types of information and health checks and stuff before they were sent to sort of time upstate. 

And so maybe I would have one-touch or four, you know, like four classes with the young people before they left. And so, it's kind of like, "Hmm. Is there anything landing?" And so, that's why we have our three-part model. It's like, here it is in one chunk. Even if you encounter a program from one class, you get kind of the heart of what we offer. 

I remember doing resilience training, and I had gone up to the facilitator after I was kind of explaining. I was at that time. This was maybe six years ago. It's getting a little like close to feeling a little burnt out because I wasn't sure I was going to make a difference. I'm really grateful for not only this facilitator, Maria Ciros, but also my training and positive psychology in general because she said to me, "Oh, call up their strengths. Find one thing in each young person and call up their strength because they might not remember the breathing technique or the yoga pose, but they'll remember what the person is saying to them. I saw how courageous you were in trying something new. I saw your humor in falling down from that balance pose and getting back up." 

And so, really, that became kind of the thing that I do, not only in my classes with Lineage but in my life. You can ask my partners. You will be like, "Yes, I can hear you calling up my strengths." But I think that's so important because don't we all want to feel that? Like, feeling our strength mirrored to us. And then that helped give me the resilience to keep doing the work because, in resilience theory, they talk about, you know, caring, competent adults or caring competent people in your lives is a protective factor. So you have the skills to build up resilience in yourself, and then also through authentic connection. And so, I think that that made me shift and see that the transitory nature of our work isn't so much a challenge anymore for me.


I also think of the reframing of behavior. It takes it from challenge to curiosity for me. As a teaching artist, when I was doing training, they were all like classroom management. So, how to manage your classroom, how to manage different behaviors, you know, the kid that has the hoodie up doesn't want to participate and the one that's like distracting others. And so, it was very much kind of almost, it was punitive. 

I think education in the United States has that punitive lens, like, from kindergarten sitting with hands folded, legs crossed kind of thing. And so I think, especially with young people who have experienced trauma, or who have been taken out of their home situation, the feeling abandoned, or dropped, or, like, not good enough, and for whatever way, and so sometimes you start to act out because negative attention is still a type of attention. 

For me, I have learned to see what's the need behind that behavior versus focusing on the behavior. And so, when I do that, I don't actually see classroom management as a challenge anymore. I feel like if I can reframe in my brain, challenges become curiosities. 

Vita Pires: 

So being able to just look into the heart of what's going on, the essence of what rather than that necessary manifestation or whatever they're saying or doing that you can see it underneath the heart of it is something that's really being expressed that they would wish for, hope for, or value in their lives. 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Yeah, if I could tell a story. I was teaching at a close-to-home facility. This is a locked, secure facility. It's a residential home in Flatbush in Brooklyn. It was my first time. It was a new group of young men. One of them didn't want to participate. I don't force anyone to participate. Sometimes they are forced by their juvenile counselors to participate, but I don't force them. 

And so I said, you know, you can just watch if you want to. He couldn't leave because he had to stay in the room with everyone else. So, I just kind of saw him like, you know, sitting there, and like, once a while, they're like, "Do you want to join?" And he's like, "No, no, no, I'm good." And he wasn't distracting any of the other young men, so I was like, okay, do your thing over there. But he was just kind of like giving me side-eye and kind of like making little comments when I would say stuff, and I'd be like, okay. I'll say, " Do you want to participate?" And they'll be like, be quiet. I was like, "Do you want to participate?" "No, no, no, no." 

And then, we moved on from the discussion. We're doing movements like neck rotations. I think he unconsciously started to do a neck rotation and caught himself and was like, "I'm not doing that." He sat there with his arms folded for the rest of the class. Again, I just invited him in a few times and didn't react when he refused. 

He wasn't impolite in any way. Again, he wasn't distracting anyone else. And then, at the end of class, I tried to greet everyone as I came in and then have a moment with everyone one on one at the end of class. This is when I'll call up strengths or kind of make an observation about what I saw in class. 

And so I went up to him, and I said, you know, like, I noticed that even though you didn't participate, I felt like you were part of the group. I really felt that you were holding space for everyone else. You didn't distract anyone. I appreciate your attention. He was like, "Oh, whatever, miss." And then, the next week, he did one small part of the class, and by the end of the program, he was fully participating and also encouraging other young men to participate. 

We talked about it. And he was like, "Well, I just didn't know what it was." And I was like, yeah, of course. When something is new, it can be very anxiety-provoking. It's like, oh, wait, yay, yoga. It's like, no, like, what is this new thing? Do you know what I mean? Like, who's this new person telling me to breathe? 

And so, because I didn't judge him, I didn't shame him. I didn't say, "Well, if you were not participating, leave. Don't be in the circle in any way." You want to be able to meet people where they are. That's my love for teaching young people. Young people keep it real. They will tell you if they like something or not. They will tell you that like you are not, you know. And so for me, it's like, I find that so refreshing. I'm like, okay, how do I meet people where they are? And that's what working with young people has taught me for sure. 

Vita Pires: 

Yeah, I love that. I love calling up the strengths that you keep saying. I once did motivational interviewing, and the guy leading it said you could think of anything else to affirm, just affirm. You can never affirm enough. Just keep on affirming. See something to affirm and affirm it. The calling of the strengths really does kind of get it from you for working with youth. Yeah, that's really beautiful. What really inspires you about the people, these kids? You just had to say a sentence about, you know, as I've just shared with so inspires me about these kids. 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

That's such a good question. There's a lot that inspires me. Like I mentioned, their resilience really inspires me, their humor and the way that they can have perspective on their lives. And sometimes, a theme will bring in. it's like, what's something you're grateful for? And sometimes they'll say, life. That's it. They're not grateful to be locked up, although some may be. Like, I remember this young man said, "Actually, I am grateful because it stopped me from this. I think I would be dead if I didn't get locked up." 

It can offer change, offer a change of trajectory, or not. It's all dependent on the young person. But I think whatever life experience they've gone through, and whatever traumas perhaps they have gone through, they're grateful for life. They're grateful to still be living. They're grateful for the lessons learned. I think that that's a beautiful message for all of us. Whatever challenges we go through, whatever obstacles we can go through, if we can look at the lessons learned, if we can grow from that experience, then we can feel that we still have hope and possibility. 

I wish that for anyone. I think for young people who are incarcerated; often, society tells them there is no hope and possibility for them anymore. I appreciate you changing our language, you know, talking about inmates and people who are formerly incarcerated, you know, talking about felons versus people who are formerly incarcerated. Language matters. 

I was at a party one time years ago. I was talking to someone I didn't know. I was telling him I work at the Lineage Project or work with teens in detention. And he said, "Oh, what's that like working with criminals?" And I said, "The day I start seeing my young people as criminals is the day I stopped doing this work." 

And so, really, it's about your perspective and being able to access hope and possibility circling back to that. And so when you're labeling someone as a criminal, there's no hope and possibility. But aren't these mindfulness practices designed to transform? Aren't we all in life yearning to kind of grow and learn? 

And so, I feel inspired by my young people because I see that in them. I see no matter what has happened to them, their humor, there is a type of hope. Their resilience is a type of possibility. I'm so grateful to be able to bear witness to that and to also be inspired by them with that. 

Vita Pires: 

Well, I thank you so much for this. I'm very inspired by you and your enthusiasm and the obviously heartfelt care that you have for these young people who were in such a tough situation and had their whole lives ahead of them, possibly. What a way to spend your youth. I don't know. But I'm very inspired to hear what you have to say in the way that you teach. Your whole project seems beautifully framed to include all the aspects that need to be there at the core. 

Chia-Ti Chiu: 

Thank you. Yeah, I'm super grateful to Lineage Project for being a teacher with them. For many years. I feel like it's developed me as a person and also a more competent teacher. So, thank you so much for your feedback. 

Vita Pires: 

Thank you. 


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