Yoga @ Juvie

Updated: May 26, 2020

“Yo man, I’m like lightheaded right now.” I was too – sitting on a yoga mat on the classroom floor, practicing deep breathing, struggling to hold my arms above my head. This week I felt very much like one of the guys, struggling and laughing along with them as Kate and Francesca, fresh off of a retreat with Krishna Kaur, led us through a series of breathwork Yoga exercises – something new to me. We twisted from left to right, we twisted from right to left, we breathed slowly, we breathed quickly, we tuned into our bodies, and we had fun.

I think there is a lot of value in switching things up. You could call it a pattern interrupt. I am thinking of the times that I have gone into juvie, sat with the guys in a circle, talked about sports and meditated. I cherish each one of those afternoon sessions together, but they sort of blur in my memory, and I don’t remember each one in its exact particulars. I assume it is the same for the guys. I am also sure that they will never forget this particular session. The burning sensations of holding our arms out to the side for three minutes, the image of Kate, dressed all in white, sitting cross-legged on the teacher’s desk, the deep relaxation of laying on our backs with the lights off and room quiet for the final minutes of class. If there is something that can rattle the most subdued & apathetic of these guys out of their shells, I think this might be it.

The class itself has taken on a life of its own. The guys that come regularly seem to feel a sense of ownership – this is their class, and a sense of responsibility to keep new members of the class in line. We have a class “leader” who has emerged, who makes our jobs easier by being very vocally and visibly into meditation, and makes being “into” class seem like the cool thing to do. We also have a very sullen fellow who doesn’t appear to like anything we do in class, but keeps voluntarily coming back, week after week. I managed to catch a word with him at the end of class this week, asking him about how he liked the yoga: “It’s okay, I guess,” he told me. I asked him if he liked the meditation more or the yoga more: “I like the yoga, sort of.” Well, at least he admitted liking it – I consider that a big deal!

At one point during class Kate introduced an exercise saying “This one will help us erase some of the bad thing that have happened to us in our lives. Does anyone have anything like that that you’d like to erase?” I nodded, and looking around saw everyone in the room nodding too. There was a quiet “hell yah” from someone in the back. I hope the exercise did do something, even just a little tiny something to erase, or make up for, some of the awful things that have happened to these kids. Some of them have physical scars, clearly visible, and all of them, like all of everyone, have scars on the inside that heal slow. I hope that with programs like the one we have here, and so many like it all around the world, we can begin to erase some of the bad that has happened to all of us, and pencil in something a bit better.

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