Hint: the cell is unlocked
"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together."
-Lila Watson, Australian Aborigine
I was drawn to volunteer for Yoga Behind Bars because of my own personal experience of yoga being beneficial to heal trauma. The body has a profound wisdom all its own if we are still enough to listen. When I walked in to teach my first class in juvenile detention I had these words from an experienced colleague at Yoga Behind Bars in my head:
"Don't try to change the world. And don't talk "at" prisoners--everyone does. Just show up. Teach your class. Yoga works." Yoga does work. And I've had the privilege to see this first hand during my weekly class with a group of incarcerated teenage boys this past fall. Mind you, volunteering in detention is not easy. There are snickers and posturing and at least one participant is removed from class for bad behavior most days. But there is also the proof that this practice works: the sound of full breaths filling fearful and tired lungs, the earnest attempt to balance in a new pose when no one else is looking and the stillness in the room during savasana where I am happy to facilitate at least one moment of calm in the day.
There is also something honest about working in detention. These folks know they are locked up. The rest of us don't.
"No man is free until ALL men are free." -Martin Luther King
This practice for me is about finding what I have in common. We are all deserving of this yoga practice. We are all deserving of a deep and profound connection with our bodies; with our true selves. What are the ways that I live as if I were in prison? A prisoner to my habitual patterns? A prisoner to my thoughts? Stuck in the same vision of what is possible? Going to the same job everyday. Having the same conversations day after day....Freeing ourselves from our past habits, from our past beliefs about self and others is part of my practice. Would we live any differently if we really lived with an understanding of our freedom? Hint: the cell is unlocked.