Cultivating Mindfulness & Responsiveness: Trauma Other Therapies

The following comes from a yoga teacher who works in prisons. The information is more broadly applicable, however, as the concept of continually cultivating mindfulness and responsiveness to the situation has universal application. This excerpt is from the Huffington Post article, Yoga: How We Say Yes and Serve in Correctional Facilities.

Q: What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had?

A: I didn’t know very much about prisoners beyond stereotypical depictions of hardened and tough criminals. I would not be telling the truth if I said I wasn’t nervous or concerned the first time I arrived to teach. What won out for me were the other assumptions: that these were folks who weren’t given many tools or much guidance early in life, who had unresolved social and emotional issues, anxiety, depression, and addiction. Another thing that’s changed is that I’m more aware of race and class disparities between the general population and incarcerated population.

Q: What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?

A: I’m very careful with my word choices. I once said “you are free to go” when we were dismissed from the room at the end of class. Wow, was that unfortunate! I’m careful to avoid using imagery from nature or family so as to not evoke longing or despair. I wear conservative, plain clothing because prisoners have uniforms, and do not have the option to express themselves with their clothing. To avoid any sexual tension, I’m mindful about the ways I demonstrate postures.

Q: What advice would you give to another woman who is going to teach male prisoners?

A: Before class begins, take some time in the classroom or in your car to center yourself. When students begin arriving, if I am seated and centered I am able to hold the space with more certainty. Get to know your students’ first names. It helps me to write names down. At the end of class shake their hand, look them in the eye, say their name; in prison culture these gestures show respect. The prison uniform is initially unsettling, but you’ll quickly feel yourself to be in a room of humans, which of course you are! Finally, there is a [quote] by Siri Singh Sahib that my teacher taught me that really takes me out of the female/male paradigm. I recite it silently before almost every class.  “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man, I’m not a person, I’m not myself, I am a teacher.”