Yoga in Juvie

Every Sunday morning I teach yoga at our local juvenile detention center. I’ve been teaching there for more than a year. I teach both males and females. I notice changes, although sometimes they are small. I love the stories these young men and women tell me about yoga, especially proper breathing and how it affects them. I showed a young man alternative nostril breathing. He didn’t make any comments after I demonstrated it and I didn’t think much about it. Months later he was back in juvie and he came to yoga. He didn’t look me in the eye, didn’t address me by name. He started talking and it took me a moment to register he was talking to me. He said, “I did that breath thing you taught us.” Me: “Oh, are you talking to me?” “Yes,” he said barely looking at me. In my head I was freaking out because I was so ecstatic he actually practiced it! It took me a moment to respond, but I couldn’t help but wonder what he noticed. He said, “I have some heart issues and it’s helped with that. I also have anxiety and when I practice it I feel better, more relaxed.” I told him and the rest of the group, “That is huge! That is wonderful that you took the time to value yourself by doing that breathing exercise and now you have the experiential knowledge to know it works. I give you so much credit for doing it, for taking care of yourself in such powerful and positive ways!” He didn’t respond, just smiled a little. He paused and said, “It helps me feel relaxed. It hasn’t completely changed everything, but when I do it, I feel better.”

Here’s the power of yoga. The first time I had class with a young woman she was clearly distressed and visibly worried. Over the course of a couple of months, I taught her yoga about half a dozen times. She was released recently. The last time I saw her she was the only female that came to yoga. At the end, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Thank you for teaching me about the breath. I feel more relaxed. I use it throughout the day.”

I teach there because community is important and the young females and males in juvie are a part of the community. I teach there because it’s doing what I can by sharing something I love. I teach there because often when you offer different ways of being, thinking & responding, you have a greater chance of creating change.

At the end of every class I end it the same way, “Namaste”. In one of the classes, a young man asked me what it meant. I looked him in the eyes and said, “What it means to me is, ‘The very best part of me sees, knows, & recognizes the very best of you.’ And by invoking that within you, I am also strengthening that within myself.”