Another benefit to yoga in jail: Better fathers

A study unveiled this summer reaches a wonderful conclusion: Combining yoga practice with parenting classes for inmates can help them be better fathers.

Here’s a link to the study. From the conclusion:

These results also provide preliminary evidence that yoga and mindfulness combined with parenting education may benefit incarcerated fathers personally, in terms of self-awareness, resilience and parenting knowledge, which may in turn improve actual parenting behaviors. The outcomes also suggest that physical and intentional, guided yoga practices may have built participants’ capacities for assimilating new ideas and concepts, retaining and applying information shared in both the yoga and parent education sessions. Given the growing popularity of yoga and the availability of yoga instructors trained to teach in specialized settings, yoga shows promise for offering an accessible intervention with large potential returns.

The yoga part took place after the parenting session (for a variety of reasons). You might think the other way around would be better to get the inmates in the right frame of mind. But the researchers found that this sequence allowed the inmates to process what they’d just learned.

Now, this study wasn’t without some significant limitations, as it notes. But it did occur over three years with 14 different groups of men. (A big limitation: No control group.) And they are hoping to do more studies, given the findings.

Posted by Steve

Doing time, even if we’re innocent

Another must-read from Tim Miller this week:

Last week I received a letter from a man named Tony Egbuna Ford.  Tony wrote, “I am on Texas Death Row, and I have been doing Ashtanga Yoga for well over a year.  I am pretty proficient with the Primary series and have no problem doing any of the sequences with vinyasa.  However, I’m ‘stuck’ as I wish to find literature not only so that I can enrich myself with Ashtanga Yoga knowledge, but also so that I can begin to practice Intermediate series onto the Advanced.  Here on death row there is a ‘yoga movement’!  And now, since people have been seeing me do Ashtanga Yoga, especially the vinyasa sequences, people have been inspired to take up the Ashtanga Yoga path!”  I was blown away by Tony’s letter and mailed him a copy of Gregor Maehle’s book on the Intermediate Series the next day.

Here’s where it gets really interesting:

Tony was convicted of murder on the basis of these “eye witness” accounts and sentenced to the death penalty.  No physical evidence linked Tony to the crime and bullets consistent with those used in the crime were found at the Belton’s house.  Victor Belton’s clothing, which was seized at the time of his arrest, had numerous bloodstains on it, but was never tested.  According to the court reporter, during Tony’s trial the prosecuting attorney asked the Murillo’s, who were seeing Tony in person for the first time, if he was, indeed, the shooter.  They looked at each other, shrugged, and said “maybe.”

Find out what Tony’s accomplished during 20-plus years in prison by clicking on the link above. And don’t forget about Robbie Norris’ great work in the Richmond City Jail.

Posted by Steve

‘Yoga has helped me open my mind to the possibilities of good health and life’

It’s always good to see a new post from Robbie Norris at Richmond Private Yoga. Maybe you get tired of his good news stories, but I don’t. His latest:

As the packed room of 20 men rested at the end of the Richmond City Justice Center (Richmond City Jail) yoga class, I realized I wanted to know more about this young man who looks like a track and field star, and whose quiet nature has an element of somberness that often suggests internal struggle.

“Thank you — this is a powerful statement,” I told him.  “If you’d like to share this, so that someone else who can relate to your situation might see it, and be prompted to explore the benefits of yoga, then I can put it on the internet.”  Marcelius brightened, looked directly into my eyes, and said, “I want you to, that’s why I signed it.”

I told him the statement is excellent —  except that it offers no clue of his circumstances or where he learned yoga, and that he might consider giving it some context.  The following class, Monday, March 26, he gave me another letter and said, “This goes before the other one.”

You’ll have to click the link to see the letters — and to get the opportunity to encourage Marcelius to keep at the yoga.

Posted by Steve

A non-so-strange tale of jail yoga

I promised in the last post to keep this one short. So I’ll point you toward Robbie Norris’ latest, which tells a story from off the mat — and thus isn’t caught in some wordy yoga conundrum:

So, since January 5th, I’ve seen a rare thing: a guy gets released from a long jail sentence and is immediately on track, continuing his recovery and rehabilitation with his priorities intact, supported by his foundational daily yoga practice.  Billy rises before the sun every morning for coffee and 10 sun salutations before riding his bike to the west end YMCA for a workout, and then heading to his father’s house — where he just finished putting in a new bathroom from floor to ceiling.  And Billy bikes and buses downtown four to five times a week in freezing temperatures for a full practice at Richmond City Yoga.

Robbie, of course, loses me when he mentions “freezing temperatures.” But you should keep reading. I’d forgotten about the New York Times story.

And despite Robbie’s headline, I don’t think there’s a single thing strange about his story.

Posted by Steve

A reminder of why we do yoga

It comes — as it has before — from Robbie Norris, who teaches yoga with a firm grounding in Ashtanga, to those in the Richmond City Jail and at his own studio:

Three years later, on October 21, 2014, while sugaring my coffee at Starbucks, I heard a voice, “Hey, I think you taught me yoga at jail a few years ago.”  I turned and was so pleased to see Logan.  Imploring him to come to Richmond City Yoga, I got his commitment to come the next day.  The following morning when I arrived, he was there waiting.  That boy from jail is now a promising young man.  He wants to acquire the education and credentials to become a mental health therapist; hopefully, he will get help with this ambition, because the occupation would suit him well.  Logan is dedicated to working hard and doing the right things.  He’s funny, intelligent, attentive, and humble.  And his disciplined daily yoga practice is bringing him physical strength, mental resolve, and deserved confidence.

You need — really have to — to go the above link and read all of Logan’s story, including this part:

My wish is that anyone who reads this, who is so inclined and who has the means, will please contact me so that we can join forces to help further this young man’s dream.

Many thanks to RCY student Stacey Scott for paying Logan’s second and third month’s dues.  Thanks to the anonymous donor and theCommunity Foundation for supporting my work at the jail.  Thank you,Eddie Stern, for being the fiscal agent for the grant, and for being a continuous source of inspiration and education.  Thank you, David Swenson, for your generous donations of books and supplies to help inmates and indigent ex-offenders.

It is incredibly fun to complain about one’s yoga practice, to write about how or why you’re giving it up, to joy in the triumphs and to curse the challenges. But it always is critical to remember how lucky you are you can complain in such a way — a real first world problem, no?

Read through Logan’s story and think about contacting Robbie, if you’re so moved. You can reach him via the contact link on his blog.

Posted by Steve

More letters from prisoners prove Ashtanga works

Our friend-by-way-of-the-Internet, Robbie Norris, has posted two new letters from inmates to whom he teaches yoga.

If that doesn’t sound familiar, check out our previous posts on Robbie. And, I’ll repeat: We’re talking about teaching yoga to folks in prison.

Here’s how he’s prefaced his latest offering:

Individuals taking private lessons; boys at Oak Ridge Juvenile Correctional Center; and Richmond City Jail inmates are all experiencing changes exceeding their expectations.

These positive changes are a direct result of sustained daily practice of the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga postures, as taught to many superb yoga practitioners directly by Pattabhi Jois, and by these excellent teachers to me.

Last Thursday night I practiced with my guys at jail.  Occasionally I do this so they can see that I give the same effort and attention I ask them to give.  I instruct them to practice only as much as they specifically know in order; and to stop, remain silent, sit and watch when they either get tired or get to a point in the practice where they don’t know what comes next.  Some inmates initially resist the notion of my being so specific, but soon enough they realize the beauty of internalizing a specific meditation practice that improves overall health and increases awareness on many levels.  With 14 guys packed into the small chapel, pews upended and mats just inches apart, it was the best self-practice session with the inmates I’ve ever had.  The yoga continues to be taken more seriously in the jail, as more and more students are observed practicing in their tier on days class is not held.  The tiers hold 100 or more inmates in a very confined space (triple-bunk beds).  These days, when new students arrive, they are already impressed from having seen other inmates working on their self-practice.

You’ll have to clink on the link to get to the two letters he’s posted. (It’s only fair, and it’s just a click away. Promise you won’t be disappointed. If you are, your full money back!)

We continue to have nothing but the highest respect for Robbie and marvel at his prison students’ dedication. As always, a good reminder for those of us who are fortunate to practice under ideal (or close) conditions.

Posted by Steve

David Swenson, Richmond City Jail yoga and control of the ego

We highlighted before that David Swenson had donated yoga mats and other material to Robbie Norris’ yoga teaching at the Richmond City Jail. And we’ve done a few other posts about Robbie and one of his students, Bryan Shull, and Eddie Stern’s interest and trip there to do some teaching.

David Swenson, from his site

Now, David has added some more information to the story in the third post to his new “news” section at his website. Here’s a bit:

In May of 2011 an article titled “Sweat and Surrender” was written in Style Weekly, a news publication based in Richmond, Virginia. The article told the inspirational story of Robbie Norris, a local Yoga Instructor, who in 2008 began offering free yoga classes to inmates at the Richmond City Jail. The article can be found here:

Shortly after this article was published, Robbie approached AYP to inquire about product availability to assist the inmates with their practice. David was very moved by Robbie’s charity and without hesitation informed him that he wanted to donate mats, practice manuals, and DVDs to help.

The products were well received and several inmates were inspired enough to write thank you letters to David expressing their appreciation.

If you click on the link to David’s site, you can see three of the letters he received.

It may feel like we’re going on about Robbie and his work, but it obviously is a project that has touched a few of the Confluence teachers. If you read the letters, I think you’ll understand why.

I’ll also admit I appreciate seeing their efforts along these fronts and their desire to highlight the work and teachings of others. Probably it says something about their control of ego.

UPDATE: Looks like the link at David’s site is down; my understanding is they are getting the timing of his interaction with Robbie correct. Bottom line doesn’t change: David reached out when he heard about Robbie’s great work and offered to help, unsolicited. We’ll keep you posted.

Posted by Steve