More firsthand, from jail, proof of Ashtanga yoga’s great impact

Robbie Norris from Richmond Private Yoga and his Richmond City Jail Ashtanga Yoga Program posted this week that his jail yoga program — in part supported by the Broome St. Temple — has gotten another three-year commitment of support to continue its work helping prisoners.

Here’s a a quick summary of the program via Robbie:

I teach the men two classes per week; one class is an hour and a half and the other is an hour and 45 minutes.  The chapel can accommodate up to 15 men, with mats an inch apart andthe pews upturned and pushed to the wall; usually eight to 15 men attend.  About half the students also practice daily on their tier between classes.  Each tier holds up to 100 men; visualize big steel cages with triple bunks and two-inch thick mattresses, in a very confined space — not an ideal space for yoga, but they find a way to practice.  I constantly remind them that the value lies in the commitment to daily practice, and assure them of the importance of establishing the discipline of dailiness while incarcerated, as the obstacles to the discipline “on the outside” are actually much greater— namely, so much freedom that can easily entail a million “reasons” not to practice.

The news about his continuing work is great, and he deserves a big congratulations for spreading Ashtanga to a population that can so greatly benefit from it.

How do we know it helps? Robbie’s got the firsthand proof from his students. Here’s one:

April 20, 2014
I am 31 years old and was introduced to Ashtanga yoga in the Richmond City Jail, of all places.  After 2 months of incarceration & being clean from drugs, I was encouraged by other members of my tier to participate in the 2 weekly yoga practices.  We all worked out together on the tier, so I expected yoga to just be an extension of our workout routine.
I quickly learned that there was far more to yoga than I originally anticipated; there was meditation and history.  After 4 months of regular practice, I have noticed changes physically, emotionally, as well as, spiritually.  Physically I have increased range of motion, greater balance and better posture than I have ever had in my life.  My morning yoga practices allow me to start the day with noticeable improvements to my general outlook towards life and problem solving abilities.  I find myself coming up w/ solutions that are more creative and effective, when I have practiced earlier that day.  Spiritually yoga has allowed me to be more aware of the world around me and our effect on each other.  I never thought I would find myself practicing any form of meditation, but despite myself, I have come to believe in its positive effect on my sense of peace.  Given my surroundings at the time, it was fairly obvious to me that “what I was doing” wasn’t working for me; and I am grateful that I was openminded & willing enough at the time, to try something new.
Doug Calder
I continue to be blown away by what Robbie is doing. Spreading his work is one of the nicest things about having this blog.
Posted by Steve

This is what yoga should be about

It’s easy, and understandable, to touch on some of the lighter aspects of yoga and Ashtanga. The Ashtanga police, for instance. Who doesn’t like complaining, or not complaining, about them?

And have any of us avoided the Ryan Gosling memes? (Show of hands for those who don’t want to avoid them?)

All of these things may not, really, be critical to our yoga practices. Truth be told.

Other things, though, are. And so I strongly encourage you to read all of the latest post from other friend Robbie Norris. In other words, click that link! Here’s a sample:

During five years, less than one percent of the inmates I’ve met have appeared to me as potentially dangerous.  Mainly they are just people who need love, and help discovering their potential.

Most inmates arrive at their first class heedless of the simple logic of cause and effect, and with no recognition of mind-body awareness.  Both these deficiencies are remedied by a fundamental daily yoga practice.  So many broken bodies which yoga could dramatically heal.  Currently yoga is available to all the female inmates; but on the more populous male side, only those who are on one of the two Program Tiers may participate, which means they must have exhibited some inclination to want to help themselves.  The larger General Population I would greatly enjoy teaching — a possibility that the new jail opening next year will offer.

It’s a real joy to share this transformational self-help.  Kristen Lamb will be exiting the jail having learned a fundamental daily yoga practice that has the potential to change the arc of her life.

You can and should read her “love letter to yoga” at Robbie’s site.

And here’s a link to a “dharma” talk with Richard Freeman, recorded this month.

Posted by Steve