Warrior Yoga

Warrior Yoga

By: Dearbhla Kelly, Writer and Yoga Teacher

Sunday, April 5, 1999. A couple of friends and I took the bus into the city center and hit one of our favorite bars. I clearly remember my outfit: black lacy underwear bought the previous year while on vacation in Chicago, a black sequined dress given to me by my dad for Christmas, knee-high black suede boots. Little did I know that I’d be cut out of those clothes before the night was out. I was a bright-eyed 19-year-old whose life was about to be violently interrupted. 

We had a great time in the bar and many pints of Guinness were consumed. Later in the evening, high on stout and the buzz of good times, we took a bus to a nightclub to meet up with a bunch of friends. More drinks were consumed and we danced up a storm. A friend from our village was there and we all piled into his car for the drive home. We were all pretty loaded. The last thing I remember was snuggling into the back of the car with two other friends before I passed out.

I woke up some time later in a speeding ambulance, sirens blaring. A kindly paramedic explained to me that I’d been in an accident and had sustained multiple fractures and a concussion, as well as extensive cuts, bruising and a punctured lung. I was seriously injured and they weren’t yet sure how badly. 

I have never remembered the time I spent trapped underneath the car on the side of the highway while my friends stood around desperately unable to help me, or the priest who stopped and blessed me. Nor have I ever remembered being cut out from underneath the car by the fire brigade. I do remember being asked if I could move my toes at one point, as the doctors were afraid I might have been paralyzed. Fortunately, I could. 

I spent five days drifting in and out of a coma. There were several tubes in my left arm and breast to drain off blood and fluid, which was necessary before the surgeons could operate. It was very difficult for me to come to as the pain was excruciating. Beyond excruciating — it was unimaginable. Because I had sustained a concussion, they were unable to give me any painkillers. My mother helped me by breaking the time in minutes: just one more minute, that’s all you have to stand. It was the only way I could hold on.

I was discharged after three weeks in hospital and thus began my long recovery. Because I was young and healthy, physical therapy worked particularly well. But the psychological residue was devastating. I had been told in the hospital to expect to have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but I don’t remember being offered any tools to deal with it. I do remember being absolutely terrified anytime I got into a vehicle. My knuckles would go white and I would break into a sweat anytime a bus I was on rounded a corner and I couldn’t sleep in a car or bus, no matter how long the journey. My nervous system was completely amped and I didn’t even know it. Low-grade anxiety was the new normal. I suppose that’s understandable, given what happened to my body. I had yet to learn that, just like a tape recorder, our bodies remember everything that happens to them. 

Fast-forward several years to the time I began practicing yoga. I began to feel safe in my body. Weirdly, I only began to understand how unsafe I had felt as I started to relax in my body as my practice deepened. Around five years after that I was in several car accidents in close succession in Los Angeles. PTSD reared its ugly head again. Or maybe it never really goes away? 

It’s a lot better now. I’ve worked really hard to dissolve it. Mostly through yoga, and through being kind and loving to myself. I’ve learned a lot. Breathing helps. So does meditation. And a sense of humor. And walking barefoot on a quiet beach. 

I relate to people who’ve been deeply traumatized. I can speak their language and understand the craziness, the feeling of being out of control. I know that terror, not feeling safe in your body, and hence the world. And I know yoga can help. So the fact that I’m drawn to working with veterans and prisoners makes sense. Seeing someone killed in front of me when I stopped my car to let him cross the road also helps. I know what it is to have shock and fear wired into your body. Witnessing another human being violently killed is unspeakably awful. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. 

This week, I’ve participated in a resiliency training for vets suffering from PTSD. Located in a beautiful residential facility perched on a mountain overlooking the Pacific in Malibu, Calif., the program offers vets tools for dealing with their trauma and building a life worth living, as an alternative to the discombobulation of trying to reintegrate into civilian society, or worse, suicide. 

The statistics on suicide in the military are grim. Recent reports have estimated one per day among active-duty members and 18 per day among returning vets. Something is obviously really, really wrong. 

Fortunately, the military is turning to yoga and meditation as tools for helping vets deal with PTSD and rebuild their lives. Plenty of empirical data exists to substantiate their efficacy. The program I was part of includes TM (transcendental meditation) training, yoga, equine therapy and a host of other modalities. I feel deeply honored to be on the teaching faculty and share my love of yoga, which has profoundly affected my only life for the better. 

The first morning I showed up early, rolled out my mat and waited for the guys to arrive. They dribbled in one or two at a time, mostly a little late, which surprised me since I had expected the punctuality associated with the military (my dad is a retired lieutenant colonel). Not to put too fine a point on it, they were all over the place, energetically — talking, laughing, jumpy. Their nerves were shot. I’ve been teaching long enough to know how to command the space, so I got right in there and introduced myself, told them a little about my own experience with PTSD and teaching yoga in a prison. (This is very important to get their trust and to let them know that I’m not just a pretty chick who likes doing yoga poses.) 

We did a light practice, as I wanted to get them into their bodies and soften a little bit, feel what it’s like to move slowly with the breath. Most of them were still a little tense during the final relaxation pose, but they were less agitated. I made a point of telling them we would start on time the next morning! 

And they were on time, but holy cow, talk about a wall of testosterone in the room! We are talking experienced veterans returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, big muscular guys, but tight as hell and despite the macho exterior, clearly desperately wounded and achingly fragile. I took the practice up a few notches, which got their attention and made them focus. They also got a bit more into their bodies, a bit more into feeling mode. 

One of the brilliant things about an intense residential program with a multi-dimensional approach to healing and empowerment is that it creates a crucible for transformation, so the process gets accelerated. This was evident on day three when the energy in the room quickened and amplified as the guys held poses for longer. That beautiful thing happened when you see and feel yoga working its magic. The cracks started to appear. 

A couple of the guys were really damaged. One was wound up like a tight spring, and his burly body vibrated fear and anger. Another, a shy, skinny kid who can’t have been more than 22, was like a bunny who’d been caught in headlights and left with permanent shock trauma imprint. It’s hard to say if the yoga helped either of them. One can only hope. 

This morning was the final session. The atmosphere was palpably different from the first day. No jokes, no chatter, they got right down to it. They were present in the bodies, no fidgeting, focused. The vibe in the room was lighter, we laughed a lot. Watching them rest during final relaxation, I felt so much empathy and respect for them — these guys who have been exposed to stress, trauma and incredible violence that most of us can’t even fathom. To play some part in their rehabilitation, however small, is a privilege. They are warriors on the hero’s journey to integration and self-love. Yogis par excellence.

For more on Dhearbla visit www.durgayoga.com

Inmates Find Health and Solace in Yoga – Yoga in Prisons

Finding Health and Solace with Yoga – A Series of Poses for Inside and Out
By: Mary Pilon Green, The New York Times, 1.3.2013

Yoga in Prison

Photo by Kyle Green for The New York Times

RICHMOND, Va. — Three times a week, Robbie Norris, a lean, 50-year-old yoga teacher, hops into his blue 1992 Volvo station wagon with his yoga mat and heads to his class in a drab brick building.

Female inmates participated in an ashtanga yoga class at the Richmond City Jail last month. He barely glances at the barbed wire as he strides through the metal detector. He exchanges his driver’s license for a visitor’s pass, navigates a labyrinth of hallways, security guards and the buzzing and clanking of gates, and makes his way to a windowless room.

A dozen women, scarred, tattooed and in blue and yellow jumpsuits, are waiting, splayed on donated yoga mats under harsh halogen lights.

“What’s up, Robbie?” said Kim Alexander, 31, an inmate at the Richmond City Jail who is charged with violating her probation and is in addiction treatment, as she reached out to touch her toes. In minutes, the other women, whose crimes include embezzlement and parole violations, were inhaling, exhaling and deep into a series of vinyasa and warrior poses, with only the clank of the guard’s keys outside to disturb them.

The ancient art of yoga, a physical, spiritual and mental practice whose benefits have been promoted as improving relaxation, has found an unlikely home: prisons.

When many states have cut their wellness and education programs for inmates, citing cost and political pressure, some wardens looking for a low-cost, low-risk way for inmates to reflect on their crimes, improve their fitness and cope with the stress of overcrowded prison life are turning toward yoga.

The number of yoga programs is not officially tracked, but many wardens said they were interested in pursuing them. Typically programs start informally, a hodgepodge of volunteer efforts by instructors and correctional facilities. At least 20 prisons now offer yoga through the Prison Yoga Project, a program that began in California 12 years ago when its founder, James Fox, began teaching yoga to at-risk youth. Mr. Fox holds trainings for yoga teachers and said he has sent more than 7,000 copies of his manual to inmates to practice yoga on their own.

States’ spending on corrections has quadrupled during the past two decades, to $52 billion a year, according to a 2011 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Despite a focus on rehabilitation and deterrence of future crimes, however, roughly 4 in 10 adult American offenders return to prison within three years of their release, the report found.

“Any program that gives an inmate a chance to reflect is going to have positive benefits,” said Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which has expanded yoga offerings to most of its 33 adult prisons.

“What we’re trying to do with any program is get inmates to think about how responsible they are for the crime they’ve committed and the consequences.”

Typically, yoga teachers volunteer their time and mats are donated, resulting in little or no cost to taxpayers. Many instructors drawn to teaching in prisons said they had grown disillusioned with instructing some of the Lycra-clad urbanites seeking to channel their inner Gumbys and lose weight rather than connect with the more spiritual aspects of the practice.

“This seems like a relatively inexpensive technique that could be made available to inmates and doesn’t take a lot of space,” said Steven Belenko, a professor with the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University who focuses on prisons. “It could be taught with DVDs. It has scalability.”

Research on the effects of yoga on prisoners is relatively scarce, but incarcerated women who completed a 12-week regimen of yoga classes twice a week showed “a significant linear decrease” over time in their symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to a 2010 paper in the journal Nursing Research.

“Maybe it was coming together and feeling a sense of community, but I was really glad to see it worked,” said Holly Harner, the lead author of the paper and a nurse and professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia. “It made them feel in control of their bodies in a very stressful environment.”

The health of prisoners is problematic, with conditions including obesity affecting offenders, especially the young, said AnnaMarie Irons, a teacher in Tucson who leads yoga classes at the Pima County Juvenile Detention Center. “When I was a kid, we ran around,” said Ms. Irons, 51. “These kids today can’t do a downward dog. They have no flexibility.”

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo C. Pruitt, the chief of chaplains at the Richmond City Jail who works with inmates in the addiction recovery program there, said the mental health program at the jail had reduced recidivism by 18 percent, and he partly credited yoga with that success. Mr. Norris began teaching the male prisoners at the jail, which holds around 1,450 men and women, four and a half years ago.

“We realized we weren’t doing anything for the physical piece of treatment,” Dr. Pruitt said. “That’s an important part of the recovery process.”

But doing yoga is not always well received by other prisoners, said Bryan Shull, who in December finished serving a three-year sentence in various Virginia prisons. While practicing on his own in his cell, as Mr. Shull stood up from a downward dog pose, he was struck in the face by another inmate who had put a lock in a sock and hurled it at him. It led to a trip to the infirmary and an operation on his nose.

“I was surprised,” said Mr. Shull, who still practices yoga. “But it’s to be expected. If anyone is doing anything different from the prison mentality, you’re going to take some backlash.”

Ashley Crawley, 31, who was found guilty of identity theft, started taking Mr. Norris’s class in October and said the practice had helped her with plaguing back pains. “The beds here aren’t the best,” she said.

Pauline Gurley, 52, who was charged with embezzlement, said she had lost 15 pounds since August and credits yoga. “I feel more energized,” she said.

After finishing the women’s class on a recent Thursday night, Mr. Norris made his way upstairs to the chapel in the men’s section of the jail. The wooden pews were stacked along the walls, and 17 men peeled off their jumpsuits and lined up in rows in their boxer shorts. Some were in their early 20s with boyish faces, others in their 40s. At least one student said he planned on “working off a gut,” but others already had Olympian physiques.

“I believe this practice can change your life,” Mr. Norris told the class between a series of twists and bends. “Do this every day, and I don’t see how you could re-offend.”

A guard peered in occasionally through a notecard-size opening as Mr. Norris led the men through the poses, using their Sanskrit names. The men’s tattoos of roses, birds, skulls, gang symbols, female names, feathers and flames gathered sweat.

Billy Scruggs, 33, who was convicted of statutory burglary, commented on the awkward poses his fellow inmates were performing. “But after the first time I did it, I saw how much it relaxed me,” he said.

The inmates helped each other do handstands. Then, after 90 minutes of class, one hit the light switch. In the pitch-black room, the men lay on their backs as Mr. Norris led them in breathing exercises.

Then lights flickered on, and the mats were rolled up. The inmates put on their jumpsuits and filed out of the chapel.

“At first, I thought this was girlie stuff,” said Andre Chaka Garnett, 35, who is serving multiple sentences for offenses including failure to register as a sex offender and grand larceny. He joined the class five months ago. His projected release date is July 8. “It’s made me learn patience,” he said.

Fox News Guest says Kids Yoga is Leading to the Wussification of America

I saw this article and had to laugh. And to share. Being a yoga teacher, I know how demanding a yoga class can be. Even when I teach gentle, restorative and other types of less dynamic forms of yoga, it is intense! It enhances and balances all aspects of your being. And you can do it at any age. What do you think?

Kid in Yoga doing Crow Pose

Crow Pose

Fox News guest blasts kids and yoga, claiming practice is leading to the ‘wussification of America’. Guest author Larry Winget said: ‘I don’t want all those yoga Nazis coming after me on this thing. Listen, I think [yoga is] a great supplement to a real sport, but it’s certainly not a sport… Listen, if nobody’s keeping score, it’s ain’t a sport.’

Bloggers respond to Fox News’ message that yoga for kids is part of the “wussification of America.”

Blogs were abuzz on Friday after Fox News reported on the “wussification of America,” thanks to more kids doing yoga.

ABC News reported on Thursday that yoga may be the “fastest-growing sport in America.” In answer to that, Fox trotted out parenting expert Larry Winget, author of a book called “Your Kids Are Your Own Fault,” to explain that “if it doesn’t have a ball, it’s not a sport.”

“Something tells me he’s never tried arm balances, or a class so hard you have to curl up into child’s pose out of exhaustion and embarrassment at your inferior form,” writes blog Blisstree. “(And for that matter, I’d argue that ‘singular’ sports like running, swimming, and track can all teach valuable lessons about winning and losing, despite the fact that there’s no score, and no ball.)”

“No…Fox News talked with a ‘motivational speaker’ Larry Wingnut/Winget, who made reference to his upcoming book ‘Grow a Pair’. (No, I am not making that up),” writes Daily Kos. “He feels yoga can’t be a sport if there is no ball an [sic] or nobody ‘is keeping score.'” The site adds: “Yes, the stupid is thick.”

“Oh, wait. Nevermind other popular ball-less sports like track and field, gymnastics, swimming, diving, wrestling, equestrian and any kind of racing,” writes YogaDork. “Again, moot.”

“In any case, not being a wuss might be overrated,” adds Yoga in the Dragon’s Den. “What’s so bad about being a wuss, anyway?”

Creating The Life of Your Dreams

Creating The Life of Your Dreams
By: Deb Bobier (YogaBoundDeb)

1. Set an intention. I have found that most New Year’s resolutions are rarely accomplished, so prefer to   begin each year with intentions. Or, as others prefer to label them, goals. The most important thing is to be as clear as possible as to what you want your life to look like, and include. I like to do this in my meditations.

In these dream weaver sessions, do not worry about the why, or when, this will come later. When you have this visualized, then every day you will wake up with a purpose. And desire to work towards putting putting only those structures into place that will get you where you want to be. By being specific and defining your desire, the process of the Law of Attraction will begin. However, time and effort is required, so if you are not prone to patience, or persistence, these will be skills you need to hone.

2. Watch what you think. Scientists say that we know little about our unconscious self. Test reveal things like:

“Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done,” said study co-author John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute Neuroscientist. I don’t even know where to begin here! I know from the hypnosis research that the unconscious pretty much controls everything and that consciousness is extremely limited.”

And I know that they are right, to a point. We also have our own personalities, beliefs, etc., and these forces drive us unconsciously. Just think of how the many times you have a mood, especially something other than positive, and can’t pinpoint the reason. However, it is possible  to become more mindful. And to develop greater awareness of what is going on by paying attention to our thoughts, which leads to our actions.

This awareness is helpful. And enables us, to some degree, to be proactive rather than reactive.It is also why yoga and meditation are so essential. As well as other tools I use that help one become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, so the positive can become stronger. And the not so positive weaker.  I began both practices in order to gain a greater understanding of what makes me tick. And it continues to be a journey of discovery.

Our thoughts can create our feelings. Our feelings create thought. This has an impact on every action you take. And ultimately, what you will create. Negative thinking is non-productive, non-beneficial and will sabotage, or undermine your efforts. It takes away your power to control your reality and is based not on your ability to get what you want. But how you feel. Be mindful. Be aware. And realize that we all have moments of doubt, just don’t let these be your primary thoughts or feelings.

3. Try something new. Move from fear into faith. Experience something small or big outside of your comfort zone. In this place you will experience your own personal power, rather than being paralyzed by the  fear. And do this everyday. Being a single mom for a long time, a driven person, but also a seeker, I have lived many different lives. Each appropriate for that particular chapter. Been successful in business. But one day woke up spiritually unfulfilled. Following my feelings actually led to blowing my life to bits. Many times.

These experiences forced me to get in touch with fears I did not know existed. Beliefs that I could not begin to practice, and values that were not mine. These experiences woke up parts of me I never knew existed. Often painful things to face. Many not my burdens to bear. So I was able to accept, or dismiss. And as always, chose to focus on the positives, remain grateful for the revelations and am now more content than I have ever been. This was my path. It chose me, I listened. I stepped off the beaten path. And am better for it.

While I don’t believe everyone has to go to this extreme, you do have to shake up your life if you want something different. So listen to how you are feeling. Because your head may lead you astray.

4. Create a visual stimulus. Create more positive energy with a vision, or dream board which helps keep you focused. This is especially helpful during times when may have some doubts. By being able to readily see what you are trying to create, you can revisit it regularly, to reinforce you are still on track. Or, whether you need to tweak something to be an even stronger reflection of how you want to live, where you are heading and how successful you have been at creating structures to make this a reality.

5. Ask for help. Once you’ve set the intention and your focusing on your desire, you’ll be surprised at the help from outside sources or resources that will appear to assist you. We are all here to serve and when we open to everything available to us, we also have more to give back.

6. Question yourself. But be sure to ask the correct questions, and the hard questions. Don’t let yourself off the hook. But also, don’t beat yourself up. Are you creating a life that truly inspires you. Or, are you setting goals for someone else’s benefit? Are your goals good for you, your environment and the world around you? Everything in our life becomes better when we are the best we can be. When we are happy and fulfilled. It is that energy that draws the right people and situations into our life.

7. Show gratitude. While it is perfectly fine to want to draw more into our life, the simplicity is that we already have pretty much everything. Every moment of every day is a good opportunity to give thanks, count your blessings and show gratitude. This emits an energy that brings you even more to be grateful for.

8. Take action. Do something that takes you closer to where you want to be. Many small steps eventually take you a very long way. Some people make too much of an effort, and these driven people need to take action to relax and let life unfold a bit. Those without as much drive, need to step up the effort. However you are, work with those gifts that you were given, using them to their fullest, to create the best life you can.

9. Acknowledge yourself. By putting yourself in new, often uncomfortable situations and learning to navigate this successfully, you are gaining new skills. This builds confidence. This is empowering. And this reinforces that indeed you are the master of your destiny. There is nothing like this feeling. Which is not ego based. Simply another reflection of the strong, and capable human being you are.

10. Relax and Have Faith. Once you have done all of this, just relax and let things unfold. One of the most difficult things in life is to have faith. To often we over think things. Or, want things for all the wrong reasons. So if you do all of this and things aren’t happening the way you would like, it is essential to listen to what is happening, have faith that this may be a message that you need to make adjustments to the plan, do some tweaking, and ride with it. Sometimes it means a change of plans. Most people dislike change, but it is the only way to get what you want. Or, what is ultimately best for you. So try to get use to it.

Everyone deserves the life of their dreams. And it is available to everyone. You just have to know what it is and go get it! It is my wish to help everyone in their quest to be the best they can be. What more information on what makes you tick? Take advantage of my one-on-one coaching. Or, come to one of my yoga workshops or yoga retreats. It can save you some time, help you clarify your path and accelerate your progress.

more about Deb……