March 10, 2012

Practice What You Preach, People. ~ Chantele Theroux

Putting Your Money Where Your Mats (and Voices) Need to be.

Photo credit: Simeon Eichmann, Stock.XCHNG

I believe in the transformative power of yoga.

I’ve broken and healed in my life from the inside out. Yoga has awakened my powers and strengths to see me through every time. I share some part of this every time I practice, or when I lead a class. I can sometimes hear my left knee, (having been broken in eight places a couple years ago, two large plates and thirteen screws now living inside of it) subtly suggesting I screw off when I attempt Supta Virasana (reclining hero pose). Having dislocated my left shoulder twice before, I’ll be sent electric shock waves of pain all the way down to my fingertips if I’ve held Chaturanga (plank pose) too long that day. During Savasana (corpse pose), I’ll be revisited by the absolute hopelessness and crushing sadness of my divorce, whispering from deep inside how weak I can really feel sometimes. Left to my own devices, I can conjure a step by step account of how my entire life has veered so far to the left of where I saw it four years ago I can knot my own stomach with the fear of my great unknown.

The new, slightly bionic version of my left knee.

Then, some days are just seamless and silent. I can find my stillness and ease in a pose, let go of fear with my exhale, and reminisce on darker days with a gleaming appreciation of what I have today. Yoga shifted my view to see that my pain and sadness are gifts. They are unique to me and have fostered patience, understanding, and acceptance of myself and people around me.

This is why I’ll be travelling 2,797 kilometres (1,737 miles for my American friends) from Canada to attend James Fox’s Prison Yoga Training this month.

The goal of the Prison Yoga Project is:

‘…To help people to shift unconscious behavioral patterns of reacting into conscious ways of responding by teaching individuals the skill of clearly witnessing their moment-to-moment experience. Learning this fundamental behavioral shift can make the difference between a person committing a crime or not. The program expands the practice of Hatha Yoga and Mindfulness Meditation to prisons and rehabilitation facilities, and provides training for Yoga instructors interested in teaching to at-risk populations in prisons, residential rehabilitation facilities, and community programs.’

In addition to teaching yoga, I have a full-time career in law enforcement.

The Canadian prison model is similar to the U.S. in many ways and while this system does have merit, its effectiveness can certainly be questioned (and often is). There are some major differences though. Here in the Great White North, we don’t impose life sentences lightly, no crime in Canada carries a penalty of death, and most Canadians wouldn’t be able to explain what a Three strikes law (like in California) is all about. There are staggering recidivism rates in both Canada and the U.S., massive overpopulation issues, and I’ve seen firsthand how taking aim at correcting people can backfire and cause a tailspin of continued tragedy. My goal here isn’t to argue or explain all the reasons why the traditional corrections model is flawed, or what punishment should exist for certain crimes, but to be a part of a new solution. James Fox has been working on this for over ten years, and I’m joining him this month.

Now, it’s your turn.

Over the past two weeks or so, I’ve been a voyeur in the unfolding Anusara tragedy. It’s juicy, dramatic, and so ripe with sexy, scandalous details it’s sent most of our community into a yoga tailspin. It isn’t my intention to minimize all the damage done, I’m compelled as a member of this community to speak up and scream a loving reminder about what really matters and what we need to keep investing our energy in. Very good people sometimes make very bad decisions. The strongest of us can become drunkenly delusional from our positions of power and ego. The real value and sum of Anusara yoga is worth so much more as a whole, rather than dissecting it for its dirty parts. The same can be said for people in general.

I’ve read comments and roughly tallied page views here on elephant journal . Thousands of us read articles and comment on the Anusara scandal. A few thousand less have also read and commented on the Prison Yoga Project articles and the profound images captured by Robert Sturman inside the prisons. I also read a humble Facebook posting from the Prison Yoga Project last week, looking for ideas to reach out to the L.A. yoga community about the training program in March.

The training isn’t chalk full, there’s room for only thirty-five.

Photo credit: Robert Sturman

If you (like me) believe in the transformative power of yoga, read anything and everything you can about it. Knowledge is part of your power to transform. We have an amazing community of mindful writers, teachers, and generally all-around awesome people to inspire you and open your eyes to new ideas. Let this also be reminder to take real action with what resonates within you.

Put your money where your mats (and voices) need to be. Mine will be in L.A. in March. Where will yours be?

If you’re in the L.A. area (or within a 1,700 mile radius) and don’t have plans March 17th or 18th, register for the Prison Yoga training program here.

If you can’t make the trip, buy a book for a prisoner here to help people heal and recover through yoga. (The practices are equally valuable for the stress of life on the outside, get yourself a copy too.)

While reading your new book, you could also be wearing a hip Yoga Prison awareness tee featuring Robert Sturman’s amazing ‘Cell Block D Sukhasna’ image. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of these shirts help fund the Prison Yoga Project. Get yours here.


Editor: Tanya Lee Markul

Recently reigniting her writer’s spark, she finds inspiration in the insane series of confirmations and contradictions in life. Her writing is a reflection of attempting to roll with it and rock her own balance. She can be found in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada teaching yoga and, among many other things, getting down and dirty playing in the beautiful, wonderful, awful mess of life. Connect with her here.

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