Success

In class today, one of the inmates made such significant progress that it exemplifies a moment of success worth being proud of. He was able to understand from his own experience how responsibility, concern and danger at home and work can cause stress, and then immediately observed that the deputies he saw in the Jail had tremendous responsibility and concern for him and the other prisoners, and were working in a potentially dangerous situation. He then immediately respected the deputies, and their work, and considered aloud how he might make their workplace safer, and their work easier. The student next to him was struck by this line of thinking, and understanding its implications, suggested that obedience to the deputies and rules would likely accomplish this goal. They then thought together to bring this understanding to others they practice yoga with in their pod.

In the same class, this same first inmate understood too that becoming comfortable with discomfort, as Krishna instructs in the Bhagavad Gita, and as he learned by sitting Zen, would be essential to his recovery from drug addiction. He understood that he was equally uncomfortable from withdrawal symptoms, and asking for help with them. He understood that recovery from addiction would require considerable effort, but that it was worthwhile, and possible. Similarly, the challenges he will face upon release will be difficult, but not impossible. Advancing his yoga practice through application, his expressed what appeared to be a sincere intention toward self-improvement, accomplishing the important work of the Mesa County Jail.

Selfless service, not punishment

Jail is not for punishment. It is incorrect and unjust to punish those who have not been convicted. Many confuse Jail with Prison - and their ignorance of the system of our Government's justice is likely contributing to their understanding of its purpose and administration. Deterrence by punishment is only one means of criminal reform. To bring an end to criminality requires prevention, service and addressing the underlying causes of criminality - all of which the Sheriff should be praised for undertaking systematically and scientifically through modern theories of criminology. You would do well to learn more about your American system of government, it is one of the best in the world. And the Deputies of the Sheriff's Office are always ready to instruct the community in the best means they can help in crime prevention. We cannot nor should not rely on the Sheriff alone for protection against criminals, but should volunteer our assistance in every way possible.

All of our Teachers are volunteer (unpaid). Even the yoga mats were provided without taxpayer dollars. There are many opportunities to volunteer: whether with the Sheriff in making the workplace for Deputies safer, or through other crime prevention programs, or in providing community service by cleaning up our County - or by volunteering in numerous capacities with Grand Junction, or with the County. Or with your religious community. Or the Hospital, or any of our local non-profits. Volunteerism not only improves the community, but reduces the burden on the taxpayer. You might even say it is our duty as Citizens to serve to the greatest capacity we are able.

Many of the inmates are awaiting trial, and are not yet convicted of a crime (in our system of justice, a person can be detained before trial if they lack the money to post bail). And yes, their incarceration prevents their employment - both in waiting for trial, and afterward (even if they are found not-guilty, as many employers frown on hiring someone with an arrest record). Criminal justice reform is of critical concern to not only our County, but many Counties in Colorado - and since the issue is of concern to you, you should consider taking a greater leadership role in your political party and government. Civic involvement is essential to the vitality of our entire community.

And if you cannot yourself volunteer, donate to Loka Hatha Yoga, or any other NPO of your choice, so they may exert themselves on your behalf.

Please help with overcapacity

With over 2 dozen inmates in one pod alone interested in learning yoga, most will not be able to attend the class offered due to classroom capacities and a limited number of volunteer teachers.    Those who do attend carefully study, and convey the lessons to those unable to attend.  You can help with this overcapacity while advancing your own practice simultaneously.  And, besides the Mesa County Jail, there is need for yogis throughout our community.  Please consider volunteering. 

Loka Hatha Yoga offers free teacher training to any volunteer interested in volunteering to instruct yoga: contact lokahathayoga@gmail.com, or 970.778.2835

Teach us all the Asanas

One of the prisoners asked, "please, teach us all the Asanas?"  He handed his Teacher a lined piece of paper, with stick figures drawn on both sides of it depicting various Asanas, sometimes with arrows indicating a movement associated with the pose.  It was carefully folded, and cared for, but stained, worn and well-read.  "These are the ones we know.  We have written down the ones we have learned, and practice them." 

Yogis in the yard

Yogis in the yard
Others run round in circles
They hold the world still

Not there yet

His life lost value
Bad debt written off

He had already spent it
But what had he now purchased?

Headed to prison
But not there, not yet

Thief.
He was bad, in debt
Each cent spent as it was earned
When dollars have no meaning
One can be present

But he was not there, not yet.

Yoga mats needed

Prisoners at the Mesa County Jail require donations of yoga mats. Please email lokahathayoga@gmail.com or call 970-778-2835 to arrange pickup or dropoff, or donate cash using paypal. Thank you.

First breath, first words

The prisoner said "I understand now. I wish that I had understood sooner."

The prisoner said "jail is different than the last time I was here.  There is less fighting, the pods are cleaner, everyone - even the guards are calmer."  And now he was different, too.  He was no longer a fighter.

He was a fighter, and had arrived agitated, fresh from a fight.  And ready for another.  He had been in jail before, and was expecting to be in jail again.  But his fellow prisoners encouraged him to breathe.  He was annoyed, and considered fighting them.  He began to, but they said he was only fighting himself, and not winning.  They asked him if he was tired of losing that fight, they asked him if he wanted to learn how to win this fight?

Newborn, he took his first breath in jail. 

He had won this fight.  His first words begged them to teach him more.  They asked if he wanted to be free?

They practiced together the Yoga they had learned from their teachers.  In the yard, in the cold night, stretching and strengthening, mind and body, they trained as their teachers had taught them to, seeking to exceed their teachers.  They cleaned their home and practiced hygiene.  They studied the Bhagavad Gita, and learned the lilas, and heard the Dharma.  They let go of the prayers and rituals of their youth, and so many other old habits: now, with the logic of the Buddha they obtained their freedom - and he found freedom from the pain of withdrawal, never to return to the drugs again.  He found freedom from his aggressive nature.  And discovered a better nature. He understood his duty, and made profound vows to perform this duty.

He won his last fight.  Jail was different now.  He was different now.  He understood this would be his last time in jail. 

Teaching Freedom

Agni (left) and Svaha (right)
Most Americans are habitual lawbreakers.  Whether it is by violating the speed limit and other traffic laws, or in the even more mundane daily habits.  In Jail, it suffices to say, there are numerous people who have been arrested - but not for their first crime.  They are often surprised upon arrest, as they had, by first ignoring it, come to forget the law entirely.

In Jail, some students are also experiencing withdrawal symptoms: from intoxicants like alcohol, nicotine, and numerous drugs, as well as hypnotics, such as television and video games, and countless other substances and inducers.  The behaviors that landed them in jail are frequently related to these "bad habits," though it is more accurate (medically and scientifically speaking) to describe their addictions in terms of disease.  This does not excuse the terrible things done in their illness, both the moment they were finally caught, and leading up to their capture.  But it permits reflection that they became habitual criminals gradually, and breaking both the habit of lawbreaking and treating the disease of addiction may be accomplished simultaneously through Yoga.

The question of choice or free will is not one that consumes a Yogi.  It is logical to presume that a person always intends to choose their benefit, that the benefit of an individual lies in the betterment of their environment and community, and that due to a combination of forces beyond an individual's control and their own ability, there is a limit to the choices an individual may make.  Strengthening mind and body is the path toward permitting an individual to make better "choices." 

Mental control and physical control are both strengthened simultaneously.  By improving mental control of the body, and mental awareness of the body.  In feelling the limits of their strength and understanding, and testing those limits, the Yogi becomes aware of and familiar with Svaha, anthropomorphized as the consort of Agni, who declares "it is sufficient."  Becoming on familiar terms with Svaha, the Yogi cannot help but love Her: She mercifully brings an end to the Tapas, the difficulties, the endurance, the heat of her husband, the sacrifice, the sacrificial fire.  She gently encourages the Yogi to see that their limits can always, incrementally, systematically and gradually, be expanded. 

Who cannot love Svaha?  In growing stronger, and smarter, we have more freedom, more choices! 

Loving Freedom, we must love Svaha.  Loving Svaha, the Yogi comes to embody Agni. 

Agni is endlessly hungry for growth, like the sacrificial fire itself, accepting of whatever is given to them.  The Yogi, in seeking to approach Svaha, finds they cannot do so unless they are always testing their limits.  In worshiping Svaha, they develop habits of strengthening mind and body and learn habitual behavior cannot be avoided by the beginning Yogi, but beneficial habits can be made to replace the harmful habits.  In worshiping Svaha, the Yogi discovers the methods and rituals of sacrifice - and comes to understand the self-sacrifice.  And ultimately the Vedas-sacrifice.

It is only by degrees and gradually forgetting that a person becomes a criminal.  It is only by degrees and gradually, through remembering, that a Yogi embodies Agni, to become worthy of Svaha.  In teaching, it is enough to merely introduce a student to Svaha by teaching about Freedom.

Holding together

Holding the bow and grasping the chakras,

He said

I still don't know much Yoga
But I know I feel much better
And I feel much calmer

His friend said,

I slowed myself down
I slowed down my world
I feel calmer now
I can see for the first time
All my choices before me

He agreed with his friend,

My world is beyond my control
But my reactions to it are not
Seeing clearly for the first time
I can discern the better choice

They said,

We should show the rest 
What we learned today

We are surrounded by friends
There are no enemies here

Friend in agreement with friend
Surrounded by friends
Like hand holding hand
Hand holding foot
Bound together
Holding ourselves together

Warden and ward
Wards learning warding
We all care for each other
To make our home and workplace better

Asanas for Handcuffs, Shackles and Restraint

It is important to share some positions which can be accomplished in handcuffs and shackles.  These restraints are applied before hearings and trials, in transport and at other times when the student will need to remain unemotional and with a clear mind.

Excessive movement in these times of restraint can result in heightened anxiety for the officers in charge of the prisoners. 

Therefore, some of the recommended positions include the various mudras, as well as neck rolls.

But these should serve as the catalyst by which the student remembers their mental exercises, as well.  Beginning with such basic Asanas, the student may hear their breath, their heart, and pay attention to their body in such a way that they become aware of their mind - and then are able to control their mind, to the point of achieving the clarity and calm required of them.

Ironically, the goal of the student is self-restraint, and in achieving this, they will chafe less against the restraints placed upon them by others.

Early release

The prisoner asked, "what is the most difficult pose?"

Yoga not only strengthens the body, but also strengthens the mind, and the will, and the ability to self-control these.  One Asana is particularly suited to strengthening all three, and their control. 

In a physical position which requires strain to hold (such as the Lotus, with eyes forward and back straight, is typically utilized but others are very suitable, or the Tree, standing on one leg with the other bent inward, arms held above the head), first bring attention to the body's discomfort.

With this awareness, control the breath: breathing in, hold the breath for one heart beat, then release.  When ready, breathe and hold for two heart beats, then release.  When ready, three heart beats, release.  When sufficiently ready, hold for ten heart beats, or a long enough time to listen to the heart.  Feel the blood still between beats.  Then release the breath. 

Repeating this breathing and attention to the blood and heart, bring attention to the stomach, its various movements, its numerous solids and liquids, the transformation of food into waste, the utilization of food for strength.  Bring attention to all your organs, your kidneys and bladder too.  Feel your sinuses, notice all the air, liquid and solid in your body.

Perceiving the body, now perceive the mind: in this attention, it has calmed, and is quieted. 

When ready, perceive your perception of the mind: the awareness of awareness, the understanding that you are observing your own thoughts with thought, is the goal. 

When ready, study the mind, and its workings: understand the way emotions cycle, and their biological purposes, and the way they color perception, and consciousness.  This is accomplished by sensing the senses with sense: see the world and understand what light the eye takes in is interpreted by the mind, understood as pleasurable or painful, good or bad, associated with other images, understood to be something.  Listen to the ear with your ears, taste your tongue with your tongue, smell your nose with your nose, and then, touching fingertip to fingertip (whether index to thumb in Dharma Seal, or all fingers to all fingers in Yoni, or in some other position), touch with touch.  Feel your skin with your body's hair.  Understand the way these affect emotion, and the body - the connection between the body and the mind, and the will.  Understand your identity is an emergent property of these. 

When you are ready, understanding the nature of body, mind and will, exert yourself to understand the conditions required for contentment and the means by which to achieve this: you can affect not only your environmental stimulus, but also your reaction to it.  You can change your self.

Having mastered yourself, manifest a better nature, a better Dharma.  Perfect your understanding with the wisdom of discernment to master Siddhi: understand what Dharma is required for the moment's necessity, and achieve it by manifesting an appropriate Artha, and Kama through establishing the conditions for that success. 

This permits you to achieve contentment, the goal of your effort: by sufficiently training in this way, you may sustain contentment a long time, just as you might sustain any difficult pose.  Even here, in your imprisonment.  Being content, even in your imprisonment, you are are released from your distress, freed from your imprisonment.

Even here, in the greater imprisonment of "Samsara."

The power of yoga

I think we all understand the physical benefits of Yoga. The increase in flexibility and endurance, gained strength in the musculature, and an improvement of overall body composition.

Also if you’ve ever practiced Yoga you’ve experienced its relaxation qualities. Permission to rinse off the day, forget the to-do list, the boss, and the bills, and turn your attention to the present moment...and just BE.

But there’s something else about Yoga, something mysterious. It’s when you get into the flow of Vinyasa, or when you are resting in Savasana. You may get a sense that YOU are bigger than your body, that YOU are expansive, and that there are really no limits to YOU outside of your embodiment.

C.S. Lewis said “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul, you have a body”

So in Yoga we send gratitude, compassion, and love to our vehicle, the body. And if you make it your intention, you may just get a glimpse of the truth: that the object cannot be the subject. If you are aware of something, you cannot be that thing that you are aware of.

Understanding that YOU are the awareness or witnessing presence of your mind helps you tame the mind. Then you are able to shine the light of your BEING on what ever it is you are thinking, considering, intending, judging, worrying about, and hoping for...

THAT’S the power of Yoga.

Avoid pillows to become confident of success

In jail, the yogi has few personal choices, but may choose the manner in which they rest. One choice which may be made is to avoid the use of a pillow. This improves not only the strength of the back and neck (gradually over time - there is a period of discomfort when the neck and back are not yet strong), but also improves the self-awareness and self-control of the yogi through the night. Attentive of their position on the bed, aware of their body's discomfort, and growing strength as the discomfort fades over days and weeks, the yogi becomes aware of their mind - and may better take advantage of the opportunity afforded by such awareness to consciously grow.

The yogi who avoids pillows will soon see the benefit of avoiding soft beds. The yogi who avoids soft beds for only a little while never again gains comfort by the mattresses they once used: aware of their back and neck, they understand the cause of their pain the following day, and can discern the difference between the pain of growth, and the pain of injury. No longer afraid of the pain of growing, they are encouraged in their practice. Courageous, they will seek greater and greater challenge; becoming an athlete of the body, mind and especially their heart, they are able to perform the sacrifices fearlessly, and without the need to resort to hope or prayer: they are confident in their success.

The prisoner often finds reason to complain of the hard sleeping conditions of the jail, but soon discovers the austere simplicity of their bed is to their benefit. They can understand why the Buddha prohibited soft beds, soft chairs and pillows.

One in Ten

One was immobilized by the pain in his back.
The second by fear of his anger.
The third by innumerable worries, and loneliness.

Weariness waiting for trial was breaking the fourth,
Boredom grinding down the fifth.
The sixth, seventh and eighth joked in Spanish

In the hope of forgetting
In the hope of forgetting the ninth slept all day.

But the tenth, silent, collected himself like a hero
And striving against himself
Stretched and meditated, confident of his success.

A large class, of ten, noticed this, and learned confidence.

Changing the course of a life

Some inmates are crippled by regret, or despair, believing that it is impossible to change the course of their lives.

A roaring fire, it is true, is difficult to extinguish.  The spark has already been given, and cannot be taken back.  The flames defend their fuel from theft by their tremendous heat.  And when the fire consumes a house, it may burn with sufficient ferocity to consume not only the owner's belongings, but the owner themselves.  As if in some unholy sacrifice, all is taken by such a fire and turned to ash.   There are many such prisoners who are utterly consumed by these flames, burning in a hell of profound suffering.  But such a fire can nevertheless be brought to extinction by smothering it with water - or permitting it to exhaust its fuel.

To discover that these fires are not worth our sacrifice, and are not worth feeding, is to bring an end to them: without more fuel, the fire will exhaust itself.  This is, itself, a profound victory - though it may come at great loss, and time.  But to develop sufficient strength of will to smother the fire, to bury it with a river of cool water, is to convey the very blessings of Shiva from Kailash Mountain ("Water Source Mountain," or "Snowy Mountain") to immediately ease our suffering.  It is possible to change the course of an entire river, and it is easiest to do so when we do so at its headwaters.  How easy is it then to change the course of our lives by seeking, in pilgrimage, our own beginnings?

With our house on fire, we look around and seek water everywhere.  But we find it nowhere.  Desperate for water, our eyes fill with blue mountains; but our frustrated tears are insufficient to extinguish the fire.  Encourage your student to pilgrimage to Kailash, to seek the source of the water they require.  Though their house is burning, and the journey far, their impatience is unwarranted: they will find there is time enough for this Tirtha.

And as the fire is extinguished, they begin to see not only what remains is a very strong foundation, but that it is possible to rebuild - grander than ever before.  All is not lost.  There is no need to become crippled by regret - or despair.  Especially if they have the strength now to rebuild that life.

It is possible for anyone to develop their mind, body and heart sufficiently that they may not only understand the conditions leading to their present distress, but understanding those conditions, bring an end to them.  If it were not possible, there would be no benefit to cultivating either such strength, or understanding. But by cultivating such strength and understanding so many people have brought an end to their suffering, and it may be seen that with increasing strength, and increasing understanding, a person suffers gradually less and less - and so there is a benefit to developing strength, and understanding.