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.  

Not bad, not good

One of our newest jail Yo-G's, Heidi, is a Teacher of Yoga at Grand Junction's Yoga West; her experience this week was definately worth sharing.

Children know that they weren't born to suffer, they demand happiness because they innately know that bliss is their inheritance. As we grow up, we begin to expect suffering more than we expect bliss. I think this is because we are born with free will and are subject to the unconscious free will of others.

Since suffering is not our true nature, we avoid it at all costs. I don't blame people who strive to avoid suffering. We came here to live our purpose and our joy, not to suffer and die. Yoga and other mindfulness practices are healthy ways to rise above suffering, but most people in prison were never taught healthy ways to cope with pain, so they turn to drugs, alcohol, or other illegal activity. Everyone comes equipped with ability to relieve stress and pain, but most people aren't taught how. Tools like Yoga, meditation, daydreaming, walking barefoot, listening to music, settling into the heart center, not taking things personally...taking a break.

Last night, an inmate said "if only I'd known about Yoga before I did drugs...I might not be in here." She said she wanted to try to take Yoga classes when she was released so she wouldn't be tempted by drugs again so easily. Another lady had "buried two daughters" and was desperately looking for healthier ways to cope with her extreme pain.

If one suffers long enough, like most of the inmates have, they can't even fathom that their true nature is bliss. Last night, I told them that self care, and remembering their true nature, will take practice and intention because they've been conditioned through suffering for so long. If they practice mindfulness and self care every day, it may reveal their true nature sooner. I told them, "In any given moment, no matter where you are, you can free yourself from the bondage of thoughts that are not in harmony with your true nature. Once you realize you are not your thoughts, but the Awareness behind your thoughts, you have the power to pick and choose thoughts that are more in alignment with your true nature and discard the thoughts that are not. If a thought causes worry, anxiety, stress, remorse, sadness, hate, fear, or jealousy it is out of alignment with your true nature. If no matter how hard you try, you can't stop thinking out of alignment thoughts, at least know that becoming the Awareness behind those thought is a much different experience than identifying with those thoughts."

One of the main reasons inmates suffer is because they feel like they have no control over their situation, which is true, but they DO have control over what they think about their situation. Instead of labeling the situation as bad, they have the freedom in any given moment to label their situation as something else. If it seems impossible to label a situation as good, they can at least become "neutral" which might help ease their suffering overall.

Business owners needed

Loka Hatha Yoga asks business owners to please support the Jail Yo-G's by providing volunteer or paid employment opportunities to released inmates. If you, or someone you know, is interested, they may contact us at 970 778 2835 or lokahathayoga@gmail.com

Dreaming of Freedom

It is not uncommon for some in the class to need to leave early, so they might defecate or urinate: encouraging the movement of the body, even its internal organs, is part of the practice. However, they are not able to return to the class after leaving it, and so they try to stay as long as they can, developing considerable skills in continence. The small, windowless, concrete room will usually fill with the stink of not only sweat and other bodily odors from the exertion, but of flatulence. In both mental and physical concentration, the discomfort of existence is itself concentrated and magnified by the closeness of the classroom. It is an opportune time to become comfortable with discomfort and displeasure, and to understand the nature of closeness - and friendship.

In meditation, it is far easier to train and strengthen and order the mind and body than to undertake the application of that exertion in Bhavana. This is more true in jail than elsewhere. Unlike prison, where there is a semblance of permanence in the lack of uncertainty regarding a very long sentence, in jail, there is uncertainty and impermanence. Waiting for a hearing, waiting for trial (perhaps to be found innocent, perhaps not), waiting for bail (perhaps to find you've lost your job and are in debt to the bondsman perhaps not), waiting for release after a short sentence - what will you find when you return home? It is difficult to remain present, and the mind will naturally wander into the future and past, anticipating and fretting; Time is more painful in Jail, for all that is certain is that one is out of control.

Few recognize that they were (largely) out of control in their lives at home; few recognize that they did not feel at home when they were not in jail. It is easier to distract ourselves from dissatisfaction outside of jail, and when deprived of our crutches, we will suffer greatly. The one who hungers for delicious food finds their dissatisfaction with meals intolerable, and may even fast. The one who dreams of beautiful mountain lakes on the weekend when their duties at work are over discovers these longings a source of torment - without understanding that they always have been, and will remain so, even after their release.

Bhavana is an advanced form of Yoga; its meaning describes the mastery required for its success: "calling into existence," "cultivating" (in the agricultural sense), "development" (in the industrial sense). Bhava is the manifestation of something as simple as a desired emotional state, as complex as contentment, or as profound as an Avatar. They may manifest these within themselves, or within others. Bhavana combines Jnana, Hatha and Bhakti Yoga, and requires considerable coordination of mind, body and heart. Just as a forest may be planted, tree by tree, to reshape the land over decades - or a forest may be cleared to reveal a crop from rich farmland before the autumn - some Bhavas are accomplished quickly, others more slowly.

Merely to dream of beautiful mountain lakes, or hunger for delicious food, is discontenting - yet for one struck by illness or crippled by disease, such dreams, such discontent, is the critical first step: though we are by nature of our body crippled by instinct into the torments of desire, aversion and ignorance, we must not permit ourselves to become contented by dreams of freedom. To become accomplished in Bhavana, we must become discontent with our contentment - and wake up.

It is difficult when facing the precarious nature of life to stop dreaming, and to wake to the reality of discontentment. But it is possible, through Bhavana. It is even possible to wake another.

Seeing a friend slumbering, would you not gently wake them, and assure them against the startle you have given them? They will wake to terrible pain, and may be overcome by the pain, losing consciousness again. Would you not help them to their feet, and defend them from that deadly oblivion? Upon waking, they will pass urine, and defecate; they will desire to wash the filthy sweat from their skin. They will recognize their need for food, and hungering break their fast. Upon waking, they will see themselves near to other people very like themselves.

Friendship is the beginning, purpose and means of the holy life. By such friendship they will understand their own situation better, the necessity to grow stronger - and the means by which to apply that strength, through Bhavana.

Not a regular zen sitting

One of our newest jail Yo-G's, Robert, is a Student of Zen at Grand Junction's DMZC; his experience in teaching his first class is instructive.

I just got home after my meditation class, and wanted to fill you in. I thoroughly enjoyed it! I had 7 inmates, all respectful and mostly attentive. All participated in their own way.

After class, one particular fellow said, "Wow, yoga yesterday and meditation today. This is great! "

No chanting. Not a 'regular' zen sitting. I gave a brief overview of meditation, discussed some major concepts (awareness vs attention, effort, etc), then presented a simple 4 stage progression to bring us all to the breath. Then, we had 3 short meditation, using the techniques.

My goal was to leave them with a tool they could take away to practice on their own. So, I think the repetitiveness (3 sittings instead of one) might have helped.

The physical environment was just what it was, just right. It might have been difficult in a busy mess hall!

No chanting. Not a 'regular' zen sitting. I gave a brief overview of meditation, discussed some major concepts (awareness vs attention, effort, etc), then presented a simple 4 stage progression to bring us all to the breath. Then, we had 3 short meditation, using the techniques.

My goal was to leave them with a tool they could take away to practice on their own. So, I think the repetitiveness (3 sittings instead of one) might have helped.

The physical environment was just what it was, just right. It might have been difficult in a busy mess hall!

Jail library donation - thank you UCC!

Thanks to UCC Grand Junction for helping us in our book drive for the Jail Library: prisoners would enjoy your donations, too!  Especially paperback, non-fiction - and especially nature books, books about science and technology, business, and skill building.  And if you are interested, you can be a Jail Yo-G too: they can use more volunteers, and we're happy to train.