Saturday, October 13, 2012

Anonymous Donor Supports Richmond City Jail Ashtanga Yoga

Funded by an anonymous donor, the Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia has made an unrequested, non-competitive, $12,500, 6-month grant to Broome Street Temple, run by renowned Ashtanga Yoga teacher Eddie Stern.  Broome Street Temple is using the grant to support the teaching of Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series to Richmond City Jail inmates.

I offer my heartfelt appreciation to the generous donor.  And I am very grateful to Lisa O'Mara and Susan Hallett of The Community Foundation, and Eddie Stern and the board of Broome Street Temple, for their patience, effort, and communication over a period of months, involved in bringing this grant to fruition.

I started teaching at the jail in April 2008.  I have generally taught hour-and-45-minute classes, three times a week -- over 600 classes since the program began with the blessing of Rev. Canon Alonzo Pruitt, Richmond City Jail Colonel and Chief of Chaplains.  Over four and a half years the program has become  well-established and the large city jail staff has become wonderfully polite and helpful. 

I am fortunate to be able to share the most genuine, practical and existential method of holistic self-help I've ever seen, with people who need it as badly as I do.  Every time I
practice, I am thankful to Pattabhi Jois, who developed and spread this yoga method, and Valerie Jeremijenko, who taught me the practice with love, respect and great encouragement.

Oak Ridge Juvenile Correctional Center
I see the practice as an incredible gift, the sharing of which transcends any question of money.  However, I deeply appreciate this generous financial assistance, which has already served as an impetus for me to bring this specific yoga practice to the boys of Oak Ridge Juvenile Correctional Center.  In June 2012, social worker and therapist Angela Josie, who had read about my work in the May 24, 2011 issue of Style Weekly, and subsequently had some exposure to Ashtanga Yoga, asked me if I would consider establishing a program at Oak Ridge.  Knowledge of the impending grant compensating me for teaching at the Richmond City Jail allowed me to volunteer the program at no charge, in order to avoid the effort and wait of garnering funding.  I know the yoga works, and I want it to become a standard option for inmates statewide.  In July, I began teaching the boys six times a month, and within just a few weeks the staff at Oak Ridge began noting positive behavioral changes in the yoga students.  It's been a pleasure to see how much the staff cares about the boys in their charge, and how immediately they appreciated my passion to help the boys learn to help themselves.

Oak Ridge JCC

Now there is discussion underway to expand the program.  This will require a budget.  These are very troubled boys 14-18 years old, and in order for them to acquire serious daily yoga practices that will be instrumental in removing them from the cycle of recidivism that pervades the penal system, I believe they need instruction a minimum of three times a week.  They need a strong regimen to wake them up to their full potential.  In an effort to engage them more fully, I am asking them personally to make a commitment to the program.  I outline the benefits that yoga can bring:  peace of mind; improved concentration; increased strength, flexibility and balance; improved motor coordination; freedom from destructively reactive, impulsive behavior; and improved social skills including the softening of fragile, easily injured ego.   The boys want these benefits, but they will need frequent, sustained guidance and encouragement if they are to do the daily work necessary to establish their own practices as effective long-term self-rehabilitation.
Oak Ridge JCC

This yoga can change the arcs of the lives of the boys who acquire the practice, and in doing so also save taxpayers substantial money.  The average cost per incarcerated inmate in Virginia is $25,000 per year, and likely higher at Oak Ridge, as it is a small specialized facility for just 40 boys with severe behavioral and developmental problems. 

Oak Ridge JCC

Meanwhile, the Richmond City Jail program is going extremely well.  There are about 25 men who attend class at least occasionally; and about 10 who practice regularly on their own in their tiers, and come to almost every class.  The chapel has room for only about 15 students; once the new jail is complete, we hope to have space for larger classes.

On Monday, I will begin teaching a weekly class to the women of the Richmond City Jail. 

And at the end of January, dear friend and teacher Eddie Stern will be conducting a workshop at Ashtanga Yoga Richmond.  While in town, Eddie plans to share the vitality of his teaching once again with Richmond City Jail inmates, and also with the juveniles incarcerated at Oak Ridge.  Thank you, Eddie, for volunteering to be the fiscal agent for the anonymous grant, and for your valuable ongoing moral and physical support of my efforts with prisoners.


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  2. By the late 1800s, yoga gurus started moving towards the West, and by the year 1947, Indra Devi established a yoga studio in now famous Hollywood, California. From that time, the teachings, particularly the philosophy of yoga prospered and became well-known, not only in California, but also in different parts of the world.