Healing the world through peaceful communication, cooperation and well-being
[A 501c(3) Federal non-profit corporation]
Louisa (Lu) DiGrazia, Director (CEO)
1993 - 2002
Yoga Programs "Inside"
Adult Correctional Facilities
Yoga School of Kailua, Inc.
[A 501 c (3), non-profit organization]
¥ Outline for a Report of Yoga Prison Work Hawaii 2002 ¥
I. History of Yoga Correctional Work 1993 - 2002, by director Louisa DiGrazia
II. Introduction: What the Yoga Program at Halawa and the Women's Facility in Kailua (WCCC) is all about.
Inmates' needs call for sensitivity and adaptability by the yoga instructors. Yoga asana (postures), meditation, and breathing exercises are essential to help inmates cope with their circumstances, assisting them to heal addictions, mental and physical, and to deal with the routine discomforts of incarceration. Stilling the mind through meditation aids inmates in understanding the steps to their personal response for restitution. Yoga practice helps inmates identify mental conflicts, personal disharmony, and expands the conscious awareness of thought patterns. When someone identifies something that needs transforming,* he/she can change. Inmates become aware of inappropriate reactions to life circumstances, and expand their level of attention and mindfulness which naturally guides them to be more compassionate and aware. Reducing violent behavior "inside" (inside the correctional facility) is one of our primary objectives.
III. Yoga classes at Halawa and WCCC consist of the following:
1.) Introduce yoga history and philosophy. Help inmates feel comfortable with the ancient techniques of yoga training, which continues to be practiced today. Team building and trust are key to yoga practice inside. We encourage inmates to share the information they have learned with each other in order to enhance their knowledge base, and give them voice to the teaching, encouraging peer-mentorship.
In spite of the fact that it is a very old discipline, yoga has gone mainstream; it has, in fact, been on the cover of Time Magazine in April 2001; and is used extensively throughout the U.S. in major corporations for stress relief and team-building. Yoga study continues to grow rapidly throughout the world as a non-religious, physical, intellectual, and spiritual discipline, practiced continuously on Earth for over a thousand years. We continue to explore the knowledge base of the old discipline, and encourage creative movement, mind and body in the moment of personal discovery.
2.) Discussion of meaning and utility of meditation. Meditation enhances the wellness of body, mind and spirit. It teaches right communication and right relationship. It is key to cognitive change, deep relaxation, and a fundamental awareness of self. Meditation builds a peaceful person with positive role-modeling and leadership by dissipating aggression and competition, therefore, an antidote to feelings of rage and violence.
3.) Discussion of safety in the classroom; nurturing wisdom of inner master; discipline becomes an internal journey of self-awareness. Guiding students to trust themselves while applying safety above "showing off" or trying to impress is essential. Guiding the injured body, psyche, and soul toward harmony is the journey of yoga.
4.) A discussion on health and well-being, and yoga's role as a vehicle on this path. When yoga postures and breath consciousness are performed, the systems of the body become detoxified and strengthened, and brought to keen levels of awareness, and inner as well as outer harmony. It is this internal transformation that allows cognitive change, thus, furthering the ability of the meditative mind to operate, and facilitate management of psychological dis-ease, such as anger, violence, hurt, thoughts of vengeance, and other emotional stressors---as well as bringing about complete physical health and well-being, putting less strain and tension on correctional facility medical and other resources.
*Transform: to change the form, appearance; a thorough, radical, positive change in the nature, disposition, and mind-heart of an individual.
5.) Discussions on peace and well-being of the body, mind, and spirit and how these are forever interacting. Inmates learn the body-mind is a vehicle for a peaceful, mindful life, as well as dealing appropriately (and peacefully) with where they are, in their mind-body and in time---coping and handling personal experiences and challenges with other people, calmly and effectively, including those challenges between inmates and administrative personnel, ACO's, and other inmates. These elements, body, mind and spirit, are thus interacting all of the time within oneself and in relationship. The people involved in the system and their complex web of thought are held in a peaceful place, potentially free of violence, putting less strain on the facility systems and personnel.
6.) Addressing problems of addiction, substance abuse. Yoga class nurtures a foundation for addressing these serious personal and societal issues at the root level. Yoga helps inmates to discover their true nature, free of addictive substances. Numbing of the pain regarding dysfunctional, primary relationships is realized first hand, so that yoga can be a fundamental tool for an inmate's recovery of basic inner conflicts, and deep personal pain. Yoga is the tool which helps to lead the individual to a deeper understanding of his/her fundamental self.
7.) Yoga asana/postures are keys to understanding of oneself and others; helpful in dealing with issues of abuse of self and others. Through postures and breath, inmates experience flexibility, strength, balance, harmony, and inner peace as well as comprehending a universal understanding of our human frailties, as well as strengths. Doing no harm is one of the key principles of yoga discipline.
8.) Correctional facility life is hard and the effects extreme. The stresses and anxiety levels of inmates are extreme. Yoga is a perfect vehicle for the inmates to relieve stress of their daily routine, and to help them remain and become healthy, putting less strain on resources. Personal stress in the inmate population can lead to anxiety attacks, putting stress on the whole system, particularly on facility personnel. The calming effects of yoga can be a preventative for overall facility stress-management.
9.) Teacher must come with no agenda, free of judgment. Though the atmosphere, location, and external disruptions can be harsh, trying, loud and difficult on myriad levels, it is important for anyone teaching in the correctional facilities to allow the inmates to be themselves, to discover their true nature in an honest, peaceful, and trusting environment. That atmosphere is critical to the success of the classes.
IV. Conclusion, Our Vision: Future Growth Objectives for the Yoga School of Kailua,
Inc. Classes Inside Hawai'i's Correctional Facilities.
Yoga School of Kailua, Inc.
Healing the world through peaceful communication, cooperation and well-being
< the Yoga School of Kailua, Inc. is a Federal non-profit organization >
Adult Facility Prison Work 1993 - 2002
by Louisa (Lu) DiGrazia, Hawai'i adult correctional yoga instructor
I. History: of the yoga adult correctional facility work, 1993 - 2002
Louisa (Lu) DiGrazia, started a volunteer program inside (referring to inside the correctional facilities) Halawa State Correctional Facility about 1993, while attending the University of Hawai'i, peace-studies program. At the time we could not use the word "yoga" to describe the work we were to present. The word yoga was not accepted as mainstream therapy or socially in Hawai'i then and people would just have easily disregarded it. We called the program "stress management." We were somewhat limited, under these circumstances, but did our best to present postures, breathing, and spiritual philosophy without betraying the meaning and substance of yoga. It was Lu's purpose to help the inmate population to further their personal transformation toward complete health and help them to create a path to peace and well-being.
Upon graduation from the University of Hawai'i in 1997, with a BA degree in Liberal Studies (with an emphasis on Peace and Well-Being), DiGrazia applied her skills to the education programming for the adult correctional system here on Oahu. What she found in this short time, to her surprise, was a very supportive environment for yoga inside. The education director and the Deputy Director of Hawaii State Public Safety were eager to start a yoga program. Yoga was the cover story of Time Magazine in April, 2001.
We got some of the inmates at the Halawa Maximum Security Unit, called the Special Holding Unit, to join the yoga class. This was a very successful program until all of the inmates in the class were transferred to other facilities on the U.S. continent.
We started a formal class at the Medium Security at Halawa early the next year, 1998. The class has grown to become a very popular class with new students joining the yoga program on a regular basis, and many waiting for a chance to join. The women's yoga classes began about four years ago, and we have experienced similar success at WCCC.
II. Introduction: What Is the Yoga Program at Halawa and WCCC About?
One of the premises of yoga is mental and physical adaptability which in a facility like Halawa or WCCC (the women's facility in Kailua) is key for the teacher to model and teach. One never knows from moment to moment who is going to be there, what their needs are, or what state of mind they may be in; so our teaching has to reflect creative spontaneity, and a good sense of humor. The short time we have to teach a class could be fundamental to effect positive cognitive and physical change necessary for transformation of the inmate-student.
This sense of urgency and need to be adaptable, may mean directing the energy to the history of yoga to explain why we are doing something a certain way. It may mean explaining that yoga is not a religion; it is a practice which allows one to enhance spirituality, whether religious or not; and what the contrast is between religious and spiritual. Yoga is a vehicle for complete health, and is essential for impulse control, and physical and mental awareness. These fundamental principles may need to be taught or emphasized at any time.
There are times in a facility yoga class when more than one inmate is suffering from an ankle or shoulder injury. It is equally possible for the inmates to be in a high state of tension, lacking the ability to breath properly---thus shutting off adequate oxygen to the brain. Any and all pressures from physical and mental dis-ease inside naturally directs the yoga instructor to deal with these serious and problematic issues in the moment, as much as possible. There are yoga postures which will help to heal specific injuries, poor breathing habits, and mental stress. In the women's facility, in order to serve this population adequately, one has to be aware of feminine issues, pregnancy, recent childbirth, loss of contact with children, and menstrual dysfunction Compassion and understanding are key to the work of the yoga instructor anywhere, but inside this quality is crucial. Compassion is also a principle of yoga practice.
In all cases, confinement, boring routine, lack of privacy, lack of affection and loving touch, lack of freedom, having people yelling at you all of the time results in a wide variety of human discomfort levels and mental and physical pain, worry, sorrow, thoughts of violence and revenge, dread, fear, remorse, stressors which bring the strongest people to their knees. Regardless of how one feels about people paying their "debt to society," inmates are human beings and suffer in confinement unless provided with diverse rehabilitation opportunities.
Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises are essential to helping inmates cope with challenging circumstances by tapping into their creative ability to carry out their own solutions. Yoga introduces them to their capacity to heal their addictions, mental and physical; and to cope with the routine discomforts. These yoga techniques aid inmates in understanding and dealing with restitution. Stilling the mind through meditation helps everyone with lifelong mental conflicts and personal disharmony. Meditation expands the consciousness to personal awareness of the movement of thought, and inappropriate reactions to life circumstances. It expands one's level of attention and mindfulness and guides inmates to becoming more compassionate and aware individuals.
III. The yoga classes at Halawa and the Women's Facility (WCCC) consists of the following:
1) An introduction to yoga history and philosophy. Introduce the "Yoga Sutras" by Patanjali (200 BCE), and bring information from Swatmarama, who lived around 500 CE, and who expanded the physical side of yoga practice. The information presented should be relevant and up to date in our present way of communicating, which can be a creative project with some of the inmate-students not having a complete grasp of historical context or philosophical concepts. We use handouts and explanations that allow the inmates a chance to discuss challenging topics amongst themselves.
Team building and trust are key to yoga practice anywhere. In the men's and women's facilities, we encourage yoga students to use their own examples of the history and philosophy, giving them voice to the teaching. We have the most skillful students teach from their own knowledge-base and experience, once we feel and trust the student-teacher has a full grasp of the yoga concepts.
2) A discussion about the meaning and utility of meditation. This will often include a discussion on what meditation is not. Meditation, for instance, is not verbal repetition, nor concentration. Since meditation is often taught as though it were a skill one will achieve in some unknown future, we show that meditation is here now, one only has to become aware of it and still the whirling, endless movement of thought to sense meditation, feel it, and experience it. With the results of deep relaxation and meditation techniques, inmates understand this process first hand and are encouraged to explain yoga principles to one another. This teaching technique is key to trust building, leadership building, right communication and right relationship. Meditation is key to cognitive change, deep relaxation, and a healthy body and mind. Meditation supports impulse control, and therefore reduces violence within the individual and in the correctional facilities.
3) A discussion on the importance of safety, and the wisdom of the master within each of us, which must be nurtured. We encourage our students to grasp the teaching as an essential part of discovering and cultivating inner wisdom. This gives the inmate-students the courage to find their own voices and to follow their intuitive talents regarding body, mind and spirit. We allow each person to feel confident with his/her own appropriate spiritual, physical and mental instincts.
To rebuild years, perhaps a lifetime, of low esteem by instilling confidence that they know themselves and can change fundamentally is another benefit for inmates. Watching and guiding the injured soul, as well as body-mind, is an important responsibility. Keeping the students out of harms way, means making sure they understand their strengths, weaknesses, old problems or injuries, and nurture, rebuild, and heal on all levels of being through awareness. Non-injury must be taught on an ongoing basis. Showing off is counter productive and dangerous. Doing no harm is one of the key principles of yoga discipline, and a key to keeping peace in a correctional facility.
4) A discussion on health and well-being and yoga as a vehicle on this path. Yoga is a vehicle on a path to improve the overall capacity and health of a total system, a whole, holistic, holy system. This teaching process includes the use of diagrams and discussions of the human body, bones, muscles, organs (heart, lungs), etc. This could include a discussion on food and nutrition. With personal and private issues of this kind, trust building is key, as is encouraging inmates to suggest the ideas on their own within the supportive inmate-yoga community. The men in particular are very interested in strength building and the muscles of the body. We discuss strength and what they have done to diminish their strength with bad habits, too much stress on certain muscle groups, joints, and over-repetition of certain exercises that may create muscle mass, and joint weaknesses.
They learn that the trade-off for this limited kind of exercise is stiffness, inability to move freely---particularly in their arms, shoulders, back and chest---vulnerability to injury, thus boxing themselves into mental and physical quagmires. Having been abused as children, many inmates have manifested deep physical, body-mind pain. It is important to be helpful and aware of this common problem in the facilities' population and know breathing techniques and postures which can help inmates release these painful, disturbing, old, and deep hurts.
When yoga postures are performed, the systems of the body become detoxified and strengthened, and brought to keen levels of awareness. Inner as well as outer harmony transform and clarify mental and physical activities, furthering the ability of the meditative mind to operate fully. This seamless process facilitates management of anger and stress, putting less stress on the facility systems.
5) Discussions on the peace and well-being of the body, mind, and spirit and how these are forever interacting. Peace is discussed in realistic terms. They learn that the body-mind is a vehicle for a peaceful, mindful life, as well as dealing appropriately (and peacefully) with where they are---coping and handling personal experiences with people, including administrative personnel, ACO's, and other inmates. This is a realistic goal for the inmate yoga students. This work and ongoing discussion is furthered by a peaceful heart and soul, which is nurtured in yoga class. The peace and well-being discussion includes a dialogue on peacemaking philosophy and techniques through meditation, mediation, communication, constructive and destructive self-talk (inner word usage), and outer word usage, learning peaceful dialoguing, and personal actions and reactions.
The Peace work within the yoga program helps one to understand that anger is not inherently bad, but one's reaction and action when angry is key to a fragmented life full of conflict or a peaceful life where self-knowledge and awareness take the place of compulsion, domination and force. Communication and cooperation are keys to understanding and nurturing a peaceful heart. When one's own level of inner-communication is heightened and made sensitive through yoga practice, the door to inner and outer peace opens.
6) Many if not most of the inmates in our correctional systems are substance abusers and addicts. Yoga addresses these serious social and personal problems, and the yoga class is a perfect vehicle for gaining inner strength, harmony, balance, and for developing healthy habits to replace negative and destructive ones. Changing one's thinking patterns and developing a keen interest and pride in one's health is key. Trust and leadership building can be key in helping inmates see each other as mentors and teachers who have changed the way of their lives. Dysfunctional relationships have led many people to the numbing of the mind-body by substance abuse. When one's primary relationship with oneself improves and becomes healthy, the outcome is an attraction to functional relationships outwardly. Doing no harm to oneself or to anyone else is key to yoga practice and one of its most important principles; and is a key to improving the overall peace in a correctional facility.
7) Yoga postures (asana) and breathing exercises (pranayama) are taught and performed and are key to the understanding of self and other. Removing the barriers which divide people is key to trust, and leadership, as well. When we see that we are all struggling to move a body part in a yoga posture (asana) we have a deeper, universal understanding of our humanity, our limitations and strengths, and how to build upon them and grow as a yoga community inside. Until a person has experienced one, it is hard to imagine an asana changing one's life fundamentally. But when the inmate-students experience this for the first time, this exercise-experience generates a change that is fundamentally transformative on all levels of their being. Through the postures, inmates experience flexibility, strength, balance, harmony, humor, and inner peace. The breath which accompanies the poses further enhances these benefits.
8) Prison life is hard. The stresses and anxiety levels of inmates are extreme. Though our correctional facilities are to the outsider humane, the life inside prevents any sense of privacy, is extremely noisy, confines one into claustrophobic conditions. The food can be undesirable, and the fight or flight body-mind mechanisms are being triggered constantly with few resources to properly or adequately release the daily toxic effects of tension and anxiety that is turned loose into the body-mind.
Yoga is a perfect vehicle for the inmates to relieve stress, both immediate and that which has accumulated over a lifetime of poor choices and bad decisions, unfortunate and destructive relationships, bad health, mental and physical abuse, and poor self-image issues. Yoga with its emphasis on complete health, well-being, inner and outer peace, deep relaxation, and esteem building, through a fundamental transformation of one's being and deep cognitive change, is essential for the well-being, stress reduction, deep relaxation, and complete health of our inmates, and therefore the correctional system as a whole. These benefits translate into a more peaceful correctional facility, and puts less stress on facility medical care, and other resources.
9) A non-judgmental attitude is key. Though the atmosphere, location, and external disruptions can be harsh, trying, loud and difficult on myriad levels, it is important for anyone teaching in the facility to allow the inmates to be themselves, to discover their true nature as human beings, in an honest and trusting environment. This atmosphere must be created by the teacher.
Yoga helps one to bear one's soul and the place to do that must be a safe place free of judgment and condemnation. Ultimately the greatest student is the teacher herself who must learn in every moment how to row in the same canoe as the people she serves, being a keen observer, sensitive, and understanding. She must know when to present one of the teaching principles, so that it will be observed deeply and perhaps understood, awakening a thread leading to enlightenment. One, after all, must prepare the soil for proper growth of the seed.
IV. Conclusion, Our Vision: Future Growth Objectives for the Yoga Classes Inside Hawai'i's Correctional Facilities
The Yoga School of Kailua, Inc. has recently received Federal, non-profit status with the IRS. We are in the beginning stages of seeking support to succeed in our future growth objectives, and would appreciate any support we can get from the State of Hawaii. As this program will more than pay for itself in reduced medical costs, improved inmate and ACO morale, drug treatment and the revolving door syndrome of many of our inmates, as well as reducing violent behavior inside, it would be nice to work together for our common concerns.
Yoga gives new life and a sense of purpose to those in need. It creates a sense of belonging and community that goes deeply within. Many of the fundamental elements of correctional facility salvation and reform promise this. We believe that yoga classes offer a creative alternative and a transformation for people recovering from the mental and physical pain of an unconscious life, by offering healthy, compassionate awareness, and joyful techniques that have been proven for over a thousand years to be effective.
As the inmates observe the changes within themselves and watch themselves grow in body, mind and spirit---a fundamental inner transformation---they begin to thirst for more, as any of us would.
1.) We believe the adult correctional facilities should grow by expanding the ability of the students to come more than once (WCCC) or twice (Halawa Medium) per week to yoga class. We would like to expand on the mentorship, leadership program by creating a formal mentor, student-teacher program, where the yoga school director and key teachers of the school could meet with hand-picked inmate student-teachers separately if possible, once a month, and give them trust-building, leadership, yoga, and peacemaking skills, allowing them, under our supervision, to begin to team-lead yoga classes with the official teacher.
2.) The facilities occasionally have meetings and groups with outside guests and administrative officials. We would like to see the yoga classes take center stage during these programs with demonstrations of its work and the students' acquired skills, usually inside the facilities themselves. This will take cooperation and coordination with correctional officials and ACO's (Adult Correctional Officers).
3.) We would like to see a yoga and meditation program for the ACO's. This has been discussed many times between ourselves and ACO's themselves and some administrative officials. They want it and need it. This movement to expand the yoga work inside should be facilitated and encouraged.
4.) We would like to see the Yoga Program become an essential part of the correctional facility educational programs, taking it off of the list of "electives." We have had inmates tell us, that if it wasn't for the yoga program, "I would be in the hole (confinement)," and that the program "keeps me sane."
5.) We would like to see classes in Yoga run at all the Oahu adult correctional facilities, as well as the youth facilities, and eventually get people trained to teach inside on all the Hawaiian Islands where there are inmate populations. Instructors would be trained and supervised by the Yoga School of Kailua, Inc.
6.) We would like to formalize the yoga program by having the students have their own textbooks chosen or written by the Yoga School of Kailua, Inc. These would be books with information specific to the yoga exercises, and relating to the history and philosophy of yoga. Inmates would be responsible for reading and reporting on this material; bringing cognitive, academic rhetoric and writing skills into the classroom.
There are many dedicated people in our state and all over the country doing what they can, but too many children are growing up to fall too easily into the adult correctional system, which as you know, unfortunately and tragically, is a growth industry. Yoga is a vehicle for rehabilitation and fundamental transformation, in which a person becomes his/her own best teacher. This point reminds me of the adage about giving a person a fishing rod and teaching him or her to fish in order to sustain life. The practice and discipline of yoga is like giving a person the tools that lead to fundamental change, a deep sense of community, sustained growth, and personal transformation on deep and lasting levels of body, mind, and spirit.
The Yoga School of Kailua, Inc. has a staff of fine and dedicated teachers. Yoga inside is a brave new world for anyone going there for the first time. Our teachers have been through the 9 hour orientation taught by the Volincore director and his staff, which gives all of the "ins and outs" of the correctional facilities, and many of our teachers are very akamai (skillful) inside. We are dedicated to safety for ourselves and our students, and realize that this is an ongoing learning experience, as most good things in life are. Humor is one of our most important healing tools that we nurture at our school, and we call upon it whenever possible.
J. Krishnamurti sums up best how we at the Yoga School of Kailua, see our teaching,
"Society is what you and I, in our relationship, have created. It is the outward projection of all our own inward psychological states. So if you and I do not understand ourselves, merely transforming the outer, which is the projection of the inner, has no significance whatsoever. That is, there can be no significant alteration or modification in society so long as I do not understand myself in relationship to you. Until I, in my relationship to you, understand myself, I am the cause of chaos, misery, destruction, fear, brutality." (quoted in Your Health, March 1984, No. 22)
Our school's mission is to help each of our students to begin to witness their lives and see themselves in order to change what they begin to see. The only way that we can understand this is to do it ourselves. This, of course, is the greatest challenge. May Peace Be With You.
May 2002 Louisa DiGrazia
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