yoga on high foundation

Interesting Reads for Current Times

Beginning in March, the Yoga on High Foundation will host monthly discussions centered around books and podcasts. Our hope with this series is to help encourage an educated, engaged and inspired community -- as well as to foster open, thoughtful dialogue around issues of the day.

Enroll in a book conversation here.

During the course of creating these community events, I had the opportunity to ask for book recommendations from some amazing, intelligent and caring people. What follows is a list I’ve compiled of their favorites, combined with my own picks for 2017 must-reads.  If you have recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

-- Michele Read More…

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EMBER Yoga program in action at the Ohio Reformatory for Women

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Annette Dominguez is Director of Tapestry, Therapeutic Program at the Ohio Reformatory for Women

November 7, 2016
To Who It May Concern,

I am writing this letter in support of the EMBER Yoga program here at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. The program began in April of 2014 and is facilitated by Michele Vinbury and Marybeth Hamilton. Each cohort provides weekly services for up to 12 participants of the Tapestry Therapeutic Community. Tapestry is a holistic treatment program for women with substance abuse issues. The program is highly structured and community focused. Most program members have an extensive history of physical, emotional and sexual abuse making the need for trauma informed care an imperative.

The EMBER program has made such a positive impact on the lives of the women who have had the opportunity to be involved. The women have gained new tools for effectively addressing their difficult experiences and finding ways to mitigate their feelings while staying engaged and receptive to change. Being able to share that journey with their peers while being gently guided by the compassion and expertise of their instructors, has fostered a deeper sense of community among participants. This support helps members feel both empowered and connected.

The impact of EMBER is evident in our community in so many ways. Members who practice meditation and speak with their sisters about the benefits, sisters who have found the courage to share their experiences on a deeper level and peers who find the ability to trust that whatever is painful, is less so when surrounded by those who understand how hope can carry you through.

It is that same hope that drives us to advocate for the continuation of the EMBER program here at ORW. Our members have come to think of the yoga sessions as an integral part of our program, an experience that each sister aspires to be a part of. Michele and Marybeth are family to us and are part of the fabric of our community. Their generosity and commitment to our family is beyond compare. Their sincerity is without question and their belief that touching lives, saves lives, is a mantra we can all live by.

Sincerely,

Annette Dominguez
Tapestry Program Director

Inspired by what you’ve read?  You can support the Yoga on High Foundation’s important work by attending our Daylong Wellness Retreat this Friday, November 11th or donating at www.yogaonhighfoundation.org/donate.

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Coming Out Comes Full Circle

By: Daniel Sernicola

awardMy hand shook as it unfastened my seatbelt. I slowly climbed out the broken window of my overturned car and examined the wreckage. Tires were still spinning and Jim Brickman’s Rocket to the Moon was playing on a continuous loop from the speakers. The roof of the car was smashed down to the driver’s seat. Help was needed, but on the quiet back road in my hometown it was unlikely to arrive quickly. I slowly walked towards a house that sat back from the road and standing on its porch, knocked on the door. No one was home.

A woman’s voice screamed, “There he is!” As I turned around, people were coming out of the woods where they had been looking for my body. The woman ran towards me and held me as tears ran down her face. She whispered in my ear that God must have been with me. A man placed me in his truck and drove me to my home just a few miles away. I was numb and could barely remember how to get there as I gave him directions.

My dad was in the kitchen cooking pasta as he did every Sunday. As I stood next to the man, he knocked on my parents’ door and told my dad that I had been in an accident. My dad calmly thanked the man for bringing me home and put down his spoon as he prepared to put on his shoes. Anger filled his face and the veins in his forehead were popping out – I just wrecked a car owned for three short weeks. Yet, he didn’t say a word as he grabbed his keys and drove me back to the scene of the accident.

As we pulled up, we saw the flashing lights from police cars and an ambulance. We got out of the car and the moment my dad saw the wreckage, he grabbed me, holding me tight and sobbing. It’s the only time I ever saw my dad cry. Thoughts of anger turned to compassion as police told him I was lucky to be alive.

Home from the hospital, I rested on our living room couch. Looking over at the coffee table, I saw my keys and began to scream and cry wondering what had happened and trying to piece together a sequence of events.

I was a senior in high school during the fall of 1996. It was October 12th and there was excitement as the camera flashed during my senior photo session. An hour later I had a date. Sure I had been on dates with girls before, but this was the first time I went on a date with a guy. I was nervous, but as the night progressed I realized that we were basically two guys hanging out and having fun. It was care-free and on the drive home, I couldn’t stop smiling.

From the age of four years, I recall feeling different and looking at other boys. The word, “gay” wasn’t part of my vocabulary and wasn’t talked about in our home, though I remember my mother and sister laughing at a very flamboyant man selling his items at a yard sale. Kids at school made fun of me calling me the dreaded “f” word. In my conservative church, sermons preached that homosexuality was wrong and a sin. Confusion filled my mind as I struggled to fight off feelings of attraction towards the same sex. Hours of prayer didn’t erase the feelings as they became stronger and more intense. I wrestled with feeling that even though I was born gay, everyone around me told me it was wrong.

I was on my way to church the morning of the accident. It also happened to be the day after my first same sex date. In my 17-year-old mind, the only sense I could make out of everything that took place was that my maker was punishing me for finally acting on my feelings. It wasn’t fair! I may have walked away from the accident with a concussion and no broken bones, but one thing was broken for sure; my spirit.

The following week at school, I passed notes back and forth in my Algebra class with one of my best friends. I decided to tell her about my date, knowing she would be accepting of me. It felt amazing to finally share with someone the secret I’d been keeping for my entire existence. I had an outlet in her to discuss my thoughts and feelings. It was enough.

A few weeks later, I knew something was different as I walked down the hallways of my high school and people turned away from their lockers to look at me, whispering to each other. It was surreal and appeared to happen in slow motion. This was interrupted by a football player knocking my books out of my hands and my belongings being scattered all over the floor. My friend’s boyfriend found one of our notes in her locker and shared it with the rest of the school. Being bullied was not new to me, but I wasn’t prepared for the year that was ahead of me.

I was beaten up weekly and weighing 140 pounds, it was futile to fight back. I’d take the punches and kicks waiting, hoping for the torment to end. When I finally had the courage to talk to school administration, I was told that I brought everything on myself since coming out. My parents, sensing something was wrong and knowing of my gay friend, started asking if I was gay. Finally, I told them the truth, my truth. They weren’t accepting, but witnessed my intense emotional pain and depression. A trip to the family doctor was supposed to help, but instead worsened my situation. I was put on heavy anti-depression and anxiety medications which brought on suicidal thoughts and feelings. I tried taking my life a few times and, fortunately, I survived. Later, I stopped the meds on my own having realized that prior to being on them I had never once thought of ending my life. A year later, reports were published stating that the two medications I was on caused suicidal thoughts in people under the age of 18.

My entire world as I knew it had changed and it felt like I had no control over anything. There was also the heavy feeling of being alone. My family, peers, church, and my maker all seemed to have abandoned me. Hope didn’t seem to exist, and I was beaten down.

meditation20 years later, it’s 2016. I’ve been out as a gay man for over half my life and I’m 37 years old. Life has changed. My family is now accepting; I’m surrounded by loving and supportive friends; and best of all, have my own family consisting of an incredibly amazing partner and big, goofy dog. Society has changed. Gay marriage is legal in all 50 states when it seemed like a huge and unfathomable dream at one time. Ellen DeGeneres now has the number one talk show in the country after her sitcom was cancelled in 1997 when she came out. And schools now have gay/straight alliances and student groups.

It appears everything is moving in a positive direction, but sadly, this isn’t the case. As a society, we witnessed the shootings at Pulse Night Club in Orlando this past summer. We also saw the State of North Carolina pass an anti-transgender restroom law. While we hope that youth don’t have to face the same situations I went through twenty years ago, the truth is that they are facing worse situations. Behind the closed doors of the family unit, parents are still struggling with acceptance of their LGBTAIQ+ children.

A few years ago when my partner, Jake Hays, and I began our 200-hour yoga teacher training, we were asked what groups we’d like to work with and what our goals were as teachers. We immediately thought of LGBTAIQ+ youth and decided we wanted to start a yoga program for them in Columbus. Through our practice teaching, we held classes and asked participants for donations to the Yoga on High Foundation that would be earmarked for this program. The Columbus Coyotes and local performers Nina West and Virginia West also helped raise money to go towards the development of this program.

Kaleidoscope Youth Center was thrilled when we approached them with our idea as yoga classes had been on the list of programs they desired. We made fliers with our standard publicity photos on them, and were excited when the first night of our classes finally came. Not one student wanted to come to yoga. We were saddened, but not defeated. We realized that in our photos, we are big guys and look exactly like some of the people who bully the youth on a daily basis. So, I went to the center to meet with the youth. Through tears, I shared every detail of my personal story hoping to make a connection with them. The following week we tried again and the room was packed!

mindfulness-practiceWho are the youth of Kaleidoscope? They are you and me. They have had to face adversity and trauma at young ages. Many have had horrific struggles including bullying, homelessness, human trafficking, rape and more. Yet, they have hopes, dreams, and bright eyes ready to conquer the world. They come to their mats each week, looking forward to the peace and calm the yoga program provides.

The yoga program was developed specifically for them and has evolved and changed to meet their needs. Kaleidoscope Youth Yoga incorporates a variety of yoga tools including physical postures, mindfulness practices, breathing exercises, meditation, relaxation and Reiki. The program is designed to inspire and empower the youth, offering them an opportunity to begin to heal from difficult life experiences. Through these practices, students are invited to find a connection to their true self by learning valuable coping skills in addition to fitness and body positivity in a safe environment infused with compassion, humor and empathy.

Together, we practice yoga and their personal stories slowly come to the surface. In the spring a young male to female transgender youth showed up to class in a dress, proudly proclaiming that she’s probably our first student to practice in a dress. We shared her pride, knowing the dress was more than clothing to her, it was an identity. We celebrated as a girl who was homeless and has practiced with us for over a year was excited to tell us that she was able to graduate high school and moving into her first apartment. And the meaning of joy was realized when another girl rested in savasana receiving Reiki for the first time. At first, her face showed pain and uncertainty. As soon as she felt Reiki, the corners of her mouth turned upward and she beamed, later proclaiming that Reiki made her feel safe. These are just some of the stories and there’s many, many more to tell. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve practiced yoga – together.

On October 2nd, the Board of Directors of Kaleidoscope Youth Center, upon the recommendation of staff and participants, presented Jake and me with an award of Distinguished Community Partner of 2016. Amy Eldridge, Executive Director of Kaleidoscope stated, “The Yoga program that you have established at Kaleidoscope is a tremendous contribution to the well-being of our youth, and is providing them with skills that will support their well-being well into the future.”

It seems fitting that this takes place twenty years after my own coming out as a gay teenager. It feels as though everything has come full circle and yet we know there’s more work to do. As Robert Frost so eloquently wrote, The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

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October Calendar of Events

Workshops:
October 1 October Dedication Challenge
October 2 108 to Rehabilitate with Michele Vinbury and Yoga on High Foundation Supporters
October 2 Sanskrit Workshop with Rhonda Kuster
October 8 Yoga and Acupuncture with Linda and Hope
October 8-9 Philosophy Weekend with the Yoga on High Partners
October 9 Restorative Yoga and Live Music with Abby and Holly @ Grow Yoga
October 14 Prema Hara Kirtan with Kamaniya and Keshavacharya Das
October 17 Introduction to Ayurveda with Marina Zahran and Breanna Mustard
October 21 Leslie Kaminoff: An introduction to Breath-Centered Yoga
October 21-23 Leslie Kaminoff: Yoga Therapeutics
October 22 Mandala Art Adventures with Michele Vinbury
October 27 Urban Zen Integrative Therapy – Program Kick Off
October 27 Meditation on the Spiritual Path with Dandapani
October 29 Diwali, Festival of Lights Yoga Class with Anne Weidinger and Michele Vinbury

Reiki Programming:
October 3 Monday Evening Reiki Level 2 Training with Jodi Patton & Julia Haas
October 13 Reiki Level 2 Exploration with Marcia Miller and Linda Oshins
October Reiki Shares: 3, 10,17 & 31

Yoga on High Open Schedule Additions:

Thursdays Hatha Level 1 & 2 with Marcia Miller from 9:30a to 10:45a
Fridays iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation with Jasmine Grace from 8:15a to 9:00a

Grow Yoga Open Schedule Additions:

Tuesdays Hot Flow Level 1 & 2 with Jeremy Grace from 6:00a to 7:00a
Thursdays Hot Flow Level 1 & 2 with Teresa Eigel from 6:00a to 7:00a

Series Classes:
Mondays 4p October 3 – December 5 Multiple Sclerosis Yoga with Jenn Gebhart
Thursdays 5:45p October 6 – December 8 Prenatal Yoga with Mary Sinclair
Thursdays 7:30p October 6 – December 8 6-Week Advanced Vinyasa with Lara Falberg
Saturdays 12p October 8 – December 10 Multiple Sclerosis Yoga with Jenn Gebhart
Sundays 10:30a October 9 – November 13 6-Week Kids Yoga (Ages 6-11) with Julie Standish
Mondays 7:30p October 10 – December 12 Prenatal Yoga with Jenn Gebhart
Sundays 5:30p October 16-November 20 6-Week Ashtanga Foundations with Correna Starbuck
Tuesdays 7:30p October 18 – November 22 6-Week Ashtanga Foundations with Tom Griffith

Free introductory Classes at Lululemon Polaris:
Sunday, October 2 from 10:30a to 11:30a; Intro to Sekoia with Alissa Jackson
Sunday, October 9 from 10:30a to 11:30a; Intro to Ashtanga with Correna Starbuck
Sunday, October 16 from 10:30a to 11:30a; Intro to Vinyasa Flow with Sally Walsh Roberts
Sunday, October 23 from 10:30a to 11:30a; Intro to Sekoia with Meredith Bury
Sunday, October 30 from 10:30a to 11:30a; Intro to Vinyasa Flow with Gina Derry

UZIT (Urban Zen Integrative Therapy) begins October 27, 2016
Free Info Sessions:
Sunday, October 2 from 2:00p to 3:00p at Yoga on High
Tuesday,  October 4 from 7:00p to 8:00p ET -- Conference Call

Ayurveda Heath Counselor (A.H.C.) begins November 5, 2016
Free Info Session:
Wednesday, October 5 from 6:00p to 7:00p at the All Life Center (Powell)
Sunday, October 9 from 5:00p to 6:00p at the Teacher Training Institute

300 Hour Yoga Teacher Training – Rolling Enrollment
Email applications@yogaonhigh.com to schedule an appointment with one of the studio owners or two apply.

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Pride in a Difficult Time

shutterstock_426023218by Daniel Sernicola

As the Arch City prepares for its 35th Annual Pride, bulbs in a hue of rainbow colors shine brightly from the arches on High Street and rainbow flags flutter in the wind. June is a month when we celebrate inclusiveness, love, and LGBTA+ pride. However, many of us are feeling spiritually wounded. The events in Orlando leave us with feelings of anger, hurt, and confusion. How could this happen? Why did it happen? How can we have pride when faced with such tragedy?
As a LGBTA+ community, we’ve spent most of our lives living in fear and aware that we are at risk. The Orlando shootings demonstrate that this fear is valid and very real. Many of us are reminded that the shooting could have taken place at any gathering or event. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been out or how far down the road of self-acceptance and love we’ve traveled, we are always aware of the fear within. Read More…

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Songs of Wholeness in Women’s Prison

Women'sPrisonProgramShall I write about their crimes? Their gross errors in judgment? Poor timing? Bad luck? Shall I tell stories of the children they cannot mother? The families left behind?   Perhaps I should write about their suffering, the trauma, the dysfunction that has, without exception, helped to land them here – sitting in this circle with me – behind bars. As I begin to teach, fluorescent lights hum, and from outside the door, sounds of shuffling feet and voices mix with the loud static discharge of handheld radios and the metallic rattle of keys.   The dissonance of sounds in this place, ubiquitous. Never a moment’s rest.

I sit in this circle every Friday with the women prisoners. In a make-shift classroom that serves as our yoga and mediation studio. Some are here for months, some for years, some for the rest of their lives.

Read More…

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Yoga at Marion Correctional Center

10703519_622577991196720_1726412143085759240_nThe Yoga on High Foundation yoga classes taught at Marion Correctional Center introduce the benefits of yoga to the prison community, integrating mindfulness and wellness modalities into the experience. The program invites residents to explore yoga as a healing practice, a powerful tool on their journey towards rehabilitation and wholeness.

“Peace is needed in places that are not peaceful.” -Marion inmate

Let’s OM
Here we are, sitting in simple cross-legged pose at Marion Correctional Center—15 male inmates and me. We are chanting Om. Loudly. Quite loudly, in fact.

And in this very moment, I experience my Truth, a deeply felt sense of being in the right place, with my Brothers. The vibration of our chant reverberates throughout the entire prison. Hopefully its energy reaches beyond the walls of our room and into the hearts and souls of Marion’s over 2000 inmates and 200 guards. We are calling in the vibration of Light.

Languaging
I’m very conscious of languaging that honors the inmates’ journey by empowering them and inviting non-judgmental, non-competitive and supportive internal dialog. Offering them choices as to how they practice and modifications to the yoga poses or breathing techniques empowers them, as does asking for feedback. Since there are no hands-on adjustments, purposeful and deliberate verbal cueing matters.

I use language, combined with constant breath cues, that awakens the yogic mind, encourages awareness and focuses attending--words such as ‘notice, feel, breathe into’ or ‘releasing, letting go, softening.’ This settles their nervous system down.

I am also careful to use non-aggressive language since they have all experienced some form of violence in their past. And I avoid any phrases that could be seen as provocative or sexually suggestive. For example, I would say ‘widen your stance’ rather than ‘open you legs wider.’

The tone and cadence of my voice is also key in establishing a safe sanctuary for their practice. Voice carries frequency, and, as a teacher, my desire is to induce a state of meditative alertness, conducive to optimal learning and spiritual exploration.

The Yoga Classes
Classes begin with a grounding breath practice. I often sense everyone shift into deep awareness of their breath. The whole room comes together in Breath.

We begin class with a dharma theme. Then, over the next 2 hours, inmates will practice asana, pranayama and meditation, be offered essential oils, and have time for journaling and discussion. During Savasana, each inmate also receives Reiki.

The objective of these classes is to introduce inmates to yoga and provide them with viable tools to empower and nurture their rehabilitative, healing journey.

One inmate once asked me how to handle negativity, which pervades his life in prison despite attempts to meditate and stay in the Light. Negativity from within as well, in the form of depression, anxiety and lack of self-esteem. This seems to be a recurring theme in prison life. How to cope with the energy of negativity that many experience.

This then becomes the dharma theme for my next class, in which we meditate on compassion and explore the source of negativity in ourselves—often anger and fear. At the end of class, we take a few moments to journal, and then pair up to share ideas on how to manage negativity.

These men are deep in the trenches of their rehabilitation journey, and it’s not an easy one. My hope is that these practices nurture transformation and self-love in a holistic way.

At the end of every class, I am keenly aware that I get to go home to my free world and they don’t. Many will be in prison for decades.

“Yoga is my way to escape and allow my soul to be free!” -Marion inmate

The Men of Marion
The men of Marion that I’ve taught are searching for meaning in their lives, for tools to help them regain self-respect and forgiveness. There is a genuine desire to change. They’re not perfect, they’ve committed crimes and they fall back into old patterns at times.

Many feel disenfranchised, disempowered and often have low self-esteem. Some have been deserted by their families and friends and feel unsupported.

On a somatic level, their muscles are tight and often their breath is shallow. Consequently, the physical stretch provided by the practice is very welcomed, as well as the awareness of breath.

“This class gives me so much appreciation for the Self despite my situation and circumstance. Every breath, and position gives birth to a new beginning in me.” -Marion inmate

Holding Space
From the moment I leave Columbus and make the 1 hour drive out to Marion, I am “holding space” for this group, especially, during moments of silence in class. The room is dense with healing energy. My intention is to hold this energy until the last OM of the class, and offer a safe place for these men to explore their true essence, freely, without guards and the general disruptive noises of a prison. And perhaps this healing energy can be transmitted to their fellow inmates, their communities and their families so that when they re-integrate into society they carry the vibration of deep Self-Love within.

PrintYoga in Marion Prison is supported by the Yoga on High Foundation. For more information on the Foundation and its programs, or to lend your support, click here. Join Michele Vinbury, Karine Wascher, Shayna Gonzales, Adam Wetterhan and others, October 4th at 10:30a for 108 to Rehabilitate, as we lead a practice of 108 sun salutations. All proceeds to support the Yoga on High Foundation’s Prison Programs.

For a full bio on Karine, click here.

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Escape from Prison

IMG_8922My name is Shayna Gonzales, or, as I was known from August, 2010, until August, 2014, Shayna Perkins, #79443. Yes, I was an inmate at ORW for a period of 4 years. When I was incarcerated, I thought it was the end—the worst thing to ever happened to me. I couldn’t believe that my life had gotten to the point to where I was sentenced by a judge to prison. Sent away from my family and my children. I’m not going to sugar coat it, It was the absolute worst thing that ever happened to me. I didn’t know anyone there, I was completely alone, I didn’t know what to expect, and it was terrifying. I very quickly found out that prison was an entirely different world with its own set of rules. I had to learn on my own and navigate my way through with no help from anybody.

I knew something had to change, I had known that for awhile. It was a truth sitting somewhere deep inside my soul that was too hard to think about so I just kept pushing it back, but it kept trying to surface, and I would keep it down by living in unhealthy ways and pretty much just  not caring about myself. I had low self esteem, tried to self medicate, searched for love and acceptance in places where they could never be found—a superficial existence. I had created a false universe for myself. I suffered from a very painful affliction called endometriosis on top of everything else, which caused anxiety, depression, and a plethora of other detrimental feelings in me.

When I was alone in prison, stripped of all my worldly possessions and vices, I realized that I was going about things all wrong. The answer wasn’t in other people, the answer was inside myself. I would never be happy or content if I was basing my happiness and acceptance of myself on what other people thought or how other people felt. I had to take my own power back. I began on a spiritual journey, although I didn’t even know that’s what it was at the time. I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, falling, falling, grasping the air for something to hold on to. Anything. I pretty much started living like a Buddhist monk without even realizing it. I didn’t speak to anyone except for the common pleasantries in passing. I read the Bible. I read the Tao Te Ching. I read so many books on Buddhism I can’t even count them all. I read books on Paganism. I was looking for something that spoke to me, and was looking to live in the most ethical way possible. I was searching for the truth.

I began exercising. I began being kind to myself, my body first. Then through constant, diligent practice I began trying to change my thought process by being kind to myself and accepting of myself. I became a fitness instructor and was teaching 3 workouts a week, and they quickly became the most popular workouts in the prison. My classes were packed.

I started meditating to try to keep my anxiety under control. I began to practice yoga because, not only was I drawn to it, but there were some girls in the class who because my friends, and who told me that this was exactly for me. Boy, were they right. I started shifting my perspective on life and stopped the victim mentality. the more I studied, the more I practiced yoga, the more I began to take control over my own life. I became less of a people pleaser but at the same time became more kind and compassionate towards people.

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I began seeing situations not as “unfair,” but for what they were. I was in prison. There was a hierarchy of power. Whether it was unfair or not, this is where I was, and I realized that every time I felt like I was being treated unfairly or being misjudged, it was just an opportunity for humility and a test of my character. I knew who I was, and just because someone said something that wasn’t true, didn’t make it true, even if that person believed it to be true. I let my actions speak louder than words, and I began to think carefully about the things I said before I spoke, because words are very powerful. I noticed a shift taking place over time. I started getting back what I was putting out—the simple law of attraction. People started coming up to me asking for advice. Women started pulling me aside after class or going out of their way to come tell me what an inspiration I was to them and how I had changed their life. CHANGED THEIR LIFE!!!??? I just couldn’t believe it, but then I realized I had all the power of the universe inside me.

To get some quiet time, I began waking up at 5:00 am every morning and going downstairs to get in an hour and a half of yoga. People started seeing me and asked if they could join me. In the spirit of servitude, I, of course, said yes. At first I was worried that it would disturb my own peace, but the girls started coming up to me telling me that when they got up and did yoga with me in the morning, the rest of their day went so good. It was worth it to me to bring others that peace and serenity. And so I unwittingly became a teacher even though I had no formal training. My thoughts had changed so drastically and I felt an undeniable pull. It was a calling. I knew what I was meant to do. What I HAD to do.

There is no way I can explain what I went through even if I tried. The soul searching. The self-study. But I knew yoga was my life and I wanted to share some of the knowledge that I had stumbled upon that had literally changed my life. I began researching teacher training before I was even released. I had no resources except for magazines, and I came across an ad for Yoga On High in the back of Yoga Journal. It turned out to be the single most important and life changing decision I had ever made voluntarily in my life.

I started teacher training 3 weeks out of prison, anxiety attacks and all, but now I was able to overcome these feelings of self-doubt by using the skills I had developed over years in prison. I completed the teacher training, and I feel like this was not even my decision. I feel like the universe called me to this and, somehow, by the grace of forces unknown, I was able to listen. I love my life, I love who I am. And the one thing I do know that I MUST do, is go back to the place that changed my life. There is a line in a song by the Grateful Dead that is constantly called to my mind, “…because once in awhile you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right”, I thought prison was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and it turned out to be the best ting that ever happened to me.

To go back and teach a workshop to the women who changed my life in ways that they could never understand, would be coming full circle for me. I have so much work to do and so much good to do, but I will never forget where I came from, or who helped me get there. One of my favorite quotes, that I would say to myself at least 5 times a day is, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao Tzu). And I lived this every day, and it is so true. It’s never too late to change the direction of your life. All you have to do is turn and take one step in the other direction, then another, then another, one foot in front of the other.

I thought there was nothing worse than prison. It didn’t take me long to realize there are so many things worse than prison: waking up one day, at 70, and realizing I had wasted my whole life on nothing; living the way I had been living. I had been given a second chance at life, and I feel so blessed. I want to show everyone that there is hope. And light at the end of the tunnel. I am now a certified 200-hour yoga teacher, and I found my soul sister at teacher training. My journey is just beginning. Inspiration, move me brightly.

At graduation from teacher training we did a simple meditation, and then looked at the picture taken of us on our first day or training. Then we wrote down what came to us. I wrote, ” This has been the single greatest experience of my life. I have had other experiences that were just as impactful, but this one is different. I wasn’t forced onto this path, I was called to it. I came into it with equal amounts of not knowing what to expect, and knowing exactly what to expect. To know nothing about what I was dong, to knowing exactly what I was doing. I am a vessel. I have a purpose. I am light. I am love. I am kindness. I am hope. I KNOW. I AM.

Namaste

Shayna graduated from the Yoga on High 200-hour Teacher Training Program in July, 2015. She and Michele Vinbury will begin teaching classes at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in the fall.  Please consider supporting this program through a donation to the Yoga on High Foundation or through participating in 108 to Rehabilitate.

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Anahata Project: Words from a Volunteer

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Every Sunday morning from around mid-April to early November, I pop on old brown pants, a raggedy white shirt that proclaims “I Walked the Bourbon Trail” and a black hat with RF on the front that I am pretty sure stands for Roger Federer, and head out to work in the Anahata garden. This garden is the source of produce for the Anahata Food Project, a community service project of Yoga on High that provides fresh fruits and vegetables to a local food pantry. Read More…

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