Heather Ruggero: Saying Yes To Serving In Correctional Facilities

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Community Yoga instructor Heather Ruggero for The Huffington Post Blog about what it’s like to teach incarcerated men and women, and how saying “yes” to serving others has changed her own life and practice.

“Every time I teach at Travis County Correctional Complex, I feel more alive and more awake. When you have the privilege of witnessing people working hard to transform their lives, it’s difficult to take things for granted…I originally thought (yoga’s service component) was about contributing to pay back for all that I have received, but am increasingly realizing that what I receive for the small amount I give is so much greater. I have begun to realize that service was a missing ingredient in my own spiritual development and yoga practice.”

– Community Yoga Austin instructor Heather Ruggero, on her work with prisoners at TCCC

Click here to read more of Heather’s tips for working with incarcerated students, and a standout moment from her work with Community Yoga.

Anneke Lucas: Yoga in Correctional Facilities Is All About The Love

Executive Directive Rob Schware talks with Anneke Lucas for The Huffington Post Blog about what inspired her to become a Prison Yoga Project Director for the New York area, and how karma yoga has helped her understand more about sharing and receiving love.

“I am a sex-traffic survivor, and was exposed to extreme violence as a child. My inspiration comes from James Fox, founder of the Prison Yoga Project, and I’m motivated by a desire to share yoga and meditation, because the practice benefited me in my own healing process. My journey continues as I share the practice with the prison population, and share the love and understanding that I’ve received along the way. That love is reflected back to me in a powerful way. I thought I came to help others, and find that I am helped each time I teach.”

– Prison Yoga Project’s New York director, Anneke Lucas, who teaches inmates at MDC Brooklyn, Riker’s Island Rose Singer Center and Bedford Hills Correctional Facility

Click here to read more about the challenges of bringing yoga and meditation to incarcerated students, and Anneke’s thoughts on the “quiet revolution” that has been sparked by yogis who want to give back to their communities.

Pictured: Anneke Lucas, left, and Prison Yoga Project founder James Fox, right.

Jackie Sumell: Taking the Penitentiary To the Mat

“What kind of house does a man who has lived in a 6′ x 9′ box for almost 30 years dream of?” That’s the question that artist and activist Jackie Sumell asked Angola Prison inmate Herman Wallace a decade ago. Today, “The House that Herman Built” project is still going strong, spawning an exhibit, book, website and a forthcoming documentary that protest the culture of mass incarceration and the practice of solitary confinement by putting a face on Wallace’s 40-plus years “in the hole.”

In this special interview for The Huffington Post Blog, Executive Director Rob Schware talks to Sumell about how yoga has sustained her work.

“The more aware you become, the more potential anger you will generate. Anger is toxic; it causes your purpose to stagnate, even though it is a normal response to injustice. Enter yoga, which has helped me transform the toxicity into action and advocacy. I can now use my artistic impulses in my advocacy work, and I practice yoga to continue to balance my inner and outer life so I can sustain this work.”

– Jackie Sumell, multidisciplinary artist and creator of The House That Herman Built project

Click here to read more of Jackie’s thoughts on how prison conditions both challenge individual yoga practices, and transform inmates into yogis.

For more information on  “Herman’s House,” the new documentary chronicling Sumell and Wallace’s friendship that will premier on PBS on July 8th, visit HermansHouseTheFilm.com.

GBYF Project Spotlight: Africa Yoga Project

Here at Give Back Yoga, watching grant recipients’ projects blossom and grow is deeply inspiring. So we were thrilled to see a stunning photo essay by photographer Robert Sturman on MindBodyGreen.com that showcases the work being done by one of our early grantees, Africa Yoga Project.

Several years ago, we donated a gift of yoga clothing for use by AYP participants, including women and juvenile prisoners in the Nairobi area. At Lengata Women’s Prison (pictured), AYP nourishes the bodies and spirits of incarcerated women through yoga, art therapy and a meal. The children of prisoners are also served by AYP right on the premises.

Africa Yoga Project touches the lives of thousands of Kenyans in diverse communities. To meet more of them through Robert’s inspiring images, click here.

MaryAnne Hagglund: How Yoga Gives Women Freedom Behind Prison Walls

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with instructor MaryAnne Hagglund for The Huffington Post Blog on how yoga is helping prisoners at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women to free their spirits and change their lives for the better.

“Many of the women thought yoga was just for the thin, or the super-athletic, or suburban housewives. Once they realize yoga is available to everyone, they get excited. No one can take their yoga practice away from them. A student said to me the other day, ‘Yoga is a state of mind — it gives me a sense of freedom from all the stress, worry, and anxiety.’ That is the moment that I know they are starting to ‘get it.'”

– MaryAnne Hagglund, who works through The Elizabeth Kates Foundation to teach yoga classes at VCCW 

Read MaryAnne’s full interview here.


Traci Lundstrom: Serving Incarcerated Women & Those in Transition

In a special interview for The Huffington Post Blog, Executive Director Rob Schware talks with instructor Traci Lundstrom about her experiences in sharing yoga with other incarcerated women, and how the practice can foster both self-compassion and a connection with others.

“The women have shown more interest in practicing yoga as a whole, rather than as an exercise class, (so I) do guided metta [loving kindness] and forgiveness meditations. Many women describe this as the most powerful and favorite part of the class, because they have not been able to tap into compassion for themselves for a very long time. Many tears are shed and there are many expressions of gratitude for being offered a safe place to release that.”

– yoga instructor Traci Lundstrom, who took part in a teacher training program through Yoga Impact and now teaches incarcerated women and those recently released from jail

Read Traci’s full interview here.




Ron Self: Incarcerated Veterans Take Healing Into Their Own Hands

In a special interview for The Huffington Post Blog, Executive Director Rob Schware talks with the founder of Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out, decorated veteran Ron G. Self, on how the program is helping fellow inmates at San Quentin State Prison deal with traumatic stress – and how it could help military personnel make a successful transition to civilian life.

“Yoga is one tool that needs to be in the toolbox. It allows the body to let go of things the mind has chosen to ignore. If the body is in pain, it provides a distraction, a reason, if you will, for the mind to not face the traumas that are lingering in the shadows of a veteran’s psyche. If the body is healing through yoga and meditation, the mind also can heal….the vets in this group are like seeds that have been buried in the ground for millennia. Now, for the first time, they have water.”

– Navy Marine Corps Medal holder Ron G. Self on the Veterans Healing Veterans program he founded at San Quentin Prison, where he is serving 25 years to life 

Read Ron’s full interview here.

Geoff O’Meara on Serving in Correctional Facilities

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with instructor Geoff O’Meara for The Huffington Post Blog on what inspired Geoff’s work with prison inmates, and how service is an integral part of a yoga practice.

“One of my students had been moved to a different correctional facility to complete his sentence. He sent me a beautiful letter expressing gratitude for his yoga experience at the TCCC. Here is what he wrote: ‘Thank you for helping me get to know who I am inside … and for how much you have changed my direction and thought on life. Indebted to you forever — Yogi Robbie.’

This joy is his gift to me, and it has been a great source of shraddha — conviction, and virya — joyful effort — in my own practice. For this sustenance and advancement on my own path, I am forever indebted to Yogi Robbie, as well as to all of my students. Clearly they are my teachers.”

–       Geoff O’Meara, Prison Program Director for Community Yoga Austin

Read Geoff’s full interview here.

Rikki Donahoe on Serving Women in Maximum Security Prisons

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with yoga teacher Rikki Donahoe for The Huffington Post Blog about her work with women at a maximum-security prison.

“The inmates keep me motivated. Their eagerness and desire to learn is second to none. Some of the women are serving life sentences. They tell me that yoga helps them cope on many different levels.”

– Rikki Donohoe on teaching at the Camille Griffin Graham maximum security prison for women in Columbia, South Carolina

Read Rikki’s full interview here.

Nancy Candea on Serving Diverse Populations

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Nancy Candea for The Huffington Post Blog on her experiences in serving marginalized populations ranging from incarcerated women to at-risk youth.

“In my youth, I used drugs and food addictions to deal with the tough emotions of growing up in a family where physical and emotional abuse were a norm and, well — that is the easier stuff to talk about. I also experienced some domestic violence in my adult life, and it feels like my yoga practice literally carried me at a time when I needed great courage to make changes in our lives. That has inspired me to do the outreach work that I do.”

– Nancy Candea, founder of the Yoga Impact teacher mentoring program and training director of the Kula for Karma yoga service organization

Read Nancy’s full interview.