This is an interview with Bob Tenbarge, a home improvement contractor who, after an unsuccessful back surgery in 2007, began his yoga practice. Immediately after the first class, he experienced the benefits, and, as he told me, “I was hooked.” Five years into his practice, he started his first yoga teacher training, simultaneously teaching at several local studios. In 2015 he began a more in-depth training “Transforming Health with Yoga,” with Kay Corpus, M.D., one of the requirements for which was teaching a six-week seva (“service”) project to benefit the community.
Rob: What originally motivated you to teach yoga at the Vanderburgh County Correctional Center (VCCC)?
My goal has always been to introduce yoga to more men! Most of the time I’m the only male in the classes I attend. My niece is employed at the VCCC and informed me they had been discussing yoga and mindfulness programs for work-release inmates. After a meeting with the program director, it was less than a week before I was teaching on a weekly basis. What began as my six-week seva project is going strong nine months later. The inmates won’t let me stop, and I don’t know if I could. I teach at two yoga studios as well, but the class at VCCC is my favorite. The men tell me how they feel, how the yoga helps, and how much they appreciate me showing up for them. I can seriously say I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me.
What is the importance of mindfulness for developing impulse control? How does this help with life inside a prison?
People who practice mindfulness have greater control of their impulses, which leads to making better choices. That to me is the most beneficial aspect for a prisoner. Mindfulness slows us down and gives us the time to observe our emotions before we act on them. It also helps us to act without judgement. We can use meditation or grounding techniques to keep our focus on the present moment; this prevents us from disassociating ourselves—going back to the past or looking to the future—from what is happening here and now.
I’m interested in knowing why we should be spending money on providing yoga to prisoners?
As a taxpayer I am already paying for our prison system in federal, state, and local taxes. The cost to keep a prisoner behind bars varies widely from state to state. According to a 2012 study from the Vera Institute of Justice the cost to the taxpayer was $39 billion in 2012. Most taxpayer money goes toward building more prisons, employee salaries and benefits, retiree health care contributions, and legal claims. Very little money is left for the prisoner. I strongly believe that we should be spending money on rehabilitative practices that include yoga and mindfulness, as well as continuing education.
The benefits of a yoga program would come to fruition when prisoners are released with the tools to succeed and continue to use the mindfulness and yoga upon release. It will take time, but rehabilitative programs will lower the prison population, which in the end will save taxpayer money.
What is the greatest obstacle to yoga classes becoming a regular feature of prisons?
I would say it is both the availability of yoga teachers and the attitudes of many wardens.
Every state, city, and county is looking for ways to cut costs from programs to balance their budgets. Funding for yoga programs is starting to grow in some states, but most teachers are still volunteers. The volunteer teacher in most cases meets the superintendent or program director at the corrections center to explain the benefits and results of a prison yoga program either from research or personal experience. If it’s agreed, it is typically a 6 to 12-week trial run.
The volunteer teacher may teach alone or with a partner. If the class is an hour long, it could take two hours with checking in and out of the facility. It could be a three- or four-hour time commitment, depending on how much travel is involved.
Ideally, the prisoners would have the option to be educated on how to teach other prisoners, so the yoga practice would be a regular feature they can depend on. I strongly believe they would respect a teacher they could relate to, and see on a daily basis.
Now, there’s a new way to give back from the mat: Give Back Yoga’s 108 Studio Partnership Program. We’re inviting studios across the country to join the Give Back family and raise funds for a service program of your choice, helping certified yoga teachers and yoga therapists to bring this healing mind/body practice to those who are most vulnerable.
How the 108 Studio Partnership Program Works
Over a one-year period, partner studios give back by hosting a monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly fundraiser to help bring yoga to those who might not otherwise experience this transformational practice. This can be as simple as a donation class held on a specific day each month. Or it can be an exciting opportunity for your community to come together for special events such as a 108 Sun Salutations practice or a guest teacher, speaker or artist.
Our 108 partners also host a “Give Back Yoga Month” to jump-start the program and raise awareness for Give Back Yoga’s mission, sharing information during regularly scheduled classes and collecting donations at the front desk.
How Your Studio Can Make a Difference
With your help, Give Back Yoga can support our partner programs in expanding their reach, bringing therapeutic yoga to even more of the people we aim to serve. Through the 108 Partnership Program, studio communities can give wings to programs like:
- Eat Breathe Thrive: Fostering positive body image and overcoming eating disorders.
- Mindful Yoga Therapy: Helping veterans to find a calm and steady body/mind.
- Prison Yoga Project: Teaching skills for non-violent problem resolution and healing.
- Give Back Yoga: Supporting our operations to cover our largest areas of need.
How the Program Benefits Studios
Becoming a 108 Studio Partner can help studios to build a close-knit community of the heart by gathering students around a common cause. It’s also a way to help students begin to explore and practice karma yoga, by giving back a gift that has touched each of their lives — the gift of a practice that can transform from the inside out.
The 108 Studio Partnership Program can also help studios to raise their online and local presence, as organizers work with community partners and Give Back Yoga to cross-promote events large and small through online and offline channels. Additionally, Give Back Yoga issues an end-of-year tax receipt to all active 108 Studio Partners, which may help your studio to offset expenses.
What 108 Studio Partners Are Saying About the Program
“It is important to extend the ancient teachings of yoga out beyond the space of yoga studios and into the world where it can reach the many people in need who may never walk through the doors of a yoga center. The time-tested benefits of a regular yoga practice are profound not just on the individual, but on all of society, essentially creating more peace for all. At a time in human history when there is a tremendous amount of chaos, Give Back Yoga supports growth, healing and harmony for all of society. I am happy and grateful to have my yoga studio community give back as a whole while benefitting on so many levels from the 108 Studio collaboration with Give Back Yoga Foundation.” — Annie Freedom, founder of Samadhi Center for Yoga, Denver, CO
Become a 108 Studio Partner or learn more: email firstname.lastname@example.org to request information on getting started.
Connect with our 108 Studio Partners:
Main image courtesy of Merrick Chase Photography.
A gift for GBYF community members: save $50 on a 4-day festival pass to Bhakti Fest West with coupon code GBY14.
The Give Back Yoga Foundation is honored to be a seva partner of Bhakti Fest 2014, with a portion of all ticket sales funding our mission of bringing yoga to underserved populations like veterans, at-risk youth, prisoners and more. This inspiring festival series wraps up with Bhakti Fest West in Joshua Tree, CA on September 4-7.
Be in the Bhav: Bhakti Fest West
Bhakti Fest West is four days of yoga, sacred music and conscious community — a festival that’s internationally recognized for its large lineup of kirtan music, master yoga instructors and respected spiritual teachers. Here’s a glimpse of what’s in store for 2014:
Music: An acoustic evening with Matisyahu, a performance by Grammy-winning afro-pop artist Salif Keita, the return of Bhakti Fest favorites like Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Deva Premal and Miten, MC Yogi, Donna De Lory…and a non-stop offering of kirtan performances from performers at this “Spiritual Woodstock of the Millennium.”
Yoga: 12 hours of daily yoga classes in four different venues, led by incomparable teachers like Shiva Rea, Mark Whitwell, Sianna Sherman, Kia Miller and more. All levels are welcome! Check out a pre-festival “master class” with legendary yoga master Dharma Mittra and a post-festival intensive with Saul Davide Raye.
Workshops: From intimate chant sessions with Krishna Das and David Newman (Durga Das) to guided meditation sessions and inspirational talks with leaders in their fields, there’s something for everyone.
Video: get a sneak peek at the incredible energy that is Bhakti Fest West.
Help Bhakti Fest give back: get tickets to Bhakti Fest West and save $50 with coupon code GBY14.
The Give Back Yoga Foundation is honored to be named as Pranafest’s National Seva Partner for 2014, with a portion of all ticket sales funding our mission of bringing yoga to the underserved. Pranafest is also educating their community about our work, and offering festivalgoers the chance to make a direct donation to Give Back Yoga to help transform the life of a veteran or a woman behind bars. Here, Pranafest’s Managing Producer Jessica Gorman tells us why Pranafest is dedicated to giving back:
On a Mission: Taking Seva from a Yogic Philosophy to an Industry Standard
Pranafest was birthed in the summer of 2012 out of a deep desire to create a deeper sense of community, a divine weekend of play in devotion and to continue to create the emerging business model of giving back from the Festival production world.
We are so thrilled to host world-class talent in a breathtaking setting such as the Wellsprings in Ashland, Oregon. Bringing the Bhav to the Rogue Valley and beyond, we love sharing our vision of a full-on celebration of devotion to the divine.
Pranafest is a gathering of prayer and celebration, healing and deep communal connection, centered around natural mineral hot springs. The 3-day hot springs camping festival will feature classes, concerts and ceremonies by an all-star lineup of yoga teachers, sonic shamans and kirtan leaders, held from September 22-25, 2014 at the Jackson WellSprings, an idyllic 35-acre botanical wonderland world-famous for its healing waters.
Pranafest will feature four stages of kirtan led by world-renowned wallahs from 9 am to 11pm daily, covering styles ranging from traditional acoustic to cutting-edge kirtronica. The festival also showcases group classes with some of the global yoga community’s most celebrated and revered teachers, covering a diverse array of yogic disciplines including Vinyasa, Kundalini, Anusara, Yin, Bhakti and more.
Long gone are the days of hosting events with no mission, with no higher intent, no take-away other than the “feel good” of the weekend. We see festivals on a “green” mission, to reduce the festival footprint, leave no trace, reduce, reuse, recycle.
Pranafest wants to take it to the next level of “greening” a festival. We are on a mission to give back the green to the industry that created us. Give back the green to the ones who support us in all we do.
What better way to put devotion in motion than to give the green to organizations that will continue the work beyond our weekend of devotion, practicing seva 24/7. Giving back to those in need, offering the skills & tools necessary to raise our collective vibration. You know…that blissed out feeling we get from sharing in community, singing, dancing, soaking and laughing! We all feel it in a weekend of absolute divine play at a festival.
Our intention at Pranafest is to activate and heal the life-force – the Prana – that pulses through each of us, our relations and the earth. That we may live to our fullest potential in our bodies, minds, hearts, local and global communities. We practice to nourish spirit, we gather to nourish tribe, we give back because we honor the path that lead us to success.
We hope to influence the change from an outdated business model of “all for profit” to an industry standard of investing in our tribe, our future our fellow humans. That is the best seva we can imagine…giving from the heart…to the heart.
Give Back Yoga community members: save $30 on Pranafest tickets with promo code SEVA.