Yesterday as I drove to SCI Graterford prison for Transformation Yoga Project's weekly men’s yoga/mindfulness class I wasn't in the best of moods.  My body was incredibly itchy from a bad case of poison ivy. You see the day before I spent the afternoon weeding in the backyard and wandered into a large patch of the green stuff.  Poison ivy and I have had complicated relationship over the years.  Every year I vow to avoid getting anywhere near it but the temptation of a weed-less garden seems to pull me into the poisonous patch.

Anyway….at the beginning of class I ask the men to inwardly check in on 3 levels: physical, emotional and, if so desired, spiritual.  I mentioned that physically I was a bit off due to the relentless itching from poison ivy.  We then proceeded with our normal 75 minute (somewhat vigorous) trauma informed yoga practice.  After class it’s customary for us to check back in and address any questions about the practice or yoga in general. It was at this point when an inmate, Steve, came up and said…’Mr. Mike, I know you are having some discomfort with your rash but I’d give anything for a little poison ivy as it would mean that I was outside; truly outside, out of the prison yard.’  His words hit me hard and it brought flashbacks to my own journey and how we take so much for granted.  Getting poison ivy means that I’m free; free to make the decision to weed or not; it means that I’m outside in nature and able to enjoy all that we have.  Our gift of yoga is to offer the same possibilities to those who have less freedom.  We constantly repeat our mantra that ‘yoga allows us to find comfort in discomfort’ and that the poses are a metaphor for life’s discomforts.  

I have a new appreciation for poison ivy.    

About the author: Mike Huggins, RYT, CFT, is the founder and Executive Director of Transformation Yoga, a non-profit organization teaching yoga and mindfulness as a tool for personal change in the lives of people within drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, the criminal justice system, community transitional centers and VA hospitals. He is specially trained in applying yoga practices for addiction recovery and trauma related issues. Mike is a registered yoga instructor (200 RYT) who has been practicing yoga since 2002. He teaches a variety of asana styles including power Vinyasa, stationary, stretch yoga, chair yoga, family yoga, yoga for the back, meditation and many others. He is also a certified fitness trainer. He left a successful career in the corporate world to focus on a variety of community based outreach programs and to further develop his yoga practice. Since leaving the corporate world in 2009, Mike has dedicated his time and passion towards demystifying yoga by breaking down the powerful and positive aspects of the practice in a direct straight forward manner which these at-risk populations can relate to. He has extensively studied yoga and meditation with several highly respected teachers at Kripalu, Omega and other respected organizations. Mike has been on the board of several non-profits in the greater Philadelphia area as well as Liberation Prison Yoga in New York City.  He has a Bachelor’s of Science from Villanova University and a Masters of Business Administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.