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What is 'Yoga'?

If you were to ask any number of people what is yoga, I’d bet you’d get a bunch of very different responses. Perhaps the reason for all the variance and diversity is because the word ‘yoga,’ translated from Sanskrit to English, means to to yoke, or to join. It is therefore possible to interpret the meaning of the word yoga in many different, personal ways depending on how you create connection.

Members of our TYP Team visited one our partners, the Kirkbride Center, for a presentation to discuss yoga and recovery. Kirkbride is a comprehensive 270-bed behavioral health center and a national leader in opiate addiction recovery services. We’ve partnered with them for over 5 years and hosted an exclusive event to discuss with the current residents with our latest book “Yoga for Recovery: A Practical Guide for Healing.”

During the presentation, the group in attendance was asked “What is yoga?” One resident there provided a really beautiful, personal response:

“Yoga is like connecting with your inner spiritual energy that you have inside yourself. It’s basically channeling your energy and, you know, taking control of your mind and your body and, and,  your emotions and, and, and your reactions…Actually, when I was in jail, and they would pass a paper around in jail and it was like “eh…nobody’s doing yoga man – we in jail.” I was like more like Yo…I told myself (Ulysses?) – there’s a very hot, young instructor down there and you don’t wanna miss it. They had like 30 people in the class but when they came, and they see how serious she was about it, everybody really got in to it. It was something that you needed --because you were going through so much you didn’t never imagine how somethin’ like yoga can channel your energy and take you from the state of mind and the place that you’re at in your life.  So you might be in a dark place in your life during addiction, and once you calm down and channel your energy and just learn how to control your emotions and your movement, you become one with earth.

Yoga may help to improve the lives of people who've experienced trauma by helping them to tolerate physical and sensory experiences associated with fear and helplessness-7.png

What is ‘yoga’ to you? How do you relate to the practice?

Feel free to comment and share with us!


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Meet James

James Green “Black” is a part of our 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute - Phoenix. He started “The Least of These Ministries,” and has been the President of the Culture Affairs Committee for four years during his time at the Graterford Prison.

James wants to share his inspirations and awaken the “Light” in everyone by sharing his story and connecting with our communities.

Here’s what James had to share with us –

This is James’ favorite quote, connecting his ideas about searching for a light within and using experiences to enlighten that journey.

This is James’ favorite quote, connecting his ideas about searching for a light within and using experiences to enlighten that journey.

What inspires you?

The Inner Light that guides, sustains, and enlightens my whole being.

What do you hope to inspire in others?

I’d desire to help awaken the same “Light” that exists within us All by sharing my story.

What would you like to share with the larger community?

The Hope that all is never lost and that redemption lies deep within us ALL!

What would you like to share with younger folks?

The Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding that I’ve gathered from the hardships, drug use, street life that I had to journey through in order to find oneself.

How has community shown up for you?

Through unconditional Love.

How have you shown up for your community?

By searching the Truth within and sharing such findings with my community.

What if anything has YTT added to your sense of community?

YTT had found me, in a hellish place, and has enhanced all that I’ve learned from a broader perspective.

Learn more about our Yoga Teacher Training on StartSomeGood. If you feel connected, or compelled, to support the individuals as they become certified yoga teachers, please make a pledge! A ripple effect of transformation happens when we realize were all connected and can share in healing.

VISIT OUR CROWDFUNDING PAGE ON STARTSOMEGOOD. HELP US RAISE $10,000 TO COVER THE BAREBONES COST OF YTT. Thank you!!

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What Does it Mean to Restore?

To restore is a process of reuniting. It is an act that helps to bring back into existence, use, function or position a person, place or thing. Often it means to “return to life.” Similarly, to heal is an act to make someone or something whole. So, the process of healing is highly related to the process of restoring. Both seek to create unity.

The word ‘yoga’ translated from Sanskrit to English is often translated as “union.”

A practitioner of yoga explores connection to the many layers of their being including: their body, mind, breath, emotions, and energy. Deeply rooted in the practice is mindfulness, which is paying attention on purpose, without judgment but with compassion. Through this realization of our many layers of being, how they influence one another and our increasing acceptance of the moment, harmony is practiced. And it is a practice. There are good days and bad days, success and celebrations and losses and hardships. But they don’t have to make us any less whole. Life is always an ebb and flow. Change is always occurring.

The criminal justice system claims to be a rehabilitative one. Implicit in calling it “rehabilitative” is the idea that it is supposed to help to restore the individuals who have made a mistake and were subjected to the penalty of law as a consequence of their actions. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections mission is, in fact, to reduce criminogenic behaviors by providing individualized treatment and education to result in reintegration through accountability and positive change. Unfortunately, recidivism rates suggest that prisons don’t work. Within three years of release, about two-thirds of individuals who are released from prison will return. Clearly, the current method is ineffective.

TYP is one of many organizations actively seeking to change the narrative of what are restorative practices within correctional facilitates and throughout the justice system.

By providing trauma-sensitive yoga classes on the inside, we create an opportunity for individuals to find connection to their entire selves by exploring breath-centered movement and mindfulness activities. Our 200-hour Yoga Teacher Trainings (YTT) are a unique opportunity for individuals who are incarcerated to be able to gain a skill set that enables them to understand  and integrate the philosophy of yoga into their own lives and to facilitate classes with their peers. I’d argue it is healing process.

In fact, previous graduates of our YTT programs have described their experience in a truly transformative way:

This poem was written by a graduate of our very first Yoga Teacher Training at State Correctional Institute - Graterford. He is now a co-facilitator of our current training at SCI - Phoenix.

This poem was written by a graduate of our very first Yoga Teacher Training at State Correctional Institute - Graterford. He is now a co-facilitator of our current training at SCI - Phoenix.

We like to think of our work in the lines of healing justice, transformative justice or even restorative justice.  These frameworks believe in equality. They believe in people’s inherent goodness, recognizing that sometimes mistakes or bad things happen, but that does not make us any less whole or any less human.

I wanted to share a little more information on each of these frameworks that envision justice to be that much more… more healing, more transformative, more restorative….


Restorative Justice

There is an adage - “Hurt people, hurt people. Healed people, heal others too.” Restorative justice seeks to break the cycle of violence by focusing on tools that help the individual heal and rehabilitate. It recognizes that although people often think of prisons as impenetrable, totally removed from us; the individuals who are incarcerated are still someone’s parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, spouse, leader, role model and so on. Even if there is physical separation, connection, and especially ideology, knows no boundaries.

Restorative justice looks at the big picture of crime and sees it as a breakdown of society and human relationships. It then seeks to heal these broken relationships through conversation and community involvement and support. TYP practices restorative justice by creating an environment of respect, transparency and accountability. We invite people to discover how they can reunite what has been divided in their lives through the practice.

Healing Justice

Healing justice also seeks to create wholeness. But it does so by recognizing the impact intergenerational trauma and current structures of oppression had on creating rifts that cause disharmony. Healing justice seeks to reimagine the process of becoming whole through a generative and co-created future.

Healing Justice recognizes that trauma, violence and oppression live on and through the body and can limit their experience, connection, and choice. Trauma-sensitive yoga is a way to become increasingly aware of the body and sensations and to also practice making supportive choices. Healing justice also allows for a place to practice care with each other that we each deserve. Yoga and mindfulness allow us an opportunity to develop and strengthen compassion self and for others.

Transformative Justice

Transformative Justice is often seen as peacemaking. It is concerned with root causes of oppression by systems of dominance. It asks that everyone and everything change. We are all involved in a complex relationship that is currently disharmonious. Through connection and community building we can transform.  A critical dialogue needs to be undertaken collectively about responsibility, accountability and initiatives to heal.

As our name, Transformation Yoga Project, suggests, we believe that everyone is able to transform themselves.  Because, our individual actions never happen in isolation how we personally transform, heal, or become whole can create a ripple effect.  When this is done positively, it manifests change and transformation throughout.

If you feel like you have learned something about healing and transformation, then please consider supporting our current Training to Transform Justice on Start Some Good.

Your pledge will support 25 men in their own yoga journey, as they work to create connection and restoration in their own communities.

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Meet Eli

Eli Goodrich is a part of our 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute - Phoenix. He is also a Certified Peer Specialist on the Residential Treatment Unit in the prison’s Mental Health Block. We hope Eli will find his training helpful in incorporating yoga and mindfulness into the incredible work he does on the Residential Treatment Unit.

Eli is also a member of the Restorative Justice Alumni. In addition to studying yoga, Eli is also busy preparing to playing the part of Lady Macbeth in their upcoming production of Macbeth at SCI - Phoenix in June.

In order to connect to bridging the wall between those who are incarcerated and you all, Eli agreed to anser some questions.

Eli’s favorite quote is this one from Ghandi. Personal transformation creates a ripple effect into the larger world.

Eli’s favorite quote is this one from Ghandi. Personal transformation creates a ripple effect into the larger world.

Here is what he had to say -

What inspires you?

Sincerity, service, challenging the ego, resilience and self-awareness.

What do you hope to inspire in others?

Resilience, authenticity, courage to be vulnerable, the value of finding and connecting with your true self.

What would you like to share with the larger community?

That we inmates are not “the other.” We are individuals with stories and experiences. Just as we are not definied by the best thing we’ve ever done we are not defined by the worst.

What would you like to share with younger folks?

Develop coping skills for stress early. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, not everyone is going to like you and that’s ok.

How has community shown up for you?

Besides our amazing and talented TYP volunteers, I’ve always been amazed by how many people offer themselves, to help prisoners - volunteers, staff, psych, and security.

How have you shown up for your community?

I believe in the value stewardship. We have an obligation to God and man to make the most of our talents and abilities in the service to ourselves and others.

What if anything has YTT added to your sense of community?

I find comfort and support knowing that there are men who want to find another way to be in the world outside of our aggression, ego and confrontation and fear.

Learn more about our Yoga Teacher Training on StartSomeGood. If you feel connected, or compelled, to support the individuals as they become certified yoga teachers, please make a pledge! A ripple effect of transformation happens when we realize were all connected and can share in healing.

VISIT OUR CROWDFUNDING PAGE ON STARTSOMEGOOD. HELP US RAISE $10,000 TO COVER THE BAREBONES COST OF YTT. Thank you!!

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