Last week we taught our first yoga classes to the women in recovery at Samaritan Village’s Young Mother’s Drug treatment Program; a little 5 story brownstone located on 106th Street in Harlem.
From 3 to 4 pm, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we are bringing a 12 week pilot yoga program to the women residing inpatient, anywhere from 12 to 24 months. Our program is a mandatory requirement, so we will be able to track the results to see if yoga is going to be as helpful to their recovery as we are all certain it will be.
Our present team is:
Jeanne Heaton – Bikram Yoga Teacher
Stacey Jerrold – Administrator and Yoga demonstrator
Frank King – Bikram Yoga Teacher
In September the three of us first went to the facility to conduct two seminars, just to introduce ourselves and share with them a bit about who we are and our stories – what brought us to yoga and why we all continue to practice yoga regularly.
From 2005 to 2007, I too was a client at Samaritan Village’s Methadone to Abstinence house in Queens so it was important to speak with them from our experience; that anything in life can be overcome and how a consistent yoga practice has been the key for all of us to live useful, productive, healthy lives. I also shared with them my own story of addiction and that after I got out of Samaritan village and found yoga, I came to the realization that had I found yoga while I was IN treatment, my detox and coping skills with all the other addicts living in there with me, would have been that much easier. During both seminars, they were super excited and couldn’t wait to jump on their mats. And as one of them put it, “When can we get this Yoga party started?!?”
But because New York State’s law requires that anyone who works onsite with vulnerable communities be fingerprinted and background checked, we had to wait. And when Frank’s and Stacey’s clearance came back clean right away, and mine didn’t, I got sacred, reliving my past and all my old drug arrests. I wondered if somehow that maybe I had an outstanding warrant still floating around somewhere that I forgot about. I wrote to Jim Hollywood, the director of Samaritan’s residential programs, immediately and he did a little deeper digging for me and on October 4th, I too was cleared. PHEW!
And so we started, right away, on Tuesday, Oct. 8th.
When we arrived to teach the first class, we signed in and headed down the stairs to the dining room where our bag of mats, donated by our sponsoring home school, Bikram Yoga Grand Central, was patiently waiting for us in the corner. We laid them out, one by one, trying our best to convert their dining room into a yoga room. When I heard the announcement come over the loudspeaker, “Everybody must make their way downstairs to the Tuesday 3 pm yoga class, NOW and you better not be late!,” I got all choked up with emotions and had to take a moment acknowledge that all of my dreams and the promises I made to bring yoga to drug and alcohol rehabs were finally being realized!”
When the women rounded the corner and entered their dining room/yoga room, their energy was quite different from the seminars. They were not nearly as excited. Funny how, now that we there and really doing it, all that “Let’s get this party started” stuff had spun into uneasiness and apprehension with fear written all over their faces.
We had them take off their shoes and get on a mat. Frank stood on his mat, facing the women, to be their mirror and demonstrate the postures, and I began the class.
But as soon as I said the words, “Bring your toes and heels together…” the chatter began. And when they brought their elbows up to the ceiling and dropped their heads back, they were giggling like crazy. When they dropped their head back for the first backward bend, they were being so silly and dramatizing with all kinds of falling down and messing around and back slapping. A few got up and walked all around the room. One girl even had her headset on and ate her lunch in the back of the room.
I was dying inside. All my hopes and dreams for this class were going down the drain. I didn’t know what to do. With each word, I got more and more panicked. I thought, “This is not going to work!”
And just then, my own time in treatment flashed before me, and the thought was placed in my heart, “This is not about you, Jeanne. This is about them! Just teach the yoga the best you know how, one second at a time, one minute at a time, one posture at a time. Give them exactly what you were missing in treatment that this practice automatically cultivates; unconditional love and compassion. Everything happening in this room at this very moment is exactly how it is supposed to be.
When we left the facility, I realized that the universe was showing me exactly what I needed to see all along; that these women need yoga. They need to learn how to be still, and to find new ways, through postures, how to respond to their life rather than react by picking up a substance. Yoga is going to remove the blocks in the body, as it has done for me, to facilitate just that.
On the bus crosstown, Frank reminded me, “Yoga is about finding peace in the calamity. Stillness and being able to find your breath in the middle of everything constantly popping off around you, so that when the addict re-enters society and is back on the street, and the drug and lifestyle that comes calling they are going to have new tools and one more community, the yoga community, to help them stay the course.
Stay tuned next week to find out how our week 2 went.