A Letter to Anyone Considering a Yoga Training
by Lindsay Paoloni
My name is Lindsay Paoloni. I teach yoga in a prison and various jails throughout San Diego with Prison Yoga Project. It is here that I feel yoga can be used to its best capacity, as a transformative and healing tool. Here is a little bit of background on how yoga transformed me and in turn lead me here.
I am from New York which can be a very high stress, fast paced, anxiety building culture. I was living a very unharmonious lifestyle working long hours in a corporate setting to pay off a large amount of student loans and doing a job that brought no meaning to my life. I felt out of alignment with myself figuratively and literally and felt out of tune with the state of my body. It was damaging my health mentally and physically. I knew that I wanted a change not only in myself, through healthier more wholesome practices, but also to share that journey and the tools that helped me, with others. Yoga became that tool that helped me balance out the intense corporate lifestyle and it intrigued me how relaxing and good it made me feel (even though I wasn’t sure why at the time). So, while I was between two jobs I decided to do a YTT to learn more about why this ancient practice was helping me so much. I remember getting to the teacher training and being the most inexperienced (or conversely being the person with the most to learn!) but that was not a problem since the training was for all levels.
One of the most profound moments of my yoga training was also during an unexpected moment. I had approached Daphne after a typical long and fruitful day of training deep in the jungles of Ubud, Bali and I asked her "What can I do to improve my posture?" I asked the question looking for a quick and easy fix so I was taken aback when she replied, "When you find your life purpose you will stand taller." I was blown away by the profundity of this response for two reasons. The first because this was the first time someone had introduced to me the idea that our body reflects our state of the mind and that the two are not only connected but one in the same. The second reason was because it was completely true that I was still on that path of discovery and finding my life’s purpose.
While there was a lot of magic that came along with my teacher training, reconnecting to myself and my body was the most impactful. This was one of the main themes of training with Routes of Yoga, for the individual to find themselves and yoga being the tool for it. This extended to each of us on our journey as future yoga teachers as well. We had the freedom and flexibility to pursue yoga in any direction and style that we wanted to take it while having a strong foundation in all things yoga ranging from yoga philosophy to asana.
I knew that I did not see myself teaching in a traditional studio but rather to bring yoga to unconventional, and often ignored populations, from elderly to prisoners. I thought the latter idea might seem crazy at the time, however, I was shocked to find out that the idea was not only well received but that Daphne had experience teaching in detention facilities to troubled youth. Once she knew the direction I was looking to take my teacher training she provided me with all the support and resources that could help me get there. From sharing her personal experiences teaching to these groups to a specific module that was included in our training that involved yoga for people who have experienced trauma, I felt excited and prepared to get involved in this arena of trauma-informed yoga that could help heal people who have experienced trauma and it felt very aligned with the direction I wanted to take my own life.
Trauma-Informed Yoga with Prison Yoga Project:
I rarely use asana names and the focus is less about how the asana looks i.e. getting into the perfect Warrior II and more about how whichever shape the individual chooses how that affects them mentally and physically and help them get into their bodies (although we place extra care that no harm is being done to the body from misalignment).
Inmates will ask questions and share things/thoughts/feelings throughout the practice and sometimes an inmate will even bring in a topic for discussion that they may have encountered in a yoga sutra or science article about breath work or meditation etc. The inmates look forward to yoga class and have much to say about how yoga makes them feel, how it helps them sleep better, relax more, cope better with anger, understand other inmates more, have more patience with themselves and others and manage physical and chronic pain. One inmate told us how practicing yoga saved him from undergoing surgery for chronic nerve pain in his arm that would have been approximately 80,000 dollars. Others have mentioned how they feel like they are part of a community in prison and that it helps make prison a safer place and helps them feel more prepared to re-enter society. Some have mentioned that they have never been as aware of themselves and their thoughts and how they want to introduce their family members to yoga when they get out. I like to think that they will! I truly feel honoured to be a part of Prison Yoga Project and seeing how it has touched so many lives including my own and that while I facilitate yoga to help others I am also helping myself.
Shortly after I relocated to San Diego an opportunity appeared to volunteer with Prison Yoga Project's San Diego chapter. Teaching in prison has given me a deep sense of fulfilment, has opened my sense of compassion to myself and others and it has also become my favourite place to practice yoga.
I teach at prison and two different jails in San Diego California. All three are very different, in prison I teach males of all ages and they are typically there for long periods (usually anywhere from 5-30 years), while in the other jails the sentences are a lot shorter usually around two years or less and one of the jails is all female the other all male.
There is a raw authenticity that is present that I have not experienced elsewhere.
There are no decorations or sounds or smells to distract anyone from their own inner experience. Everyone is dressed the same and everyone has the same matt. We form a circle and we all practice together (including me) for an hour. The style of yoga we facilitate is very different from the yoga you may practice in a studio. Since this is trauma-informed yoga certain poses and verbiage is avoided (as it might trigger certain people).
The focus is mindfulness, meditation, breath work, embodied awareness through movement with the primary goal of reducing stress and bringing awareness to self.
Where is Lindsay Now?
Currently I happily reside in San Diego where I continue to volunteer with Prison Yoga Project, practice yoga on the beach daily and surf/play in the ocean as much as possible!
For those considering a YTT be prepared to grow and learn more about yoga but also more about yourself. For me the best part was realising that being a teacher of yoga also meant being an eternal student in yoga. And on your journey, whatever it is that you pursue may it help you stand a little taller.