Thirteen women sit in a circle on yoga mats. We all have placed a hand on our belly or on our heart. Some of us have chosen to do both. It’s our last yoga session together, so even before I invite the women to explore some movement, many have already begun to rock from side to side, or forward and back. Some have decided to make some circles with their torsos.
All their choices are welcome in this circle.
I am a certified trauma-sensitive yoga facilitator, and a postulant in the Diocese of Los Angeles. The women gathered are all incarcerated at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, CA. Together, for three sessions in October and November, we met to share some movement, to make choices about how we want to inhabit our bodies, and to create a space to physically and emotionally rest. Sharon, their chaplain, brought us together and she was also part of our circle.
Trauma-sensitive yoga isn’t about processing or fixing trauma, though there are studies that show it can be just as effective as therapy and medication in alleviating symptoms for some folks with PTSD diagnoses. This modality is about providing an opportunity to inhabit your body on your own terms, to make choices about what and how you do something.
Choice is an essential part of the gospel; throughout the stories of his ministry Jesus embodies divine non-coercion. Jesus offers, and people are able to choose their own response. When I facilitate a yoga circle, I get to participate in that work. It’s holy work to me, to support people by offering them choices. Especially in a carceral setting, choosing what you want to do—and then doing it—is one of the most radical, counter-cultural, human acts of dignity I can think of.
I’ve volunteered in prison ministry programs before, but they were decidedly focused on overt evangelizing, which never felt truly authentic for me. But sharing space with these women, providing a time for them to be in charge of themselves, loving them by being with them, this is how I authentically love like Jesus. It’s been an honor to facilitate yoga alongside PRISM and I’m looking forward to returning to the facility soon.
Caitlyn Ference-Saunders is a trauma-sensitive yoga facilitator in Pasadena, CA and a recent postulant in the Diocese of Los Angeles. You can learn more about trauma-sensitive yoga and opportunities to try some movement at www.movewithcait.com or on IG: @move_withcait.