Volunteer Yoga Instructor at Varner SuperMax
Tracy Davis begin teaching yoga at Varner SuperMax about two months ago. Since she started, her class as grown exponentially. Read our Q&A to find out more about the yoga group at Varner SuperMax.
Q: Tell us about the training that prepared you to teach yoga in a prison.
A: I am a 500 hour certified yoga teacher through Circle Yoga Shala, and in between my 200 and 500 hour trainings, I went to Denver, Colorado to the Prison Yoga Project training taught by founder, James Fox. Prison Yoga Project has trainings and successes all over the nation and abroad. It was an extensive 3-day training in which we covered topics such as PTSD and complex trauma. We learned about how to get programs started by communicating with the prison officials as well as practice teaching. We were taught specific postures that help heal. I have recently received certifications for Yoga for 12 Step Recovery (Y12sr.com with Nikki Myers ). I have a ‘motley' type toolkit to handle almost anything I come across with a student.
Q: Why prison? What led you to an interest in prison work?
A: Although I have never been incarcerated in the sense that we all know, I have been a ‘prisoner of my own mind’ my entire life. I questioned whether it was fair for me to do this because of that and I was quickly whispered to by my spirit, that said, “YES, you are definitely qualified to do this!”
When I began practicing yoga, I had no intention of ever teaching it until I realized how healing it was for me.I have always had a compassionate heart when it comes to helping others. When I was searching out trainings to take, I came across this and it intrigued me.
Q: How did you find out about Compassion Works for All?
A: James Fox of Prison Yoga Project contacted me about a gentlemen in prison who was searching for a yoga program or teacher. James said the man was denied his yoga practice while in prison. He sued in federal court and won the right to do his practice.
I waited for 4 years to go to Varner. After trying on my own to get started and getting nowhere, I met Compassion for All. CWFA reach out to me through a Facebook search for yoga instructors. We patiently waited through a couple administration changes at the prison, even though the court case was settled over 5 years ago.
Q: Describe the first class you taught at Varner. Was it what you expected?
A: My first class at Varner was just a little difficult. I had 4 students and two were late because of count and the other two came in as class was over. This was no one’s fault, I just think it was a new program, new scheduling process, and it was simply something that needed to get into the flow. The students that were there, although I didn’t get them for very long, were so grateful and appreciative that I was there. None of us had any complaints. I was so happy to finally be in there that my heart was literally exploding with joy!
Q: How are people receiving the class now?
A: Each week I teach, classes have grown from 4 to 18 people, and now there are 9 on a waiting list! The men in my class are always ready when I arrive with their mats and props, and they clean up after class. They are all so eager to learn!
Q: What is the essential teaching you try to impart each time you go to the prison?
A: One of the important things I teach is to find and connect with the breath. I explain to them that the breath is the fuel to our system. The fuel, when sent to the right places through the exhale, can help unlock tensions throughout the body so healing can happen. There is a definite connection in the body when we are mindful of the breath, a hold awareness and patience.
From my formal teaching, I am a careful teacher. I am not willing to jump into a yoga sequence that could cause injury. I look at the group as a whole and then look at them individually to see where they may benefit. I teach stability and safety for their bodies and minds. Without the breath, there is no beginning. This is key.
Q: Is there anything else you want to share about your experience teaching yoga at Varner?
A: I would like to share that when I have these men in class, I encourage them to feel safe. I encourage them to give themselves fully to their practice. I have to confess I have not once been afraid of any of my students at Varner. They have only come to me with the utmost respect for me and this sacred practice. They have never invaded my personal space, and I’ve never had anything inappropriate happen. I think they are grateful to not be forgotten. I tell them in savasana (final resting pose) that they matter - no matter what.
For the free world, I would like to say that I do not know why any of my students are there. Nor do I care. I am there to do a service for another human being that I feel I was called to do; for another human that shares space on this earth with me. I do this in hopes of helping rehabilitate people. I pray this program will grow.
The men’s supermax unit at Varner is the only men’s prison in the state with this program. I hope this changes across the state and nation. I am grateful for Warden Gibson for being so accommodating - helping this come to fruition. I am grateful for Compassion For All for all they have done.
We as a society cannot keep building more prisons. We as the human race need to help each other. This is what it means to give of yourself. Just when I was about to give up, grace happened for me. It continues to appear all the time. I must pay it forward. I WANT to pay it forward.