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REFLECTIONS ON CIRCLES OF LIGHT EVENT, 3/31/15

Posted on April 5, 2015 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (1)

APRIL 5, 2015

The CIRCLES OF LIGHT Event, held inside and all around Folsom State Prison last Tuesday, was without a doubt one of the best days of my life. It confirmed for me the saying, "When we heal ourselves, we heal the world."  And I might add, "When we heal the world, we heal ourselves."  I think the latter is what everyone who participated on Tuesday, got to experience.  We came together to heal the prison, to support the T'ai Chi Chih class inside, to help Franky heal from his wrongful imprisonment, and yet each of us received so much more than we gave.  

As the preparation and planning for the event unfolded, I had a chance to see clearly that energy flows, it gets blocked, it becomes weak or strong, and that discovering the reason for the blockage isn't always necessary, and the blockage isn't always bad.  Sometimes it is there to show us how to help the energy flow in another way, and sometimes the NEW way will be better than the path it was on!  

Example #1:  Franky had to jump through hoop after hoop, supplying documents from his attorney and the court, in order to be allowed to come back inside Folsom, and so he couldn't purchase his airline ticket until the last minute, making it very stressful and expensive.  And yet, he didn't give up, and his determination was mirrored by that of the Community.  More and more people kept showing up and sending in money, so that we could help Franky pay for his ticket.  The Universal flow was supporting him, through us, to grow further in this part of his journey, and we got to experience this with him. 

Example #2:  The men were not issued their "duckets" allowing them to be released from their cells to attend the Retreat and Banquet on the morning of the event. But because of that, they got to experience the care, consideration, effort and determination it took to make sure every one of them made it there.  They were each valued, individually, as members of the class and our community, and it touched them deeply. 

Example #3: I forgot to apply for Sandy McAlister's guest pass (!) until it was too late for the prison to issue one.  But I got to connect in a meaningful way with Staff in the prison, and they went the extra mile to make sure it was processed in time for the event.  I got to experience a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for some of the people who work inside. 

Example#4:  Franky Carrillo has every right to feel deep resentment towards the system that robbed him of 20 years of freedom, but he chooses another path.  He has reached out to the Judge, the D.A., and the prosecutors who participated in his incarceration.  He has befriended them, as well as the former head of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  Because this, he gets to live a life of peace and serenity. He gets to model this path to those still on the inside.  It also puts him in a position to advocate and lobby for change, thereby benefitting his inmate friends, and changing the system.  

My T'ai Chi Chih and Qigong Instructor, Judy Tretheway (who taught the class at Folsom Prison and New Folsom for 13 years) wrote:

"The teaching of Hun Yuan Ling Tong boils down to this for me:  Keep the energy (chi) flowing; and the corollary:

Don't let the energy get stuck....It's simple, it's applicable, and it answers my questions in the moment.  Flow means

change is happening; potential is alive in the air; fresh energy is flushing the system and the old patterns are releasing."

On Tuesday, March 31st, we all joined in CIRCLES OF LIGHT, to support growth and change, releasing old patterns.  I also saw clearly (tending to be a loner of sorts) that we create strength and abundance - greater flow - by reaching out to others, by connecting to the whole, by ASKING for help.  That by consciously connecting to the greater flow (like we do every time we practice), the energy becomes INFINITE!  Infinite in it's power to support, to heal, to love, to transform.  

The Folsom class sent out a desire, a prayer:

                            "Please supply us with nourishing food; please join us in our practice," AND YOU DID, AND IT WAS BEAUTIFUL.  

PRESS RELEASE: FRANKY CARRILLO AND CIRCLES OF LIGHT EVENT

Posted on April 5, 2015 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Exonerated Inmate Returns to Folsom Prison to Fulfill a Dream

Franky Carrillo, who served 20 years for a crime he didn’t commit, returns to Folsom State Prison to visit his former T’ai Chi Chih classmates at their 3rd Annual Banquet and Retreat, and share in their practice.

Sacramento,California (PR MediaRelease) March 30, 2015

T’ai Chi Chih is a T’ai Chi/Qigong hybrid that was created by American T’ai Chi Chuan master Justin Stone in 1974. It quickly became popular and is now taught by thousands of instructors, worldwide. Julie Heryet has been teaching a weekly T’ai Chi Chih class as a volunteer inside Folsom Prison since November of 2009. It was there that she met Franky Carrillo, one of the inmate-students in her class. In 1991, at the age of 16, Franky Carrillo was arrested in Los Angeles for a drive-by shooting; a crime that he did not commit. On March 14, 2011, with the help of attorney Ellen Eggers, the Northern California Innocence Project and Pro Bono attorneys from Morrison and Foerster, Franky’s conviction was overturned. After serving 20 years in prison – all of his adult life – Franky was finally released. During his time at Folsom State Prison, Franky participated in the weekly T’ai Chi Chih class that was held in the prison chapel. During class he often dreamed of being able to do his T’ai Chi Chih practice on the outside, as a free man. There was a tree on a hill across the American River that he could see from the prison yard, and he pictured himself beneath that tree on the hill. (See photo)

On Tuesday, March 31st, Franky Carrillo is returning to Folsom Prison to visit his former classmates, and attend their 3rd Annual T’ai Chi Chih Retreat and Banquet. After sharing a meal in the prison, Franky will leave the grounds and head for that tree on the hill across the river, and his dream will become a reality. He will be joined by a group of T’ai Chi Chih teachers, students and friends on the outside, and at 2:00, they will form a circle and begin their practice. At the exact same time, Julie Heryet’s class of 22 inmates, will form a circle and begin their T’ai Chi Chih practice on the inside. This event is being called: CIRCLES OF LIGHT. The International T’ai Chi Chih community is so inspired by Franky’s story, and by the dedication of the men in the class at Folsom Prison, that at 2:00 Pacific DST, there will be groups joining in this practice from various cities all over California, as well as in Atlanta, GA, St. Paul, MN, Albuquerque, NM, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and even London, England! The Annual T’ai Chi Chih Banquet inside of the prison is fully funded by private donations from teachers, students and friends of the T’ai Chi Chih community.

Teaching the T’ai Chi Chih class at Folsom Prison is, according to instructor Julie Heryet, “An incredible experience. Qigong and Tai Chi have been proven to decrease stress and help with chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and other stress-related illnesses. The prison environment is the ultimate testing ground for the effectiveness of this practice. The men in my class are dedicated to healing and finding peace. Also, meditation programs have been proven to significantly reduce recidivism rates. So everybody wins when we have programs like this one.” Of Franky Carrillo, Heryet says, “The amazing thing about Franky, is his grace. Even after all the time he lost, he chooses to live a life of forgiveness, rather than carry the heavy burden of bitterness and anger.” Franky received a full scholarship to Loyola Marymount, where he is currently a student.

- See more at: http://prmediarelease.com/?p=92220#sthash.NlQIQQHF.dpuf

 

CIRCLES OF LIGHT EVENT, 3/31/15

Posted on April 5, 2015 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

fROM THE EMAIL I SENT OUT, THE DAY AFTER THE EVENT:

Hello You Very Dear Circles of Light Participants!

 

Thank you SO much for your support of Tuesday's event. I've posted some of the photos that Dave took on Facebook, but in case you don't look there, I'm sending some along through email.

 

I'm so glad those of you who were able to come to Folsom, got to meet Franky, and he is VERY glad that he got to meet you.

 

This is how it went on the inside: There was a feeling of excitement in the air. The guys were so looking forward to seeing our guests: Sandy McAlister, Franky Carrillo, Judy Tretheway and Minh Mark. We began, as always, sitting in a circle of chairs, and each of the men introduced themselves and shared how T'ai Chi Chih has changed their lives. That alone would be enough. They talk of learning to connect within, to a higher, softer self they didn't know existed. They speak of finding peace in their chaotic, dangerous and stressful world. The spoke of comraderie, of how whether white, black or brown, they always smile and wave on the yard, because they are brothers through the form. Most of all they expressed gratitude, for Justin Stone, for Sandy and all of their guests, for their teacher, and for the practice. Some will even say they are grateful to be in Folsom, so they could discover T'ai Chi Chih and what it has shown them about themselves; about how to live.

 

Watching them eat will always be one of the greatest joys I will ever experience. But more than that, it is sitting down together and sharing a meal, the temporary normalcy of it, and for a while, they are not in prison any more. After our meal Franky Carrillo got up on stage and spoke of his life after 20 years of wrongful incarceration. He said that, having come in at 16 and being released at 37, there were some who wondered if he could ever adapt, could make a life for himself. He demonstrated to the men that not only is it possible - he is living a life beyond his wildest dreams. He is in love, he has a beautiful son, and he is attending a prestigious university. He has been in newspapers, magazines, and on radio and t.v. Rather than relax and live a quiet life, he is using his fame and working hard to change the system. He said that once released, he had a choice. He could hold onto the anger and bitterness he felt towards those who had hurt him, or he could reach out in forgiveness. He chose the latter. He has had dinner with the D.A., the Prosecutors, and even the Judge who passed his sentence. He befriended the very head of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. And by doing this, he is able to work for change. Soon he is even traveling to the White House to speak. But what Franky said is the most important thing he does now, is to introduce himself as a former inmate. He said, "I am your face out there. I am working to destroy the stereotype of how a former inmate looks, of who he is." He expressed gratitude for the T'ai Chi Chih class he was able to attend while he was in Folsom, and said it helped him immensely after his release. There was hardly a dry eye in the place. Then he and Judy Tretheway left to join the group of 14, waiting on the outside.

 

Before the class in the Chapel gathered into our Circle, Sandy, the International Guide of T'ai Chi Chih, read aloud the article that she wrote after last year's banquet. Eyes-welling-up-with-tears-of-emotion seemed to be an ongoing theme Tuesday, be it Franky, Judy, Minh, myself, or one of the inmates, and Sandy was no exception. She spoke of how the word "prisoner" just did not describe the men who sat before her. She also expressed her gratitude for Justin, and for them. She finished her reading at 3 minutes to 2:00 and we eagerly formed two circles, myself, Sandy, Minh and the more experienced students in the center circle, surrounded by the remaining students. I listed all of the people who were joining us in this special practice: Franky's Circle of Light on the Hill, looking right down on us, as well as the Circles in Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Diego, Albuquerque, Atlanta, St. Paul, Portland, Edmonton, Canada, and London England (a partial list). There was such a feeling of calm excitement in the air, as Sammy and Mr. Miller counted down the seconds. Then quietly, Sandy said, "Rocking Motion," and we began. It was one of the most beautiful practices I've ever experienced. I don't think I've ever seen this class so synchronized, so present, so connected. We were all being carried along by the love being expressed in movement, all over the world. We were as one. It was truly magical.

 

I look forward to hearing about your experiences as well. I would love it if you would do a "REPLY ALL," so we can all share in your thoughts and feelings. Again,I am so grateful to you all, for your enthusiasm, participation and monetary support. Thanks to Franky for using part of his Spring Break to join us, thereby creating the second Circle of Light; thanks to Sandy, Judy and Minh; thanks to my husband Dave for all of his support and help, and to my brother Tom, for sending the press release for free.

 

Much Loving Qi - Julie

 

P.S. Here is a link to an article that came out yesterday, from a Tai Chi group in San Luis Obispo, who joined in our practice. I am not sure who they are, or how they heard about it? Wow! http://www.ksby.com/story/28693883/tai-chi-class-shows-support-for-former-inmate

Risking Vulnerability in our Practice

Posted on July 21, 2014 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Monday, July 21, 2014

When I was teaching T'ai Chi Chih (a qigong form) class at the Folsom men's prison last Thursday (7/17/14), one of the inmates asked me why he had to put his feet in a "v" position when standing in "resting pose".  I told him I should probably know the answer to that, but really wasn't sure why, except that it probably had to do with opening the channels so that the Qi (chi) could flow more freely.  I emphasized that if standing in a "v" was painful for some reason, or if he was more comfortable with his feet in a parallel position, he could certainly stand that way. 

He explained that as a man in prison, in order to protect himself he would usually stand with a foot turned in, not out.  It took me a second to realize that he meant, "to not get kicked in his privates."  I said that was a really good point, and I was very glad he'd brought it up.  It led to a discussion of all the risks the men have taken in the prison class: risking looking silly or foolish when learning the movements for the first time; risking asking questions that they think might be "dumb" (but which never are); risking sharing about how the practice has helped or changed them; risking sharing the frustration they feel about their powerlessness to help family on the outside; risking doing the movements on the yard, risking sharing about sick or dying friends or family on the outside; risking showing support, respect and love for their fellow classmates, and risking the trust I've witnessed among classmates.

I thought of all the ways the practice has taught me to take risks.  Listening to my "inner voice" and following the path that led me to the prison; becoming a teacher in spite of being quite shy and anxious in front of groups; travelling distances alone to attend retreats and trainings where I didn't know anyone, expanding my practice to include other teachings (overcoming fear of disapproval); reaching out to other teachers in the Community and asking for help and support; speaking in front of 70 people in L.A. about the prison class... Risking being more of ME, and not playing small anymore.

I thought also of some readings in my Book of Awakening by the poet, Mark Nepo, where he offers the following analogies to risking vulnerability:

1. Learning to swim:  The harder and faster we flounder in our efforts to stay afloat, contracting and tensing our muscles, the faster we sink.  It is only when we can let go, spread out, relax and  trust the depth of the water to hold us up, that we float.  

2.  Birds, learning to fly:  They must step off the branch and spread their wings, trusting in the air beneath them to hold them up.  If they keep their wings folded inward, (contracting, tightening, closing off), then they will only fall and never fly.  

Expansion vs. contraction.  Both are part of the dance.  How will I take a risk, and expand today?  Opening ones feet into a "v" may seem like no big deal to some.  But to others, it is a huge risk, like floating or flying.  


.

T'ai Chi Chih Teacher's Conference, 2013

Posted on July 18, 2014 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

For the Vital Force: Teacher’s Conference 2013, by Julie Heryet of Placerville, California.

I don’t know where to begin – so incredible was my experience at conference this year. I didn’t think my first Teacher’s Conference (Portland, 2012) could be beat, but Minnesota was amazing. For me, getting to go to conference and connect with the T’ai Chi Chih community and DO T’ai Chi Chih with 100 other people is about enough reason to be a T’ai Chi Chih teacher – right there. To be a teacher and NOT give yourself the gift of a conference - well all I can say is you are really cheating yourself. This year’s conference was SO spiritual – so unifying, pulling us together in our common intention, strengthening our connection to each other and the bigger picture. I felt so spiritually well fed at the end. The presentations were awesome – I didn’t even KNOW I had tense feet – but now they are happier. The TEDxTalk was so moving and inspiring, and I have carried April Loeffler like a little angel on my shoulder ever since August. She whispers, “Listen to that inner voice – there is that within you which knows….” Her talk and group exercise in which I got to be the “Dreamer” helped to crystallize what I’ve always known about my connection to T’ai Chi Chih: That I was led to it by listening to an “inner voice” connected to the greater voice of Universal Spirit (Prajna), and it has made all the difference. My “dream” was to have the courage to get up on stage and share something of myself which might be useful to others - like how to teach T’ai Chi Chih in prisons, perhaps? Until April encouraged me to share my dream and have it challenged and affirmed by others, I never would have considered the idea. And that was just the first of several transformational experiences I had at conference. In addition to the pure joy of the presentations and the international dancing, there were heaps of opportunities for me to grow both personally and as a teacher. I learned from Pam that Seijaku can simply become a deeper part of my T’ai Chi Chih practice, that it doesn’t duplicate or replace it. I learned from Bill Moore how to connect myself to the ground at a deeper level than I’ve ever experienced before. I discovered that I could be videotaped and the sky didn’t fall. The calm, gracious spirit of our recording artist really helped me to overcome my shyness and anxiety – it was unbelievable that she was able to turn it into something I didn’t just survive, but actually enjoyed! And all this was capped off by having the honor and privilege of being one of four leaders for our group practice on Sunday morning. What a gift! The energy and bond I felt with Neal, Stacey and April as we led the group was SO powerful. Again, I not only survived it – I ENJOYED it! Amazing! I marvel at the person I’ve become through my T’ai Chi Chih practice – and it is because of all the wonderful teachers I’ve met, who carry Justin’s message so faithfully, and are so willing to help others along the way. Finally, a real bonus that I got from leading that practice was some feedback I received from Carmen about a few of my moves. Just in case this might be helpful to someone else, her corrections were as follows: 1) I was leaning back slightly. She suggested that rather than tuck my butt under so much on the backward weight shift, that I allow my rear to come back and sit on an imaginary stool behind me; 2) To allow my forearms to have a little more involvement in wrist circles Taffy when doing the circles. I was only using my wrists to the point of making it look tense, and 3) During Light at the Head and Temple, she suggested that I come up to more of a standing position before opening and closing the hands, so there is more room to sink down during the sinking part. Thank you to the Minnesota team and the presenters and Sister, Pam, Sandy, Dan and Bill, and to our fabulous recording artist, and to Justin, who set this beautiful ball in motion. A shout out to Stacey, Neal and April – you guys rock! (P.S. I just sent my students the link to my Youtube video. How cool is that!?!)

 

Article for Vital Force: 1st Annual Banquet and Retreat at Folsom State Prison

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

First Annual Banquet and Retreat at Folsom State Prison, 2013

Article for the Vital Force, by Julie Heryet

In the spring of 2011 I took over Judy Tretheway’s T’ai Chi Chih class inside Folsom State Prison in Northern California. Folsom is a maximum security men’s facility where Judy had been teaching a weekly, 2 & ½ hour class since 1998. Over the years, it became a tradition that while Sister Antonia was in California conducting retreats and workshops, she would stay with Judy in Sacramento and come in to visit the prison class. The class is held in the old Greystone Chapel, which was built in 1903, while the prison itself opened in 1880. (See photo)

This year I decided to plan our very first all-day retreat and banquet, centered around Sister Antonia’s visit. The men always look forward to seeing her, and are so appreciative that she takes the time to be with them. She helps to create a connection between their class and the larger T’ai Chi Chih Community.

Judy, Sister Antonia and I arrived at 8:00 a.m. and stayed with the class until 3:00 that afternoon. We always begin the class seated in a circle for our ‘check-in’ period. The men share how the form is working in their lives, we review goals, and I answer questions. This year Sister Antonia walked around the circle, stopping in front of each student to ask their name and shake their hand. There were 12 inmates attending, several of whom had not met her before, though many had read some of her articles in the Vital Force. This part of the class is always a very special time, especially when you consider that in an environment where different races, gang members, and religions rarely mix, we are quite the melting pot of diversity. Two of the men shared during check-in that this class had become like family – a demonstration of the great degree of trust and connection that has developed among them.

The highlight of the day was the banquet. The men’s plates were piled high with fresh fruit, bread spread with hummus, pesto, cheese, tomato and cucumber slices, and bowls of soup. We finished with berry and apple pie, dribbled with melted ice cream. As we all sat down together to share our meal, several of the men said again that this was their family – that this was something they would do with their family – how special it was to get to share this day with Sister Antonia, Judy and I. After our meal, I passed out paper and pencils and we all wrote some pyramid poetry – also something I’d never done with this class. Here are a few of the inmate's poems:

They Our

Said we Spirit

Could never Journey is

Really make it Never Ending

But I say So never

Almost Stop it!

There. Go!


 

See Yin

All those and Yang

Prisoners Opposites

Needing Love and Yet they attract

Family Vital force

Values Giving

Too. Life.


 

 

For the rest of my life, I will never forget the looks on the faces of these men as we sat together, sharing a meal, sharing our practice, sharing moments in our lives. Having the opportunity to teach T’ai Chi Chih at Folsom Prison has been one of the great privileges of my life, and I highly recommend it to any teacher who might be so inclined. I am so grateful to Judy Tretheway for keeping this class going for so many years, and to Sister Antonia for being willing to bring her light to those who so desperately need it.

Poems from Judy and myself:

Oh Here

Treasure Justin

These moments Came to give

Greystone Chapel Us T’ai Chi Chih

Together What a gift

Synced as He left

One. Us.

 

Thank you Justin. Thank you for your vision and light.

 


 

Inmates sharing about T'ai Chi Chih

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

2013

During our check-in at the beginning of my prison class the other day, as is my usual practice when we have newcomers, I asked some of the veteran students to share their feelings about T’ai Chi Chih. I wish that we could have videotaped their statements for the entire world to see and hear.

“This class, it is the most important day of the week for me.”

“It has completely changed my life.”

“It has helped me to relax and learn to let things go, to not react to stuff.”

“It has helped me find and connect to my center.”

“It has changed the way I look at everything.”

“I don’t take things so personally anymore.”

“I feel connected, it’s easier to talk to people.”

“I can focus on things better, and get things done.”

“I feel healthier than ever before.”

“I am happier and less angry.”

“If it weren’t for this class, I know I’d be in the hole.”

They go into greater detail and are much more eloquent, but you get the idea.

Thank you Justin, Tara Stiles, Judy Tretheway, Pam, Sandy and all of my teachers, for giving me what has been one of the most important experiences of MY life – bearing witness to the transformation and healing is see at Folsom State Prison. 

 

 

Students as Teachers as Students...

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

2012

As Tai Chi Chih students, we all have certain teachers for whom we feel a special connection; likewise as Tai Chi Chih teachers, we have certain students with whom we develop a unique bond. When I met Frank Bouldin, we were both students. He then became my teacher, and later, I became his. Frank is a tall, lanky, gentle man, with large, laughing brown eyes and deep golden brown skin. When I joined his class, he’d been practicing for a while and our teacher was gently nudging him towards taking a greater role in helping to lead the class. He was shy and lacked confidence, but I got to witness his path as the Chi (Love Energy) carried him along, and he gradually unfolded his beautiful wings and began to fly. By the time I was getting ready for my teacher accreditation course, Frank was often leading our class. Our teacher then assigned Frank to help me to prepare for my teacher training. With a great deal of humility, gentleness and seriousness, he would take me aside after class and reluctantly point out some areas I might improve upon. He was extremely supportive and encouraging as I too, began to experiment with leading some of the movements in class. Both of us being shy, I think he really empathized with my nervousness in front of the group. He was so proud of me when I returned from training with my accreditation, and was eager to learn what I’d been taught. After our teacher went on sabbatical, he willingly turned the class over to me so I could practice teaching, and we co-taught for several months, becoming each other’s students and teachers.

As with most of my other T’ai Chi Chih students, I don’t ask or know anything about Frank’s past, unless it will have some bearing on how he executes his moves (a previous physical injury, for example). It is his presence that most interests me.

Then one day I came to class and it was announced that Frank was gone. You see, Frank was an inmate at Folsom State Prison, where I first came in as a volunteer, learned T’ai Chi Chih from Judy Tretheway, and now teach. Though more than qualified, he could not attend a teacher training, and had no control of his fate when they suddenly decided to transfer him to San Quentin. Though I’d often expressed my appreciation to him, I still felt I hadn’t fully thanked Frank for all of his help and support. Neither Judy nor I ever got to say goodbye. We get peace from the knowledge that we will always be connected to him through T’ai Chi Chih, and sincerely hope that someday a class will exist at San Quentin so that he can continue on his path as a teacher, and get to experience the wonderful Love Energy generated by a group.

Postscript:  Frank has been released and is now living in Southern California, where he someday hopes to become an accredited T'ai Chi Chih Instructor.  

 

Questions to Inmates re practice, 12/2012

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Blog entry: 12/27/12

Yesterday I asked my class what they would most like to work on at our upcoming full day T’ai Chi Chih retreat with Sister Antonia. Their responses were,

“I wish to achieve centeredness and peace.”

“I would like to know how to stay centered. Especially when in a very stressful situation. How to stay calm and relaxed.”

“I would like to know how to discover my true, authentic self. Not the self that is influenced by external expectations, pressures and labels, but to truly know who I am.”

“I would like to know how to communicate better, to be able to say “no” to someone without hurting their feelings.”

Four things struck me about these responses.

First: These are all things in our lives that will improve through the practice of T’ai Chi Chih, IF we stick with it and practice.

Second: They are about growth, about seeking to connect to our higher selves. They are what many of us are trying to achieve. Universal aspirations.

Third: That unless I told you, you probably would not have guessed that these are wishes expressed by the inmates in my class at Folsom Prison.

Fourth: (Combining two and three): We are all connected. To quote from one of my favorite prayers: “It is the little things in life that create differences, that in the big things in life, we are as one, and may we strive to touch and to know the great common heart of us all…”

Wishing all of you a peaceful and beautiful New Year!

With Loving Chi,

Julie Heryet

 

Helping Them to Fly...

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

We always begin the Folsom Prison T’ai Chi Chih class sitting in a circle of chairs, checking in with each other. How is their practice helping them? Changing them? For the men, it has become a sort of support group - their own T’ai Chi Chih community. Since I was not going to be able to come in and teach the following week, I strongly urged the men to come and practice without me. However, the inmate whom Judy Tretheway had groomed to teach the class in her absence had been transferred to San Quentin many months ago, and I hadn’t been able to find a willing and capable replacement.

There were mumbles and groans. R said, “No, I’ll treat it like a day off, and get my homework done.” I replied, “Every time you practice, you are making a deposit in your chi account. Then when things go wrong, when you are challenged or stressed in some way, it is there for you to draw from. Because you HAVE practiced, even though you might feel stressed, it will be easier to reconnect with that serenity you feel during class. You will be able to take a breath, lengthen and relax your posture, and focus in the soles of your feet. THAT, takes practice.”

As the 8 of us formed our circle on the hardwood floor in the center of the large, old Chapel, I looked around with a mischievous smile. I moved into the center of the circle and asked the men to pretend that I knew nothing about shifting the weight. How would they teach me? Here is what they said:

G. – “You move all of your weight to your right leg, and place your left heel forward. Then you come forward and move all of your weight to the left foot.”

As I shifted on straight, stiff legs, they watched with some consternation.

A. – “Bend one knee, and then straighten the other leg.”

I continued to bob up and down, leaning and dipping over my front foot….

L. – “No, bend BOTH knees when you go back and forth, THEN straighten one leg.”

Ah, much better.

M. – (a newer student, I might add) “Keep both feet on the ground until the last minute, then let the heel or toe come up naturally.”

G. – “Come forward with your hips.”

L. – “Yeah, like there’s a string attached to your dan tien, pulling you forward from your center.”

I am grinning from ear to ear.

R. – “Be careful not to come out over your front foot with your knee.”

Hooray! Not only did they have me moving like a champ, I saw their confidence levels rise exponentially. Maybe they knew something about this stuff after all. So after leading Rocking Motion and Bird Flaps its Wings, I asked if they would each take turns leading a movement. A few more groans and some uncomfortable shuffling of the feet. I named “Around the Platter” and looked pointedly at G, whom I knew wouldn’t mind leading. By the end of the practice, every man had willingly lead at least one move (okay, M took some cajoling). I noted aloud how nice it was to experience different speeds and styles of movement, and what a good job they had done following the leader. They all looked happy and quite proud of themselves.

When I tried this about a year ago in this same class, it seemed to make the class kind of choppy and less meditative, but this time as they each led the movements, it felt peaceful and serene. I think their shared T’ai Chi Chih practice combined with the time spent in our circle of chairs (we also sit down for a meditation after moving), has built a strong sense of safety, support and ease among the men. At the end of the practice, D, who has been in the class longest, said, “Wow, that was better than I thought it was going to be. Very nice. Relaxing.”

Back in our circle of chairs at the conclusion of class, I again asked who would be coming to class next week, in spite of my absence. Every one of them raised their hands. It was my proudest moment yet, as a teacher.