About 20 years ago, fresh out of graduate school, I ran a program for girls in the King County Juvenile Detention Center. The program, called YWSP (Young Women's Support Project) was designed to serve the emerging number of girls entering the criminal justice system. A lot of the girls were deemed criminals because they were chronically truant. Some were victims or really horrible home lives and were acting it out-- prostitution, using drugs. There wasn't a ton of robbery, burglary, murder, rape, etc.
The "issues" these girls came in with generally created harm to their own beings and not those of around them. Because the girls were in juvie for really short spells (3-7 days usually), we tried to get them into the program as soon as they were booked into the facility. YWSP consisted of a social worker (me), a health educator, and a nurse. We structured the group as one big infusion- 2 1/2 hours of information sharing, team building, and light group therapy. It was intense-- intense enough that I only lasted a few years. And though teaching Yoga is a much better fit for me, I learned a lifetime in those few years.
Often, I'd see the same girls come into juvie over and over again, doing the same self-destructive behaviors. In a moment of hopelessness and despair, I said to my colleague Ann, "What's the point? This group isn't doing anything. I see the same faces over and over again."
"Laura," Ann said, in her wise, calm voice, "this is just the beginning. The girls are getting a taste of something, a moment where they see themselves differently, feel their feelings in a new way. They are being seen by others with a different lens, maybe a way they've never been seen before."
"It might be next week or next year," Ann went on, "but our hope is that one day, some day, these girls will be in an environment that is healthy, that supports and nurtures them and they will say 'ah-ha'; and the goodness within them will resonate. They will connect to it, and seek more of it."
I feel this in Yoga- both when I am practicing and teaching. There are these perfect moments of self-acceptance, or "being enough" that I notice when I practice. I see it in others when I am teaching. When I am out and about doing my life, I am reminded of these precious glimmers. When I am meeting with bureaucrats from the city or doing my taxes or hosting my in-laws, moments when I am susceptible to feeling swallowed up or overwhelmed, I can find a little bit of it. The feeling of "I am enough." The feeling might be buried, but it's in there. It's familiar enough that often I can connect with it and feel the sense of goodness that comes along with it.
This morning when I was teaching I told my class to be open to those moments of calm, of peacefulness, quiet breathing, and try to connect with them. "It's practice for your brain," I told them, "and this practice will help you when you need it at other moments." It might take weeks or years, but it will come. All that you create in Yoga will come through for you when you need it.