In lesson planning for this workshop, Kat and I decided to open and close each class the same way, so that the women have a structured experience. We always start with five or so minutes of freewriting. The women come in, grab a sheet of lined paper and a small pencil, and sit down to explore stream of consciousness writing. Each woman has a colorful folder provided by Kat on the first day, and the women collect these writings in their folders or discard them if they so choose.
We then stand up for a movement-based warm up—or “wake up” as I have been calling it. This usually consists of some whole body stretches, pressing the palms toward the ceiling, circles of the neck, shoulders, hips (always good for a laugh), some spinal rolls, and weight shifts, maybe adding a figure eight with the arms to tease the brain. We move to music, usually a slow, instrumental track with layers of percussive sounds, chimes, and woodwinds.
After waking up our bodies, we move into the lesson plan for the day. So far we have explored several fun ensemble-building games, some basic image work, brainstormed around our workshop theme of love, dramatized a Maya Angelou poem, and written and shared personal monologues. In just four sessions, we have covered quite a bit of ground. Needless to say, we don’t always make it through all of the material we have planned on any given day.
Our original concept was to close each session with singing, followed by a breathing exercise. Each session has been so full that we have not had time to sing since the first day (although I think we’re making it a priority to save time for singing soon!), and our time for breath work at the end of each session has gotten shorter and shorter.
Breathwork is a powerful tool for balancing the nervous system, calming emotions, and quieting the mind. In the course of these five weeks, I had hoped to give the women the opportunity to explore a variety of ways of working with breath, as tools they could take away with them and explore on their own. As our Friday session was interrupted by the delivery of bag lunches, I realized that I would have to let go of sharing any breathing exercises for that day.
Flexibility is one of the most important skills to develop as a facilitator, especially working in a jail or prison setting, when schedules can change at the last minute, when there is frequent turn-over in the number of participants in a group, and sometimes the women do not feel well, or have not gotten a full night of sleep. Nevertheless, as facilitators, we also have goals and expectations for what we want each session to accomplish.
In reflecting back on the experiences of our second week, I realized that while I had not shared the structured breathing tools outlined in our lesson plan, we did share a very powerful and very important breathing experience—LAUGHTER! In each of our four sessions so far, there has been a moment (or several) in our work together in which all of the women have joined together in laughter. And I don’t just mean a few “ha-has.” I mean deep, full, contagious belly-laughs. The kind that put that “I’m-smiling-and-I-can’t-stop” ache into your cheeks. The kind that create positive shared experience. The kind that led one woman to point out how the water in a cup on a desk was vibrating in resonance with the energy we were creating in the classroom.
As a facilitator, I believe in lesson planning and setting goals and intentions. The challenge of flexibility is to be open enough to allow the group to determine how it will experience the material that is presented– and also to create both the space and a container for laughter along the way.