Smelly Braces and Missing Meds

This morning, believing that I would face twenty four grumpy sleep faces, I had gotten us reinstated in the larger classroom and marched in ready to conquer! Much to my surprise, we once again had a small and somewhat cheerful group of ten.

“Where is everyone? I thought y’all were a big group now.”

“We are.”

“Well – where is everyone?”

“If we come to your class, we miss our meds. And we need our meds.”

“They won’t give them to you later?”

“No, we have to be on the unit to get them.”

A large number of the women in the program (and incarcerated women) are on psychiatric medications. As Meg stated: “Why don’t they have yoga every morning instead of all these medications?” but the fact remains that our society often finds it easier and quicker to medicate rather than to explore alternate and perhaps holistic options. I am not dissing anyone taking meds – I’ve been on them myself and I know several people who have been really helped by them. For some people, however, other options work better.

Jail may not be the best environment to try work through your anxiety, depression and trauma without some pharmaceutical support. (Unless of course, they wanted to hire Meg to teach restorative yoga several times a day!)

So we used the small group to our advantage – Meg led us in a wonderful physical warm-up, in which we opened up our sides and lungs, got some oxygen flowing to our brains. One woman got so dizzy I encouraged her to sit. When we carry tension and stress in our bodies, sometimes releasing it can cause such an influx of oxygen to the brain that we get faint. I’ve had the same happen to me with Alexander Technique work.

We then thought up action words that started with the same first letter as our name – I was Cartwheelin’ Kat. The class encouraged me to show them a cartwheel but I declined, the floor being solid concrete and all. We moved into zip, zap, boing – which had been requested last week but not one of the women who requested it showed up this week so I taught a whole new group how to play. That game never loses its appeal and fun. I’m always amazed by how well it works. Even the woman sitting out because of illness was chiming in from the sidelines.

At the end of every activity, the women would immediately go back to their seats. This isn’t a new phenomenon – most our games and exercises involve standing and moving, and I hear moans and complaints every time I ask that they stand up.

“Come on! Let’s all stand up! Oh, I know – I know. It’s awful. But we can do it! For a few minutes!”

For some reason I have always felt that workshops involved people standing up all the time. I’m letting this go – it’s hard to fight the invisible string between the women and their chairs and am opting instead for a sit/stand, sit/stand approach.

Meg led us in a great round of Completing the Image. Two women start out in a frozen tableau, shaking hands. Woman A leaves, Woman B stays frozen. A third woman steps in and freezes in relation to Woman B in a new pose. We look, then Woman B steps out and another women steps in, etc. In this way, we a variety of images and no one gets too caught up in thinking about it too much.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“It doesn’t matter. Do anything. Any pose you take is great.”

And it is. Stories and characters emerge almost instantaneously. After we’d gone around the whole class a few times, I got two women in a pose and asked what their relationship was, what they were doing and why.

“She stole his boyfriend… she’s a boyfriend stealer… oooh, she’s about to punch her… her boyfriend wears braces and doesn’t brush his teeth… and he’s abusive! she just likes taking other women’s boyfriends because she’s insecure… low self-esteem… she doesn’t even want her boyfriend anymore, she’s glad he’s gone.”

The braces about killed me – we all jumped in with comments about her smelly breath, dirty braces boyfriend.

I asked what each woman was thinking and what she was saying. Once we had decided on a few lines, I told the women to use those lines (and only those lines) to play out the scene. They did but it was difficult to understand why they had to stick to those two lines each. We talked about repetition and how saying one line a few times can make it take on different meanings, can change the feeling behind it.

We then brainstormed a list of relationships, objectives and obstacles that two characters could have in a scene together. The women paired up and I asked each pair to choose a relationship and objectives and obstacles for their scenes. In the brainstorming, most of the obstacles and objectives were internal: low self-esteem, jealousy, fear, wants a good friendship/relationship, wants to be happy, etc. I asked them to consider concrete objectives and obstacles as well, even mentioning natural disasters!

The women have been given the week to think about and rehearse their scenes – I asked to see them next Friday. We ended as usual, with one word about how each of us was feeling and one thing we accomplished today. Maybe I’ll have a full class next week, maybe not – we’ll see!

-Katherine Craft

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