Girls Detention at McLaughlin Youth Center, a 6-week series by Danielle Holness
This was my final week in a 6-week yoga series with the Girls’ Detention unit at McLaughlin Juvenile Center. Taking this on, I was nervous, extremely nervous. Teens, although tough on the outside, are very sensitive. They are growing, finding themselves and most of all they are so susceptible to influence. So I knew going in that it was so much bigger than me or yoga. I didn’t go in each week to give them a workout or simply to de-stress. I wanted to give them the tools to make positive decisions moving forward. The decisions that would inevitably set the stage for what is remaining of their teens. And the things I say over the course of the 6 weeks could influence their entire lives.
Each week we got a little deeper, worrying less about yoga asana and more about meditation based practices. I knew when I started that I had to entice them with the “cooler” aspects of yoga (asana), and as we gained each other’s trust and learned one another’s personalities, I discovered my purpose there and I set an intention. It was simple, to help them understand the importance of having an intention.
Over the past 3 weeks I introduced setting intentions, and affirmations as a form of meditation. When I asked if they knew what the word intention meant, none of them did. And that was ok–to be honest–it’s normal. When do we ever discuss intentions throughout our life, especially if you’re not a part of a yoga community? Honestly, I don’t recall ever hearing it unless there was some misunderstanding in a conversation. But to have an intention for your day, or your week, or your life made an impact on these girls. There are no rules when it comes to setting an intention for yourself, there are no guidelines, there is no one standing over you telling you that you need to do it for x,y, and z reasons. And I think that’s why they liked it, it was freeing, it was liberating. If they don’t stay true to their intention they’re only letting themselves down. Setting an intention is self-accountability. That’s probably the biggest lesson they can learn while incarcerated at such a young age, it’s also the most important.
My sessions with these developing minds gave them the space to express their creativity. There are so many rules when you’re a teen, and even more when you’re in juvie (with reason), but that isn’t how every child learns. Some children need the space to be themselves without fear of being misunderstood. For example, there was a young woman who was outspoken, loud, cracked jokes at inappropriate times and a lot of those jokes were at the expense of others or even towards me at times. But instead of taking offense to her personality, I instead appreciated the way her face lit up when she smiled, how she brought laughter to the other girls, and that even though she doesn’t always have the most positive things to say, that its simply her way of communicating. In our society it’s looked down upon to make jokes about people but there are so many cultures and family dynamics where it is normal, so I rest assured knowing that it was not her intention to hurt anyone’s feelings, it was just her way of joking around and expressing herself in the only way she currently knows how.
Another example was a girl, 13 years old, quiet with an extremely short attention span. Looking at her you wouldn’t know she was 13. She looks older and being around her, you would never guess that she has severe anger management issues. But she showed up and was present during her first week with me and continued to show up every week for the next 4 weeks. When we spoke about intentions, I would ask them if they were comfortable sharing what their intention would be for the week until I saw them again, and on her last week, she said “to let negativity pass through me.” That was so powerful; it takes some grown adults ages to understand this concept and here is this wide-eyed, 13 year old understanding what she needs to do to grow and move forward. The staff told me they saw a difference in her behavior since she started going to yoga, less outbursts, and less angry. Everything I could have hoped for each of them after coming to a yoga session.
Tuesday was my last session with this group of beautifully goofy and insightful teen girls at McLaughlin. We partook in a gentle yoga sequence and I explained the importance of hip openers as they release the trauma and emotions that are held there. They giggled and cracked jokes, but when it was time to get serious, they were attentive. They took Savasana with me for the last time and they were the most still and silent they had been of the times I had met with them. Usually Savasana was a time for them to play with and sniff their lavender-scented eye pillows… but this week they laid there, silent, and breathing deeply.
My parting gift to them was a page long reminder of the positivity that is within them, always within their grasp if they just take a moment to breathe. It included a quote*, two affirmation meditations, the importance of setting intentions, and finally the meaning of Namaste. Seeing and honoring the light within yourself and within others. Even when it’s difficult to see the light within someone else, just know that when someone is negative towards you they are most likely projecting their internal struggles. Everyone has them and we all have a bad day where someone else is negatively affected as a result. I sent them off knowing that this will serve them at one point or another, even if its years down the line. I was able to go in and make an impact during my short time with them, during a time in their lives where others may have given up on them. These kids ARE NOT lost causes, they just need a little more understanding, more patience, and belief that they will grow from the place they are currently at. They have their whole lives ahead of them. Before they walked out, I told them when they get out, to look us up and we’ll give them a lavender eye pillow. Something to look forward to and one last reminder that someone is always there, and that we care about them…
And with that I say Namaste.
* “Everything changes when you start to emit your own frequency rather than absorbing the frequencies around you, when you start imprinting your intent on the universe rather than receiving an imprint from existence.” – Barbara Marciniak