Chi Heals You
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (1149)|
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:
Said we Spirit
Could never Journey is
Really make it Never Ending
But I say So never
Almost Stop it!
All those and Yang
Needing Love and Yet they attract
Family Vital force
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:
These moments Came to give
Greystone Chapel Us T’ai Chi Chih
Together What a gift
Synced as He left
Thank you Justin. Thank you for your vision and light.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (376)|
TESTIMONIALS BY FOLSOM STATE PRISON INMATES REGARDING THEIR WEEKLY
T’AI CHI CHIH CLASS. INSTRUCTOR, JULIE HERYET – OCTOBER 2011
S. Deville: My T’ai Chi Chih class is one of the high-points of my week. It has given me a sense of calm that I believe I will be able to continue to carry with me after my release.
F. Bouldin: This practice allows me to cultivate and use this energy, (that everyone has), in a way that helps heal my physical being and adds a sense of peace to my character. We take this energy that we all receive from this source and use it to help ourselves in different ways.
L. Hamilton: I’m 60 years old, and I get stiff and cranky. I come in here and the movement helps me to harmonize. The concept of energy – it flows through my body, and I can tell that the benefit I get comes from doing this. The time we spend in meditation, being around that energy – that’s even more beneficial. It makes the space around you alright, whether out there or in here. When we go back out there, it stays with us.
T. Gonzales: When we’re on lockdown I get stressed, but when I come in here, I feel peace. I really look forward to coming to this class.
D. Sherman: This class helps me to balance and to put my mind in a settled place. It takes a lot of the stress away, and settles me down. It is very comforting to all the people here. I enjoy it a lot.
R. Medeiros: Regarding the T’ai Chi Chih/Moving Meditation class on Thursday afternoons, I would like to relate To Whom It May Concern, that I and many others find this class extremely beneficial to our rehabilitation and grounded connection with our high power. It is very beneficial to my groundedness, because it opens my spirit to the awareness of what’s going on around me, so I can share and practice that sense of peace with others and bring peace and serenity to all I interact with, in turn, helping everyone. To not have this outlet of spiritual connection would be a tremendous loss to everybody. Thank you for honoring and allowing our practice to remain.
Kuwabara: Folsom Prison is a unique institution due to having bars on the cells. Folsom is possibly the loudest, most stressful prison in the system. Coming to T’ai Chi Chih services is the only calming, quiet, centering time available to us at this institution. Often I stay up very late, just to experience some quiet time. Unfortunately, that leaves me in an irritable state the next day, due to lack of sleep. I find myself using Moving Meditation exercises when the noise is getting me into a hyper state during the day (even in my cramped bunk space), to calm myself and attempt to channel the negativity out. I’m extremely grateful that I am able to attend these sessions on Thursdays.
R. Rodriquez: This T’ai Chi Chih class really helps me on a physical level because I can physically feel the positive energy I get from the energy in this class – all put to a positive purpose. It’s a positive program in the prison because when I connect with the individuals in my T’ai Chi Chih class, I reflect that same positive energy when I see them on the yard, or at chow, or anywhere. This T’ai Chi Chih class is a good idea to continue in the Chapel because of the power of the positive spiritual energy that it allows us to leave the class with, and carry with us throughout our daily lives.
Addendum by T’ai Chi Chih Instructor, Julie Heryet:
We begin every class with a check-in session in which the men share their feelings, thoughts and experiences of the practice, and we end the class with a seated meditation. To summarize what I have heard from them during the last two years: Their T’ai Chi Chih class is changing them for the better. They are calmer, more centered and grounded. They feel less anger, stress and depression, and this enables them to think about, rather than react, to their surroundings. They feel a deeper Spiritual connection within their own personal beliefs, and a deeper sense of connection to each other, and humanity as a whole. With this comes a deeper sense of responsibility to their inmate community, and to society at large. They are able to focus less on their differences, racial, religious or otherwise, and see instead that they all share the same path of personal and Spiritual growth. I truly believe it makes them better inmates, thereby becoming positive role models for their fellow inmates. It has been proven to reduce their chances of recidivism, and contributes to the kind of people they will be once released.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (664)|
Email from Minh after coming into Folsom with me, April 18, 2014
Julie, you are the Dearest and Precious One,
Thank you so much for sharing your precious group of students with me. You are right. They certainly left an imprint on my heart. Thank you for sending me the beautiful pictures of the Circle of Love. What a moving story. Blessings in all you do, in the documentary film project, Frank and his new family, and I hope you pursuit the teaching position at Placerville college. My thoughts and prayers are with your sister and you for bringing comfort to her, especially during this time.
Here is a little writing from my journal the night after being in the group with you.
"It was a very enriching, moving and a great learning experience. I felt that I was among my peers, my fellow spiritual seekers, like-minded students, those who want to learn to cultivate greater awareness and openness in body, heart and mind in a day long retreat some where, not inside prison. These are individuals who are in confinement, having had their freedom taken away from them by their own doing or by being in the wrong place at the wrong time; and they choose to search for inner peace, for freedom from deep within.
A quote to share with you:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.
mevlana jelaluddin rumi - 13th century
I came to teach them acupressure, yin/yang theory, and they taught me diligent practice, patience, caring, openness to learn and willingness to change from behind bars. They certainly left their imprint on my heart and I walked away with more humility.
Thank you for taking the time of your busy schedule to be with me. I will be there to practice with you tomorrow. Hope everyone will come out to practice with you.
Much love and gratitude.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (2359)|
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.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (1876)|
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.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (1582)|
I read this in my AVP “Transformer” Newsletter (Winter 2012) and found it interesting. Geese fly in a V because as each bird flaps its wings it creates uplift for the bird behind it. As a flock, they increase their flying range by 71%. When the lead goose gets tired it drops back, and another takes its place. They honk to encourage the lead goose to keep up its speed.
Who can you uplift today by working together? Who can you honk for? Do you need to step back and ask for help? There is much we can learn from our feathered friends. Have a wonderful day!
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (526)|
I’ve been feeling shut down. I’m not sure what set it in motion, and I don’t need to know. It became very apparent when I was unable to cry upon hearing of the Sandy Brook shooting. With a history of PTSD and addiction, this numbness is not unfamiliar, but not someplace I want to be – no longer something I equate with “normal.” I had not been practicing my T’ai Chi Chih due to the flu, and although still tired, this morning I resumed my practice. Aaaahhhh – there it was – anchored between heaven and earth – held within my breath, contained in the roots I sent into the ground – there was my center. With each movement, the Qi grew stronger between my palms – flooding my spine and tan t’ien. So nice to know I can trust in the form, and all it connects me to, to bring me back to myself – physically, emotionally, and Spiritually. Thank you to all my teachers and students. Thank you Justin.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (729)|
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,
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (822)|
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.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:10 PM|
Prison – Of All the Places to Discover T’ai Chi Chih
It seems I was connected to T’ai Chi Chih and Folsom State Prison long before I’d heard of or given much thought to either. It was through listening to the voice of Spirit, or Prana, as April Loeffler would say, that I found my way to the practice, as well as to the prison. Actually, they came together as a package deal. It began sometime back in 2007, while I was practicing my Tai Chi form (I began my study of Tai Chi in 2001), when this “random” thought popped into my head that this would be a relaxing thing to do it one were in prison. Now, I had never met anyone who’d been in prison, nor had I ever been to one – so I just brushed it aside as one of those weird things our brains do sometimes. But over the next couple years, this idea just wouldn’t go away. I guess I’m kind of slow, as it finally occurred to me that perhaps I was supposed to do something about it. Upon further reflection, I realized that they probably wouldn’t want you teaching Tai Chi in a prison – because Tai Chi is a slow fighting form – a martial art - so I decided I needed a Qigong Teacher. Looking back on it, it wasn’t a very well thought-out plan; like I was just going to learn Qigong and they were going to let me come into a prison and teach it. It turned out I didn’t need a good plan, because I had Prana on my side. So I Googled “Qigong Instructors” located in my area, printed out a list of about 15 teachers, and picked out a name. Without knowing anything about this person, I called her up and asked about classes. She responded that she didn’t think it would work out because she was so far from me, but then she paused, and said, “I don’t know if you’d be interested, but I teach a class inside Folsom State Prison one day a week.” Wow! All the hair stood up on my arms and neck – I couldn’t believe it. Here was the first teacher I’d picked off a long list of names, and she was the EXACT person I was looking for! I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my introduction to Prana, to listening to the inner voice. Her name was Judy Tretheway, and I began coming in to the prison with her in 2009. I learned T’ai Chi Chih in the prison class, then assisted with teaching, and became accredited to teach in early 2011. When Judy retired in 2011 after 13 years of teaching T’ai Chi Chih in the prison, it became my class. (Judy later confessed to me that 2 weeks prior to my calling her, she had put out a prayer for an assistant.)
In November of 2010, after one year at the prison, I went to Albuquerque for my Intensive. I didn’t know at the time that it was connected with Justin Stone’s birthday. What a great introduction to the Community! Pam conducted the Intensive, and I got to meet Sister Antonia, Sandy, Dan (and his belt buckle), Carmen, and people from all over. Justin came to speak to us, and I got to share with him that the men at Folsom still talked about his visit there. I also met my dear friend Banks Upshaw, who was participating in the Intensive. On the first day as we went around the circle introducing ourselves, I had said that I’d learned Tai Chi Chih at Folsom State Prison, thinking that most people knew it was a men’s prison. Well, Banks went home to Portland and told his wife he’d met this amazing woman who’d really turned her life around! It wasn’t until I saw him again at our Teacher Training that he figured it out. We had a great laugh over that one.
Teaching the class at Folsom has been, without a doubt, the most important spiritual experience of my life. It started out as a spiritual experience, and has kept on rolling. The men’s are very focused on the movements, the teachings, and our time together, because they are highly motivated to heal. They are incredibly appreciative of my coming in to teach them. Initially, they were MY teachers, then they became my students, and as with all students, they are my very best teachers. We have come full circle, and I am so grateful for all of it. T’ai Chi Chih and teaching at Folsom have changed my life in unimaginable ways. Thank you Justin.