Tadasana, the mountain pose, is the starting position for all standing yoga poses. When I teach yoga in jail I always begin with Tadasana. I teach it as "the pose of self confidence." First, I slouch and cross my arms over my chest, and walk around the room all slumped over. I ask the women what they think their chances of getting a job would be if they walked in like that. They always laugh. Then I go into Tadasana and they all nod--they see the difference.
As the women perform this simple exercise--and it does take effort to stand in the Tadasana pose--I can see the light in their eyes and the proud expressions on their faces.
Getting the women out of their pods, into the exercise room, onto their mats is one thing. I tell them, "You're like my puppy, when I get her out of her crate in the morning and she's all revved up." They think that's funny. You can't take women from the cramped confines of their cells, into an exercise room and expect them to be immediately focused and quiet. It takes strategies.
Amy Cuddy, who is an Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, delivered a TED talk on "power posing." She teaches that our body language affects how other people view us. Not only that, but standing erect with our heads held high can actually make a difference in how we feel, because testosterone--the powerful male hormone, and cortisol, the adrenal hormone that helps us deal with chronic stress, are both modulated when we do what Mom said and stand up straight.
Teaching yoga in jail isn't just about giving the women exercise, it's about giving them tools to cope. That's why I always start with the hope that Tadasana brings. The hope of feeling more self-confident. The hope of getting a good job when they are released. The hope that someday they will feel proud of themselves.
When you listen to Amy Cuddy talk about power posing it all sounds plausible, but when you see a room full of dispirited women come alive right before your eyes, it is powerful. And at the end of the class after they've returned again and again to Tadanasa and performed many other challenging poses, I tell them, "I'm so proud of you all."