AUG. 28, 2017 | The author of the classic book “The Four Agreements,” Miguel Ruiz, lists one of the Toltec-inspired agreements as being “impeccable” with your word: “Very simply to be impeccable with your Word is to use your Word in the direction of love and truth.” Barbara Steinke and Sue Julian are impeccable people who have used their words and actions in the direction of love and truth in bringing yoga and meditation instruction to adults incarcerated in West Virginia prisons.
The word Laotong refers to an ancient Chinese relationship that bonded two girls together for eternity as kindred sisters .”That’s what we thought. ‘Wow, that’s what we are! We’re laotongs,'” Steinke said, in a Sept. 3, 2013 Charleston Gazette profile as they began their Laotong Yoga Prison Project. “‘Laotong Yoga’ just felt right to us — meaning kindred spirits, we’re all connected. It’s not just best friends. To us, it’s being connected to everyone.”
In the intervening years, the program has grown and they have awarded, as of August 2017, more than 800 certificates of completion to inmates taking part in their yoga classes. They recently launched a program to train inmates to become certified yoga instructors. This will benefit inmates headed back out into the world and ones with life sentences, as many an inmate has said how the yoga classes are an oasis of close human interaction and spiritual fellowship in places often absent of both.
Here is a video slideshow that will give a visceral sense of how the program works and what it means to inmates fortunate enough to encounter these two spiritual warriors. Disclosure: I wrote the Gazette story linked above about Laotong Yoga and was so impressed by their efforts I offered my services as a board member. I edited the video above, using photos by Mike Youngren, quotes from inmates and a soundtrack by Lucas The Flow, an electronic music composer and DJ whose excellent music I often use for videos (and not only because I raised him.)
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~ Douglas Imbrogno
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