Interview with Liberation Prison Yoga teacher Patty Schneider
Patty, can you tell us a little bit about your background, how you came to this work, and where you are currently teaching?
I had done some yoga on and off since college but started practicing on a serious basis about 20 years ago, following a period of emotional trauma. I was hoping for the relief from pain and stress that yoga seemed to offer. Ten years ago I started my teacher training. I wanted to bring to others the emotional and spiritual healing, and the physical well-being, that yoga had given me.
My objective has always been to offer yoga to people who would not enter a yoga studio because they don’t feel comfortable in the environment (or because they physically can’t enter a studio). We can all see how yoga is sold in this country – going by advertisements alone, we assume that all practitioners are young, beautiful, blonde, lithe, flexible, and athletic, not to mention overwhelmingly white and female. Older people; those with large bodies; those who live with injuries, arthritis or chronic illness; and people of color may not think they have a place in that world. I don’t feel like I have a place in that world, because I don’t fit the mold! Yet everyone can benefit from yoga.
Currently, I teach a gentle mat class, and a chair yoga class for people age 60 and up, both in local libraries. For the past four years, I have taught people living with cancer at Gilda’s Club White Plains. I also teach restorative yoga at Tovami Yoga in Mamaroneck. And of course, for the past five years, I have taught classes at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women.
If all goes well, in October I will start as a teaching assistant in a Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis class at the YWCA in White Plains.
What do you feel are some common goals between you and those who you teach to inside?
My reasons for doing yoga have evolved over the years, but today I would answer very succinctly: “I do yoga to feel good. I do yoga to feel better.” I suspect that my incarcerated students wish for the same things – to achieve a state of well-being and to find peace in an environment that is the antithesis of both.
What keeps you coming back?
Knowing that what we are doing – teaching yoga in prison – has a positive effect, because my students tell me so.
How do you integrate the “unconditional model” in your life?
Teaching yoga is not about making students live up to some unrealistic standard. It’s all about meeting people where they are. The unconditional model is not about what the teacher wants, but what the student needs. It is about helping the student find the practice that is appropriate for them.
How has Liberation Prison Yoga influenced you?
My training in trauma-informed yoga and the unconditional model, with both Prison Yoga Project and Liberation Prison Yoga, has made me a better teacher overall. It has deepened my conviction that I need to bring compassion and non-judgment into every class, whether my students are incarcerated or not. It makes me think of the quote, “Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Our world could use more kindness, compassion, and non-judgment. If I offer those qualities to my students via my method of teaching, maybe they will go out into the world and pay it forward.
Wise words for teachers new and old:
Becoming a teacher means you start all over again as a beginning student. Your students become your teachers. I learn from my students all the time, by observing them and listening to them. Always keep an open mind and never stop learning.