Teacher Interviews – Margherita Tisato

Interview with Liberation Prison Yoga teacher Margherita Tisato  

Margherita, can you tell us a little bit about your background, how you came to this work, and where you are currently teaching?

I grew up in Italy and started dancing very young, but instead of going through the usual ballet grind I met a modern dance teacher who also introduced me to Zen meditation, yoga, and dance therapy as well as work with incarcerated people and folks with mental illness. Fast forward 20 years and I’m in New York, teaching yoga and dancing and looking for a way to share the work with people who don’t have access to it. I started training in Trauma-Informed Yoga after my friend pointed out in a conversation, that I was maybe carrying some trauma myself. Two of my dance teachers had done work with inmates and I had a tiny bit of experience there, so I just went for it. I found Liberation Prison Yoga through a friend, and after taking the training I started teaching. I’ve taught most weeks since late 2015 and have learned more than I can say. I also teach in a substance addiction recovery program, which is close to my heart because I lost several friends to drugs over the years, and most of them were beautiful people who got lost.

What do you feel are some common goals between you and those who you teach to inside?

We all do the best we can with what we know. We all need understanding: both to understand and clarify information about ourselves and the world, but also to be understood and seen for who we truly are, without judgment or payback requests. We all look for freedom and lack of freedom can come in many shapes: bars, but also stories and cultures. By mingling our experiences we take down these perceived walls.

What keeps you coming back:

The selfish reason is that I learn something from every single trip inside. Truth is, this work makes me a better person, and a better teacher. It can be hard, even in Nyc, to really connect with people that are different from you, that come from different places, have different experiences and value different things: I think that the city is much more segregated than we like to think and in some ways every time I go to jail I can meet and connect with amazing humans I probably never would even meet otherwise. I keep coming back because I have to: because it is my responsibility to share the tools that were shared with me that help me cope, make meaning and sometimes even thrive. Those of us who have resources should share them, and yoga is one such resource.

How do you integrate the “unconditional model” in your life?

It’s been a slow process, that of truly integrating, and one that’s still ongoing. I try to use it as a frame for my interactions with others, students and friends, but also for myself. Over the years of thinking and trying it’s manifested as a softening around the edges of my perception of others. It has helped me look for the bigger picture, rather than the single event or interaction.

How has Liberation Prison Yoga influenced you?

LPY was the little gentle nudge I needed to tip over into looking for the truth. Stories are important: the context, the meaning, and metaphors. Yoga is there to help us uncover all those layers, and sometimes it doesn’t look good, but it’s the journey that matters. It’s the first place where I truly saw a commitment to critical thinking, both for the teachers but especially for our students: an invitation to take ownership of one’s body, actions, and choices through shared experiences.

Wise words for teachers new and old:

We are mirrors for each other and we can only exist in relationship.