Teacher Interviews – Tom Filan

Interview with Liberation Prison Yoga teacher Tom Filan

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

As a child of six years old, I was involved in a near-fatal accident which resulted in a great deal of physical and emotional pain while trying to find answers to what I experienced while in a coma. I was very open to understanding what my body, mind, and spirit had gone through, especially the existence of a higher being, God if you will. My first introduction into the world of yoga came to me, believe it or not, from a teacher who approached me after a wrestling match, he was impressed by my flexibility and started talking to me about yoga.  This was the beginning of my journey into learning about yoga, reading everything I could find and that was almost fifty years ago. My yoga practice, at that time, I was self-taught as there just wasn’t the availability of going to classes to practice until I went to school at the University of New Mexico. I took a Sivananda class on campus in 1973 and after six weeks of taking the class, the teacher asked if I was interested in subbing for her.  I kept a consistent practice and over thirty years ago began teaching at a spa where I still teach today.  I have received so many benefits from my own practice including a marked reduction in my physical pain from the accident has which has been successfully controlled after practicing for approximately five years.  My daily yoga practice is always performed before any physical endeavor including going to the gym.  another benefit of my own practice is that it has afforded me the ability to share the gift of yoga with so many.

About five years ago, the founder of Kula for Karma, a non-profit approached me about teaching at Hudson County Correction Center in Kearney, NJ through Integrity House a rehab center.  Admittedly, I was reluctant at first but four months later I started teaching in their rehab center in Newark, NJ. I wanted to expand my learning so I could better understand how to navigate working with people in recovery and one of the many classes I took included the training with Liberation Prison Yoga and the amazing Anneke Lucas, our founder. I am grateful to be of service to LPY because I feel the environment and the incarcerated population is something I am comfortable with and just feels right.  I have been teaching at Wallkill Correctional facility in Wallkill, NY. for over three years.

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

My hope is for the men I work with to learn how to be mindful and therefore, their thinking can lead to understanding how their actions have consequences and they can choose. Another intention is to support them in finding a way to be peaceful in this very difficult situation, to learn to control their action so they don’t return to incarceration.

 What keeps you coming back:

Many of the men in prison are there because of addiction. I have had addiction in my life, I have been off cocaine for thirty years so I can relate. I get a wonderful feeling every time I can make an impact on someone’s life. It’s amazing to me to see someone who enters into class, skeptical and resistant to someone who leaves the room with a huge smile on his face despite trying not to.

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

I work with human beings capable of learning and change, not savages or animals.

How has Liberation Prison Yoga influenced you?

I am so happy my life has brought me here. The people I work in both organizations are incredible, the love they bring with them in their lives is palpable.   I am so pleased to be a part of this organization.

Wise words for teachers new and old:

Have a plan, plan on changing the plan and always go in engaged, they know when you’re mailing it in. Look them in the eye and treat them like human beings. It’s important to know what they go through, bad beds and food in the most intense place you have ever been in, act accordingly. You need to understand that these people can look adults but act more like children due to their arrested development.

Always teach joyfully, it’s yoga not an appointment at the dentist