Jesse Luer Yoga for Inmate Smart Recovery

Yoga for Inmate Smart Recovery – Applying River Flow Yoga Teacher Training

by Cameron Ripley

Yoga has the ability to change lives, and no one knows that better than recent 200-Hour River Flow Yoga Teacher Training program graduate Jesse Luer. During his time in prison, Jesse found yoga to be helpful for his own recovery, and once he was released, he wanted to use his experience to help others.

Jesse is now the Community Program Director for Three Bridges Recovery—a non-profit dedicated to helping people with addiction recovery. He teaches yoga in the local jail to help inmates with the recovery process. I was lucky enough to be able to have a discussion with Jesse about his incredible story and how he has utilized the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training in his work with inmates.

What Are You Getting Out of the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training Personally and Professionally?

I got a lot out of the teacher training. During my incarceration, I used yoga mostly as an exercise routine. Like many people, I thought of yoga as just a workout on a mat. Not that it wasn’t helpful in my recovery, but I didn’t realize the full potential that yoga had to offer.

After I got out, I was introduced to Viniyoga through 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness, and that opened my mind to what yoga can really do. As I quickly found out, I only knew about 1/8 of what yoga is. During my training, I dove deep into the spiritual aspects of yoga, and it completely changed everything I knew including my personal practice and even my teaching goals. This deeper form of yoga really helped me through my own recovery, and I knew it could help others too. Instead of wanting to teach the aerobic yoga I was used to, I focused on teaching at a deeper level to help people going through tough times and transform themselves for the better.

How is Viniyoga Different from What You’ve Been Exposed to in the Past?

I first got into yoga a little before my incarceration and kept up with it throughout my time in prison. At the time, I was more into the intense, aerobic, workout-style yoga. In fact, I started with the ex-wrestler Diamond Dallas Page’s version of yoga which, as he put it, was “not your grandma’s yoga!”

When I got out, I wanted to start teaching that same intense style of yoga, but when I was introduced to Viniyoga, I realized that yoga could be used to treat much more than just the body. Viniyoga is more inclusive, not just in the way of holistic mind/body healing, but it can be enjoyed by people of all levels, even your grandma!

Learning about the spiritual practices made sense to me in a pragmatic way and really helped me through my recovery. I try to use the lessons I learned in my training to help others in the same way.

How Are You Integrating Yoga into Inmate Recovery?

When I was in prison, there wasn’t any organized yoga instruction. We had a few of the Diamond Dallas Page yoga videos that we could exercise to but nothing official. Now, working with Three Bridges Recovery, the county is allowing me to go into the jail and provide yoga classes to the inmates. But instead of offering yoga as just an exercise routine like I was used to, I’m digging a bit deeper to help them with their recovery efforts.

The classes are typically run like a recovery meeting. I’ll read through the Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali and the yamas (restraints), discuss how they can be interpreted, and share how they’ve applied to my own life and recovery. Then, I’ll open the floor to anyone who wants to discuss their experiences. We usually finish up the class with a short yoga session. After class is over, I’ll hand out papers with other sequences so students can practice in their cells later on.

These classes offer much more than just exercise; they provide inmates with the tools they can use to get them through their recovery, just like they helped me.

How Are You Using What You’ve Learned in the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training in Your Work?

Aside from the actual yoga instructing, digging deeper into yoga, specifically the sutra-s, has helped me tremendously not only in my work, but in my personal life as well.

I had a bit of experience with the sutra-s before, but I never got that deep into them. Once I gained a more thorough understanding, I realized how important they are and how they coincide with so many other things. I’ve been a part of a few 12-step recovery programs, and I was surprised at how similar they were to what I was learning in the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training. I started to compare and combine the aspects that worked best for me and craft them into an effective recovery solution.

In my classes, I like to teach the yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances) in my sutra studies because they go right along with the principles of recovery. It’s great stuff that anyone could, and probably should, apply to their life.

What Are Some of the Difficulties Teaching Yoga in a Jail Environment?

I think the hardest part about teaching yoga in a jail is creating a relaxing environment. Naturally, jail isn’t the most peaceful place to be. There are always doors slamming, buzzers sounding, and occasionally you’ll get a noisy drunk person yelling from the holding cell. I just do what I can to make the classes as relaxing as possible, but it’s not always easy.

Personally, it took some time to get used to being other side of the walls. Coming from incarceration and being in recovery myself, it was strange to hear the guards call me “sir” and having the freedom to walk around the jail. It did make teaching a bit unsettling at first, but I’m getting used to it.

How Have You Had to Change Your Teaching with the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Now that we’re not allowed to meet in-person, I’ve switched to doing classes online via Zoom. I post my video sutra lessons to the Three Bridges Recovery Facebook page every week so anyone can tune in. That way, even if we can’t practice the forms in person, I can still offer helpful recovery classes. It’s going well, and it’s nice that I can reach a broader audience, but it’s certainly not the same.

What Are You Looking Forward to Doing in the Future?

I hope to be able to continue my sutra studies and yoga lessons in the jail for a while. When I got into yoga, I really felt the transformation, and my goal is to use my experience to help others transform themselves as well. Someday, I’d also like to expand my practice and start teaching in a yoga studio.

The River Flow Yoga Teacher Training has been an awesome journey. The training was amazing, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to deepen their practice.

Cameron Ripley is a writer who helps small businesses with marketing and communications.