Humans of Aspen: Courtney Smith
JAIL YOGA WITH THUG YOga® Girl boss,
By Eliza Demarest
What is your role with Aspen City of Wellbeing?
I am a yoga instructor for Aspen City of Wellbeing. I'm currently teaching yoga and meditation in partnership with ACW in the Pitkin County Jail. I'm also working with ACW on teaching a few classes in Spanish for hospital workers and others. Although not Latino, I lived and taught yoga in Spain for many years, and so am looking forward to creating some mindful stretching programs in Spanish for our locals.
What do you focus on the most in each class?
Having taught yoga in the Pitkin County Jail for nearly a year now, I truly appreciate the efforts that Dawn Dexter made originally to form and cultivate this program. The feeling of appreciation and gratitude is palpable in each class. Students in the jail do not have the everyday freedoms that we take for granted as most of their daily routine is controlled. So to have this one hour where they are put in charge of their own body -- their breathing, movement, thoughts -- is time that is precious. As many of the students are beginner or even first-time yogis, I emphasize the breath as the number one priority. As Dawn says, "everything else is a bonus". We also take time for a short guided meditation in class, and I explain how breathing and meditation are tools that can be taken anywhere, becoming sharper with practice.
Please tell me about your overall experience of teaching yoga and meditation at the jail?
For me, the experience has been a profound reminder of just how powerful this practice is. One student was visibly shaking but smiling after a class and I asked how he was feeling. He said that he had been shot in the hand 30 years ago which had left him without much feeling in his hand. However, after this first yoga class which included hand/wrist/forearm stretches as well as upward and downward dog poses, he started to feel tingling again in that hand. Another student was sent to a different jail where he had little contact with other inmates. When he returned to Pitkin County Jail, he noted that being alone in that environment caused him a ton of anxiety. But one day as he sighed, he remembered the breathing techniques we had practiced in class and began to really focus on each breath. He said that this one small tool he'd learned in yoga had truly saved him.
"We do have a mass incarceration problem in the US. But until there is real reform, one can only hope that more jails and prisons create similar programs, creating small seeds of change that take root and put these students on a path of success for their futures."
- Courtney Smith, creator of Thug Yoga®
About the author...
Originally from Mount Shasta, California - Eliza is a wellness focused contributor at Aspen City of Wellbeing. She's a lover of all things wellbeing: smoothies, yoga, meditation, glitter, flowers, and time in nature. She's an aspiring road hog. Be sure to honk or wave if you see her cruising on her Harley through the Roaring Fork Valley.