Marshawn Feltus—a man sentenced to 38 years in state prison who now teaches yoga in jails, schools, and community centers in the roughest neighborhoods of Chicago—answers this question. Watch to hear his answer.
Marshawn Feltus was just 17 years old when he got into a street altercation in one of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods and shot—and killed—another young man.
He was sentenced to 38 years in state prison and while incarcerated, he was talked into trying yoga. He reluctantly rolled out a bath towel (they didn’t have yoga mats) in an old chapel space, and within five minutes of that first practice, he was hooked.
Over time, he began teaching in prison. And after serving 18 years of his sentence, Feltus was released. He returned to Chicago with a new purpose: to bring the healing power of yoga to his community. He completed a local entrepreneurship program and a 200-hour yoga teacher training at Chicago Yoga Center. Then, he founded ACT Yoga—which stands for Awareness, Change, Triumph (an acronym he used in prison to encourage other inmates to enroll in the GED, college, and self-help programs).
Here’s what teaching yoga means to him. After you watch, tell us: Why do you teach yoga? Join the conversation by posting a picture or video to your Instagram and use #yjconversations.
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This 5-Minute Meditation for Parents Will Save Your Sanity
Here’s how one woman bridges the sacred world of meditation with the reality of motherhood.
Meditation and parenthood: this may appear to be an oxymoron, as the words conjure up images that seem contradictory—the serene meditator enjoying the silence in their quiet mind, versus a frazzled, unkempt mother or father surrounded by chaos. But many years working in war zones has taught me something new: the power of meditative moments. Short, conscious moments of calm, infused throughout the day, can be your most useful tool against the confusion and disorder of parenting.
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“I Learned to Meditate in a War Zone”
One morning in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the air still ripe with the echoes of last night’s bullets, I sat at the foot of my hotel room bed and practiced listening meditation. It was all I could think to do to slow my terrified, rapid heartbeat. I quieted my mind, closed my eyes, and opened my ears.
At first, I only heard the sound of military-grade vehicles and sirens. Then, beneath, the wail of a baby, the beat of African drums pulsing through transistor radio static, and a woman laughing—reminders of humanity’s common desire for peace, a fresh moment to connect to something bigger and more sane than war. My heart slowed; I opened to the day ahead, whatever would come.
For me, motherhood has been a bit like working in a war zone. Not to diminish what living through war is like, but the constant vigilance, the drain on the adrenal system, the sustained lack of sleep, and the loss of regular bathing and meals, all felt very familiar with my firstborn. And, as such, some of the meditation practices I had adapted to my life as a human rights activist became applicable.
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This 5-Minute Meditation Can Save Your Sanity
Here’s a practice I call “Taking a Lap”: Both kids are screaming now, because it’s a cruel fact that when one child starts screeching, like macaws, the other will inevitably chime in. In the cacophony, it’s hard to distinguish one’s needs from the other’s, and, to be honest, I don’t really care. I’ve reached my edge. Every parent has one. This is the crucial moment I take my lap.
Whether they need to be in the car or not, I strap the kids into their five-point harnesses, roll up the windows, close the car doors, and exhale, knowing they are safe and immobilized. I drop into my listening mind. Taking a deep breath, I look to the sky and push all of my frustration out in one loud sigh. Then, placing my attention on my feet, I walk slowly, heel to toe, around the car. To an outsider, it may appear as though I’m simply taking the long way around to the driver’s seat, but in my mind I am a wandering ascetic, and to my nervous system each step is a healing balm.
Heel to toe . . . heel to toe . . . I listen.
At first, I hear the sounds of other cars in the parking lot, groceries being hauled into power-lifted cargo doors. Then, underneath, a teenager crying at the coffee shop next door, her heartache palpable in each sob. And there, way in the background, the birds singing loudly, while the air itself makes music through the trees, just as it always has; another fresh moment to reconnect.
No matter which shrieks come pouring through the door, whether laughter or tears, I know that it’s workable. In one three-minute, conscious lap around the car, that edge, so solid only moments before, softens. I am a warrior newly readied for battle.
See also 5 Ways to Ground Yourself and Prepare to Teach Kids’ Yoga
I married a man who was hit by his father for misbehaving. My own grandfather hit my dad and his brothers from pent-up frustration and anger. In fact, four out of five Americans believe it is “sometimes appropriate” to spank children. Part of the problem is that violence is learned and it is cyclical: Our children literally navigate the world by watching our every move, and that’s a lot of pressure. Add in sleep deprivation, financial stress, and a pace of life that could make Olympic athletes tire, and it’s not hard to see how we can fall into behaviors that allow our microaggressions to take center stage.
My antidote lies in practicing meditative moments.
“What were you looking for, Mommy?” my three-year-old asks after watching me stare at the asphalt as I slowly crept around the car.
“My sanity,” I reply.
“Oh. Did you find it?” she asks, hopefully.
“Yes I did,” I can honestly say. “It was somewhere between the back bumper and the rear right tire.”
And this is how I’ve come to bridge the sacred world of meditation with the profane reality of motherhood; by carving out short moments of “big mind,” I can better handle life’s “small mind” moments. Instead of recreating the painful patterns of our pasts, we have the unique opportunity to spin a different tale for our grandchildren.
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The other day, my now six-year-old daughter wandered into the forest, heel to toe . . . heel to toe. She said she was “looking for her calm.” I knew then, if nothing else, that my often desperate, sometimes ridiculous-looking moments of street-side walking meditation had provided her with the invisible tool my own mother gifted me decades before, a tool that’s saved me from coming unhinged time and again.
When it comes to meditation and motherhood, my only advice is to create your own meditative moments and practice them regularly, so when you come up against your edgier places you will know exactly what to do with them.
Your Diet and Hormones Are More Connected Than You Think—Here's How to Balance Them Naturally with Food
A hormone-balancing diet requires healthy digestion, stable sugar levels and a well-functioning liver. Let us show you how to get back in balance naturally.
Just like you, I’ve suffered from many hormonal imbalances. At first, I bought into the belief that hormonal problems are genetic or that the causes are “unknown.”
Some of you may have been told that there is little you can do about your hormones apart from taking birth control pills or supplementing your body’s natural hormones. This may be the case for some women, but what I have discovered on my journey is that there is more.
I’ve found that hormonal balance requires healthy digestion, stable sugar levels, and a well-functioning liver. Restoring your gut, sugar levels, and liver health will not only rebalance your hormones but will reverse many other, seemingly unconnected ailments that might have been plaguing you for years, such as seasonal allergies, hives, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to lead large online communities of women who have gone through my hormone-balancing diet, with life-changing results. When I polled the community about the biggest change that this way of eating had created for them, I thought I was going to read replies pertaining to weight loss, better sleep, or better mental function. To my surprise, the biggest benefit the women reported was having learned to “listen” to their bodies.
This skill will set you free.
For some of you, just eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet might resolve years of suffering. For others (and that’s me), it takes some real tuning in and figuring out what foods your body loves and what it rejects. By eating the “rejected” foods, you are in a constant state of inflammation that won’t bring you to hormonal balance and bliss.
See also Yoga for Women’s Health: The Best Pose and Acupressure Point to Reduce Bloating
I learned to cook because I had to—to save my life and sanity. I’m 45 years old. I’ve gone through having Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease, adrenal fatigue stage II, estrogen dominance, and hypoglycemia. I’ve battled chronic Candida, heavy-metal poisoning, bacterial infections (H. pylori), and parasitic infections (many times!), and I’ve had active Epstein-Barr virus (aka mononucleosis). Despite “eating well,” I’ve suffered irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For years, I dealt with an addiction to coffee and cigarettes. My neurotransmitters were so out of whack at one point that I became abusive to the one person I loved the most, which ended our many future plans and hopes. Yet despite all this, I came out on the other end. I’m in better health today than I have been since I was 20 years old.
What I have learned is that our health is a journey, especially for those of us with difficult childhoods, past trauma, and undetected lingering infections. This journey can be highly frustrating and unrewarding at times; after all, I’ve committed my life resources to healing and I do not always get the results I hope for. Nevertheless, I’ve come to appreciate this journey, as with every obstacle comes deep understanding and discovery that you will learn and benefit from. What fascinates me equally is how this journey has armed me with the “soft” coping skills of patience and self-forgiveness. Without those, there will be no healing.
So, back to hormones. They are responsible for how you think, feel, and look. A woman with balanced hormones is sharp and upbeat, with a good memory. She feels energetic without caffeine during the day, falls asleep quickly, and wakes refreshed. She is blessed with a healthy appetite and maintains a desired weight with a good diet. Her hair and skin glow. She feels emotionally balanced and responds to stress with grace and reason. When menstruating, her menses comes and goes with no or little PMS. She has an active sex life. She can maintain a full-term pregnancy. When entering perimenopause or menopause, she slides into a new phase of life with ease. If that doesn’t describe you, your hormones are imbalanced. Don’t despair. You are not alone. Millions of women experience hormonal imbalance. The good news is, you can rebalance your hormones naturally and resolve your symptoms. Here are a few quick ways to start to assess what imbalances you might be suffering from.
See also Yoga for Women’s Health: The Best Pose & Acupressure Point to Relieve Menstrual Cramps & PMS
High Cortisol: You are in a state of chronic stress, and your adrenals are working extra hard. Family issues, poor relationships, job problems, finances, overexercising, and past trauma and abuse could be causes, as could chronic digestive issues or infections.
Low Cortisol: If you have low cortisol levels, you have had high cortisol levels for a while now and your adrenals are therefore too tired to produce sufficient cortisol. To confirm whether you do have low cortisol levels, it’s important to get a diagnosis from a qualified functional physician and get a urine or saliva test four times a day.
Low Progesterone: Low progesterone can be caused by excess cortisol levels (from chronic stress) or excess estradiol, the antagonistic estrogen produced in your body or introduced externally as synthetic estrogens (known as “xenoestrogens”) from skin-care and house-cleaning products. High cortisol levels are inflammatory and can block progesterone receptors, inhibiting progesterone from doing its work. When stressed, we end up with less progesterone.
High Estrogen (Estrogen Dominance): This condition can manifest in a few ways. You could have more estradiol (E2), the antagonistic estrogen, compared with estriol (E3) and estrone (E1), which often happens when many xenoestrogens, or synthetic estrogens, are present in your life. Second, you might have insufficient progesterone to oppose estradiol (even if your estradiol levels are within range). Estrogen dominance can also happen when there are more antagonistic estrogen metabolites (which are the byproducts of estrogen metabolism). Visceral fat also produces estradiol. Women with high testosterone levels (and often polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS) can suffer from estrogen dominance, too. This is because testosterone gets converted to estradiol in the aromatization process. Inhibiting this process can break the cycle of estrogen production and relieve symptoms of estrogen dominance.
See also Yoga for Menopause: Alleviate Symptoms with Yoga
Low Estrogen: Declining estrogen levels typically happen to women going into perimenopause and menopause, but I have seen young women suffering from stress and toxic lifestyles experience this too. The ovaries are producing less estrogen because of aging, stress (and high cortisol levels), or toxicity.
High Testosterone (Androgen Dominance): The leading cause is high sugar levels. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is commonly caused by androgen dominance. While making dietary changes, get a formal diagnosis of PCOS and high testosterone level.
Low Testosterone: Most often, when the adrenals are exhausted, they also underproduce testosterone.
Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism and/or Hashimoto’s Disease): Sadly, too many thyroid conditions go undiagnosed because of incomplete tests and wrong lab ranges that conventional doctors use. The consensus among functional practitioners is that 30 percent of the population experiences subclinical hypothyroidism (this means the symptoms are subtle). This could be an underestimate. One study in Japan found 38 percent of the healthy subjects to have elevated thyroid antibodies (indicating the body’s immune system attacking the thyroid). Another study reports that 50 percent of patients, mostly women, have thyroid nodules. If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, it was most likely caused by Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition. When you put out the fire in your gut and the immune system, you may see your thyroid health improve and symptoms subside or go away.
Insulin Resistance or Leptin Resistance: If you eat processed carbohydrates (including cereals, puffy rice, breads, bagels, pasta, cakes, and cookies), sugar (found in incredibly high amounts in most packaged foods), or processed proteins (such as protein shakes), it’s likely you have a problem with sugar. It first manifests with high and/or low blood-sugar levels (you feel cranky, unfocused, lightheaded, and tired when hungry) and ends up with a full metabolic disorder such as insulin or leptin resistance. Women suffering from high testosterone or PCOS tend to have elevated sugar levels or insulin or leptin resistance. The good news is this: These conditions are completely reversible with diet, exercise, detoxification, and stress management The key to balance is not too much or too little of any hormone. Where fat is stored in your body can tell a bigger picture—one of a hormonal imbalance.
See also 6 Tricks to Make Your Supplements Work Better for Your Body
Listening To Your Body
Once you know about the role of food in balancing hormones, you can create daily eating habits that work best for you. Certainly, eating a whole-food diet and an abundance of green, leafy vegetables while reducing the amount of processed foods, sugar, and alcohol in your diet is a good place to start. But there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan or nutritional protocol that will work for every single woman. You have probably noticed that the same food affects you and a family member or friend differently. Perhaps your best friend can’t stop talking about how great quinoa is, but you find it upsets your stomach. Or, you love fermented vegetables as a good source of probiotics, but your colleague can’t tolerate them, breaking out in hives and feeling itchy and anxious after just a bite. One person’s health food can be another person’s poison. The only way to find a diet that supports your health is to respect your body and listen to what it tells you about which foods are friends and which are foes. Start with small changes and the recipes here, and see what you notice.
See also Yoga for Women’s Health: The Best Pose & Acupressure Point to Reduce Irritability During Your Period
About the Author
Magdalena Wszelaki is a holistic nutrition coach and founder of the popular Hormones & Balance online community. Learn more at hormonesbalance.com.
Excerpted from Cooking for Hormone Balance by Magdalena Wszelaki, HarperOne, 2018. Reprinted with permission.
Postmenopausal Yoga Poses You Need to Keep Bones and Joints Healthy
Enjoy your postmenopausal years by caring for yourself and continuing a steady yoga practice.
After menopause, you experience a drop in both estrogen and oxytocin (the love hormone). The decline of estrogen means postmenopausal bones can become brittle and joints can become stiff. The upside of this stage is that you’re done with the hormonal fluctuations that may have wreaked havoc on your emotional life. “Most women are elated that they are now free of the monthly changes, and they feel a renewed zest for life,” Brizendine says. For many, this comes at a time when the steep climb up the career ladder and the intensely demanding years of caring for children are over, and you can enjoy more time caring for yourself.
See also Yoga for Women’s Health: The Best Pose and Acupressure Point to Reduce Bloating
Adapting Your Practice for Postmenopause
Weight-bearing poses may help keep your bones strong and improve joint function. And a consistent asana practice can help maintain your range of motion and flexibility, but keep in mind that as your body changes, you might need to modify poses and use more props. Many women naturally gravitate toward quieter practices like meditation and pranayama in this phase of life. “We have given our lives to so many others for so long that now it’s just about coming home,” Northrup says. “The aging process doesn’t need to be about deterioration. That has always been a message of yoga.”
Many yoginis are able to maintain athletic and dynamic practices well into their 60s. When de los Santos posed for these photos, she was 55 and taught at least 12 classes a week, and she enjoyed practicing advanced poses, like drop backs, (dropping back from a standing position into a full backbend). She can still do the same poses she did in her 20s, but after a lifetime of yoga, she’s keenly aware that that isn’t what really matters. “I know from experience that at any age or shape you can transform mind, body, and heart,” she says. She loves calming poses like Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) during times of stress. And when she can’t practice, she still cultivates yoga by being aware and appreciative. “I can honestly say that I feel bliss and happiness every day.”
See also The Truth About Forward Bends
3 Postmenopausal Yoga Poses You Need to Keep Bones and Joints Healthy
About the Author
Nora Isaacs, a former editor at Yoga Journal, is the author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age. Learn more about her writing and editing work at noraisaacs.com.
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