YOGA HELPS KEEP KIDS OUT OF JAIL
On Saturday, April 14, Jules Febre will be teaching Hip-Hop Asana at the Yoga Journal Conference at the Hilton. He will be donating his fee to the Andrew Glover Youth Program, where kids on probation receive guidance with their cases and help getting their life on track.
Jules, who grew up on the LES, is himself a graduate from Andrew Glover. Caught during an armed robbery when he was 17, his public defender told him he faced “3-6 years at Greene,” an adult male prison where unlucky young offenders are thrown in a separate wing with some of the toughest kids in all of New York.
While Jules was getting in trouble with his Lower East Side friends, earning an illegal but large income, he also secretly worked at the Jivamukti Yoga Studio on Lafayette Street, sweeping floors. He kept the job a secret from his aunt and uncle, Sharon Gannon and David Life, owners of Jivamukti – because he wasn’t talking to them at the time.
Five years earlier he had traveled through India with David and studied with Pattabhi Jois and Shyam Das, and though the 13-year old had loved the trip, he’d had enough when he’d returned home and abandoned yoga. But unlike most of his friends, Jules was aware that he had two clear choices in life.
When he was arrested for the robbery, the small boned 17 year old Jules sat in the overcrowded holding cell at Central Booking, trying to act tough to keep the large, violent career criminals at bay. At that moment, a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi which Sharon had taught him kept coming into his mind:‘Make me an instrument for Thy will. Not my will but Thy will be done. Free me from anger, jealousy and fear. Fill my heart with compassion.’
He didn’t want to think of this prayer, but after fighting it a while, something clicked: the idea came to him that he had been trying to get the same thing from two different paths. “I had this aunt and uncle, and people love them and want to be around them and then I had this other group of friends that people love and want to be around. When [those friends or the kids in the program] say things like, ‘Respect me gangster!’ ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ and ‘What are you looking at?’ they want to feel worthy, accepted by their peers; they want love. They don’t think of Divine Self and small self and Atman, but when there is quiet time, they want to be comfortable with their thoughts. They don’t want to feel shame. They don’t want to be pushed around by society. They want to feel liberated.”
With yoga, Jules realized, he could get what he needed without putting anyone down, putting himself in danger, without making his mom afraid. Yoga was much more sustainable. “I made a dedication that no matter what the outcome [of the case], I was going to pursue yoga. Later on, I told Sharon and David maybe this had been a blessing, because I would be able to bring what I’d learned in yoga to the system in some way.”
The “new way” manifested soon afterwards. Instead of being incarcerated, Jules was sent to Andrew Glover four times a week and began to work full time at Jivamukti as part of his five-year probation. He worked the front desk at first, then became manager, then general manager, while getting a college education. Once off probation, he volunteered at Andrew Glover, tutoring the kids, and took Jivamukti teacher training.
One of his first teaching opportunities came in 2005 through Def Jam’s Russell Simmons, who put Jules in touch with the director of the Brownsville Recreation Center Jules did two eight-week programs there. People loved it.
Next he taught yoga at a homeless shelter for families at the Smith Projects – both the overworked, underpaid staff and the residents. Jules also returned to his old high school, Urban Academy, where his classes were so in demand that yoga was put on the regular schedule. He traveled to Kenya with the Africa Yoga Project and taught in a Maximum Security Prison for Women, as well as in impoverished communities. “Obviously what they needed most was water and food, and I didn’t have that, so I tried to make sure we had fun,” he says.
The yoga class I attended at the Andrew Glover Youth Program on the Lower East Side was really fun. Hip-Hip asana is moving asana, swinging to the beat from side to side, up and down, while moving through vinyasas and during poses. Jules developed hip hop asana together with two other Jivamukti teachers to make yoga accessible to students such as the Andrew Glover youths.
It was only their second class but the kids sang along with tunes blasting from speakers Jules donated to the Center, tried poses, showed off, fell a lot and laughed a lot. Then it was time for savasana. Suddenly there was no more music, and Jules asked the kids not to play on their phones as he turned the lights out. I observed the students gradually settling into final resting pose, super quiet after the constant noise and chaotic vibe from learning something new. This stillness may have been uncomfortable at first, but soon the students sank deeply into it. After the class, one student said the resting period had been too short. Jules promised to make it longer.
– Anneke Lucas –
Jules Febre at the Yoga Journal Conference: New York, Hilton Hotel, New York, NY, Main Conference, Session 3, Saturday, April 14, 3:30-5:30PM. All proceeds go to: Andrew Glover Youth Program