We often think of yoga as a hobby for young women clad in trendy, overpriced Lululemon spandex. But an unlikely teacher is showing his community that the ancient art is actually a healthy practice for everyone.
At the young age of 17, Marshawn Feltus went to jail for shooting and killing another teenager. He served 18 years and nine months of his 38-year sentence before he left the prison walls behind to begin his life anew as a yoga teacher in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago’s gang-riddled West Side.
Now the founder of Awareness, Change & Triumph (ACT) Yoga, Feltus is repaying his community by teaching them the meditative benefits of yoga, WTTW reports.
As a power lifter in prison, Feltus spent most of his workouts focusing on his physique through weights, only to cause severe muscle pain and injury. When another inmate aptly named “Buddha” suggested he try yoga for pain relief, Feltus decided to give it a shot.
The improvements were not limited to pain relief. Feltus said yoga reduced his pain and stress, helped him sleep more and gave him a better sense of well-being. After pouring over any book he could read on the subject, Feltus went on to teach Ashtanga yoga — one of the most popular forms — to more than 800 male prisoners.
After his release, he received his yoga teacher training in 2012 and last year opened ACT Yoga, the first yoga studio in the West Side community. By opening the center in an unlikely neighborhood, Feltus is hoping to empower and inspire locals to practice yoga as a tool in overcoming adversity.
“There’s no way that you could ever bring back a life,” Feltus said. “But to be able to see people flourish from what you can give them, even though there some things that I can’t repair, for those things that I can repair, that’s what I want to do. That’s what I feel like I’m called to.”
Feltus is particularly passionate about working with young men in the neighborhood and has even managed to get a few into his classes. Yoga student Jacqueline Jackson points out that young guys on the street have often lost hope, and Feltus “brings them hope.”
“A lot of times in urban communities yoga is not something that we’re into, or we think of it as something for other people. But it really is something for us. It’s something for everybody,” yoga student Bridgett McGill said.
While Feltus has received offers to teach yoga at health clubs in other parts of Chicago, he’s determined to bring balance to the residents of Austin. He teaches at churches, schools and offices, and is hoping to bring his practice to Cook County Jail, where other inmates could find inspiration just like he did.