Turiya is Sanskrit for pure consciousness, and Turiya of Alaska attempts to bring pure consciousness to its students in Alaskan prisons amongst other places. David Westlake is the mastermind behind Turiya of Alaska. David is a 500-hour yoga teacher who runs Turiya along with his wife, Darcy Stein. Although COVID has largely impacted Turiya, they are doing their best to bring yoga to those behind bars, whether mentally or physically.
What is Turiya of Alaska?
That is a great question, I suppose it is the ultimate question. The basic core of Turiya is that regardless of what rut you are stuck in (mental or physical), you are able to get out of it and grow. For example, if someone is fixated on a particular rage, the idea of Turiya is that through the practice of yoga and awareness you can shift your mindset away from that pattern. We had this dream of stepping into different prisons and offering yoga. It started with the Anchorage Prison and expanded to many other organizations.
Where does Turiya of Alaska teach yoga?
Turiya Alaska has really evolved since our start, and our initial focus was to teach yoga to men who are incarcerated. We still honor that goal and try our best to reach out to those men, but Turiya is now connected to so many different organizations. We found that many people are incarcerated in their own minds and we want to help them. Pre COVID we were teaching at various prisons, North Star, McLaughlin Youth Center, Elmendorf, and at other places.
How has COVID affected Turiya of Alaska?
Ever since COVID began we felt torn down. We were teaching yoga at so many different amazing organizations and then nothing. I think it was very hard for some of the inmates that are participating in yoga teacher training because we were not allowed to come in and practice with them. Luckily, I have been able to write to some of the inmates that were participating in our teacher training. COVID is frustrating, but we have found ways to overcome it and are doing a lot of online yoga.
What makes Turiya of Alaska unique from yoga studios and such?
Yoga is often associated with fashion, style, and a privileged lifestyle, Turiya opens up the world of yoga to those who have very different lifestyles. People find us unique because we offer yoga for service as opposed to yoga for profit. Our program is very organic and we enjoy bringing yoga into nontraditional settings. I believe yoga is truly for everyone.
How did you get inspired to create Turiya of Alaska?
I grew up in a very impoverished area and I saw the pains of poverty. A lot of times there were very good people that were born into traumatic contexts, and they would get in trouble. My father was a teacher and he enjoyed working with these kids, so I was often around them. I think I always had a desire to help those who had rough lives. Once a yoga teacher, I became aware of the financial disparity in my field. Yoga appeared to be only for those with means. The more successful my yoga teaching became, the more my thoughts of Turiya became prevalent.
I was not really sure how to be of service and use yoga to make a difference, and one day it just hit me. I realized yoga needed to be taken into the places that made me most uncomfortable, the ones that scared me. As I contemplated this idea, prison came to mind. Teaching yoga in prison! Shortly afterward, I asked a student who worked in the prison system for some advice on making this happen. Soon after that, I found myself standing in front of men wearing yellow scrubs at the Anchorage Correctional Center.
Have you seen an impact on people from Turiya yoga?
That is a hard question, I would say yes because inmates have told me that they feel at peace and are practicing techniques. At the same time, many of them are so embedded in the traumas of their lives. We’ve seen men have pretty remarkable experiences of liberation but we’ve also seen the same men end back up in bad places. The inmates that were very committed are still teaching classes even though we cannot come in, and that is wonderful.
Does Turiya offer yoga teacher training?
Yes, we offer a 200/300-hour yoga teacher training. The idea was to offer the training at various locations that are not typical yoga settings in order to expand the horizons of yoga. COVID altered those plans quite a bit, and our yoga teacher training is now online. The training is based on four interconnected ideas: wisdom, practice, mindfulness, and service. In the future, we hope to offer more teacher training to further educate Alaskans on the importance of Turiya and service yoga.
For more information about Turiya of Alaska, check out their Instagram or Facebook.