This story of an unlikely yoga hero comes from the heart of Chicago’s West Side. Marcus Feltus is a former inmate. In 2011, after serving 18 years and 9 months of a 38 year sentence for shooting and killing a fellow teenager, Feltus was released to re-enter his life outside cell walls, this time as a yoga teacher. In 2012 he did his yoga teacher training and in 2013 he opened the first yoga studio in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago’s West Side. But Feltus’ yoga training began before all that.
While in jail, Feltus’ fitness regimen was what one might expect: lots of weightlifting to maintain a strong body (and reputation). But as he shares in this recent interview, all the wear and tear made his body a mess, his muscles and joints stiff with pain and injury. When he heard that another inmate aptly dubbed “Buddha” healed his back problems with yoga, Feltus decided to give it a try. Over time he found the practice reduced his pain and stress, helped him sleep better and provided him with an overall sense of wellbeing.
While serving time, Feltus went on to teach over 800 male inmates the practice of Ashtanga yoga and when he was finally released from prison, he founded ACT Yoga — to represent his journey of Awareness, Change & Triumph and to empower and inspire others to use yoga as a tool to overcome obstacles. He sees ACT Yoga as a way to give back to his community.
“There’s no way that you could ever bring back a life,” says Feltus. “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.” Besides, “Yoga is the true affordable healthcare,” he says. “It can do with very little cost, and the effects are long term.”
And he’s especially passionate about reaching the young guys who, like his younger former self, often put up a wall of toughness. As one student notes about Feltus’ affect on the guys, “he brings them hope.” Besides offering classes at churches, corporate offices and schools, Feltus will soon be teaching at the infamous Cook County Jail, the largest single site jail in the country.
So far ACT Yoga has made an impact on the local community and has opened up the practice to people who might not have approached it otherwise, or maybe thought it wasn’t for them based on what they’re used to hearing or seeing about yoga.
“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,” says student Bridgett McGill. And this is why this guy is a modern day yoga inspiration. Next time someone tells you yoga is only for skinny, white women, tell them of Marshawn Feltus.
To learn more about getting involved with bringing yoga to underserved communities check out the Socially Engaged Yoga Network serving the Chicago area.