The Litchfield Files: Erica "Yoga" Jones

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The practice of Yoga has been around for a long time, but in the last ten years it has blown up into a huge trend that no longer has much to do with spirituality and personal development. More than anything, the newly-invented concept of Yoga has turned into a money-machine that feeds off of neo-hippies and celebrities who like to abide to a certain image. And image is the operative word here. While there are many people who are truly devoted to the practice and the lifestyle that comes with it, there are just as many who go through their sun salutations and vinyasa flows for the mere sake of being able to say “I do Yoga” – because it’s hip and cool, not because they are actually embracing this spiritual practice. Often, these are the types of people who readily preach about their inner light, the importance of love and compassion and the dangers of attachment to temporary things but, as soon as they step out of their meditational zone and off the mat, their practice is forgotten and they go back to partying with their mental demons, compassion goes out the window and the need and greed for a fancy new Yoga outfit wins out over a humble existence. We wouldn’t have thought Litchfield´s Erica “Yoga” Jones (Constance Schulman) was one of the people still at conflict with her spiritual self, but this season proved we may have been wrong. 

In an environment that feeds on confrontations, gossip, fear and envy, Erica has always stood out as a quiet, peaceful presence longing for harmony and wisdom. As Litchfield’s Yoga instructor, she helps inmates find a means to reconnect with themselves in a setting that does not allow for much time for personal reflection and solitary practices. Her regular classes and her faith in the Buddhist religion motivate her to continue her personal journey of self-forgiveness and love, and while she can see the benefits the asanas reap in her students, she can’t always find the tranquility and acceptance she so desperately seeks within herself. Her calm and balanced demeanor, her ability to outwardly remain on one seemingly constant plane, often fools us into believing that she has found her own, personal version of Nirvana. The truth is, she is not yet the person she wants others to perceive her to be. She throws herself into her Yoga practice in an attempt to numb her thoughts, and sticks a nail into an electrical socket in order to feel anything other than guilt and dejection. But it hasn’t brought her any closer to actually forgiving herself.

Erica has mostly managed to keep up her hippy persona and abide by the values she teaches and the moral codes she has set for herself. However, when these are challenged by other inmates or particular circumstances, her convictions tend to fail her, sparking further the inner disputes that are indirectly related to her past and the incident that brought her to Litchfield. Though much of her history remains unknown, we have been presented with enough puzzle pieces to make up our own picture and, no matter how we turn it, the outcome is never pretty. Having grown up in a family of alcoholics, the addiction eventually found Erica too, turning her into the kind of person she never wanted to be. When she began growing marijuana on an acre of Californian land, perhaps it was her way of striving to substitute a hard drug for a soft drug, a miserable lifestyle for a peaceful existence. Whatever her plan, the universe had another. And although she insists that everything is temporary, the memory of having accidentally killed a young boy has stayed with her on a permanent basis.

Not only is she unable to forgive herself for past mistakes, she is also incapable of accepting her own, basic human behaviors and desires. She is quick to punish herself when she finds herself giving in to anger, gossip or greed and is disappointed with her inability to be consistent at all times. This first became evident during a clash with Janae. Jones tries to calm her down after she gets riled up when others protest her early morning workout. Erica senses her anger and tries to share some wisdom with her, to which Janae’s reply is:

 "Bitch, you lyin' to yourself with this whole Namaste bullshit!"

As much as it hurt, Janae was right with her presumption that Jones’s “Namaste bullshit” is a tool that helps her push away the many feelings that need a verbal outlet instead of being twisted into yogic poses.  While Janae pushed Jones further into understanding that instinctive reactions and irrational human behavior do not always have to be a bad thing, Litchfield´s celebrity newcomer Judy King manages to distort her own self-perception with luxurious temptations and privileges.

Once again Jones finds herself in an identity crisis when she is forced to question her selfish desires and her solidarity towards the inmates subjected to sheer tyranny, while she is enjoying a life of comfort and seltzer machines. Though she secretly relishes the new setup and all the advantages that come with being King’s roomie, she cannot admit this to the others, let alone herself. During a night of passion, ecstasy and a ménage à trois between her, King and Luschek, she even comes to realize that Judy has the life she has always wanted. And when she wakes up the following morning, her previous night’s statement of being a spiritual sham starts ringing true in her mind, once again. Jones may be quick to question her sense of self but that has not – and will not – stop her from continuing to search for a path that will finally bring her a sense of acceptance and wholeness.

 

 

Commissioned by Paste Magazine

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