CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On one level, it's a simple partnership between two dear friends, just retired.
"We're older women starting a whole new journey," Barbara Steinke says of Laotong Yoga, a nonprofit organization begun in earnest earlier this year with Sue Julian.
On another level, their new effort is devoted to the larger picture of what yoga and meditation can offer to people who might otherwise not have access to some life-affirming instruction and guidance.
Steinke, 59, and Julian, 61, head off to Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County on Sept. 10 to launch a pilot program of yoga allied with meditation for women at the only state prison for women. (The Alderson prison camp, made famous by Martha Stewart, is a federal institution.)
Steinke retired in April after 30 years as a federal court reporter with U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver, while Julian retired in June as coordinator of the W.Va. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
"We started thinking about what it would be like working together. With our love of yoga and having that social justice piece that's a part of both of us, we thought we'd combine it and create this nonprofit," Steinke said.
Steinke is a registered yoga instructor, certified in Shake Your Soul and Kripalu YogaDance, while Julian is a professional level Kripalu Yoga teacher also certified in Kripalu YogaDance. Both are also certified in "trauma-sensitive yoga," oriented toward working with individuals and groups dealing with past trauma.
As for the word Laotong, it refers to an ancient Chinese relationship that bonded two girls together for eternity as kindred sisters.
"That's what we thought. 'Wow, that's what we are! We're laotongs,'" Steinke said. "'Laotong Yoga' just felt right to us -- meaning kindred spirits, we're all connected. It's not just best friends. To us, it's being connected to everyone."
Their yoga mission, then, became clear.