Back to Basics: Yoga in Prison

By:   ‘Off the Mat’

I am a long time yoga practitioner currently serving time in Federal prison. I am blessed with an incredibly supportive network of friends in the yoga community; many who have urged me to share my thoughts and experiences….here are some comments from my first week of incarceration.  Since I don’t have internet access I’ve asked for help in posting this message.

Greetings. My yoga teacher & I have a saying when dealing with trying circumstances…’thank God for yoga’ or ‘yoga saved my life’.  Well that saying is absolutely true!  Yoga has been a source of strength, happiness and inner calmness in an environment filled with pain, sadness, hatred and despair.  One can feel the loss of human potential as people ‘give up’ on life. The power of yoga extends well beyond asanas (although what a great place to start!). I’ve been trying to use this experience to embrace the Eight Fold Path of Yoga and have found comfort and happiness along the way. I’ve been able to maintain a yoga practice and even guide a few interested inmates in an informal practice.  The power is real, it’s tangible and it’s within each of us.  After guiding a Yoga Nidra meditation session two inmates were in tears for the first time in their lives as they try to deal with their inner demons.  This was a major breakthrough and I continue to encourage them to explore their feelings.

Yoga is not about having fancy workout clothes or even a mat (we have neither) but about finding comfort in the present moment, enjoying each breath and becoming comfortable in our own skin.  I was fortunate to attend a Baron Baptiste workshop the week before going to prison and made a personal commitment to work on and live by the following mantra: joy, surrender and true self.  An inmate shared his book by Thich Nhat Hahn titled ‘The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching’.  This is an incredibly powerful and surprisingly easy to read book which elegantly explains and expands on the Eight Fold Path (I am not a Buddhist). Please consider this book for your own spiritual practice.

I’m only a few weeks into my sentence and know that many challenges lie ahead…I hope to turn these challenges into opportunities to strengthen my practice.

Namaste,
Off the Mat

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