The inspiration for this project came about a year ago. I know that there are some people who, for varying reasons, may never step foot inside a yoga studio. It may be because of financial restraints, preconceptions about who yoga is intended for, ideas about what yoga is and is not, or just too much spandex! But, I truly believe that yoga is for everyone because I believe that freedom is for everyone - freedom from ego, fear, addiction, depression. Yoga guides us to transcend the limitations of the body and our ego, preparing the mind for Self-realisation. I wanted to make yoga more accessible to those who would not be able or willing to come to a yoga class. The idea of taking yoga to incarcerated people was born.
It just so happened that shortly after this, a YouTube video floated across my newsfeed of a similar project in a Washington State penitentiary. It was that video that gave me the courage to take the next step. My subsequent research showed that yoga in prisons is becoming prevalent across several states in the US.
As the universe does when you move into alignment with your dharma, things quickly began to flow, and the people and resources that I needed to manifest the idea started to flood in. Lucky Elephant hosted a Yoga for Trauma Resolution weekend workshop which I attended in order to gain the knowledge I would need to work with incarcerated people. Following this, I ran into the (then) new Minister of National Security Wayne Caines on the street one day, and saw a window of opportunity to briefly float my idea past him and he encouraged me to submit a proposal to his Ministry which I did. Then, I shared the idea with my friend Tiffany Paynter, supervisor of the St. George's Community Centre, and because the Centre aims to serve the wider St. George's community, she saw an opportunity to support the rehabilitation of inmates at the St. George's prison facilities and began garnering support for my proposal from the Department of Youth, Sport and Recreation. Finally, the Yoga Teachers' Association met and discussed the idea, and I received names of teachers willing to help. The project took on a life of its own!
From my first class on 22nd January, I can say wholeheartedly that this is the most rewarding thing that I have done as a yoga teacher. The men and women choose to come to yoga voluntarily, most of which have never done yoga before. I gave a presentation before the start of the programme explaining the vision and answering their questions. I don't underestimate the courage it takes to step into a yoga class having never taken a class before, much less to do so in prison. These beautiful souls that I have the honour of meeting and teaching already report feeling more peaceful, more relaxed and healthier in their bodies. Our classes are couched in the ancient yogic ethos of "ahimsa" meaning to do no harm to oneself or others, on or off the mat. Classes take place once a week, and at the end of the 8 week pilot programme a completion ceremony will be hosted. Already, the students are asking that the programme be extended beyond the 8 weeks. This is the best endorsement that I could have asked for!
"Each one you see in light brings your light closer to your awareness. Love always leads to love." (A Course in Miracles)
I see these individuals fully in their light. I feel it's important not to cling on to the past wrongdoings. We have all made mistakes. It is the toll we pay to grow and evolve as human beings. Sometimes that toll is greater than others. The only approach to helping with the healing process that I know is to use the gifts that I've been given, and to do so with compassion and humility.
If you are a yoga teacher and you would like to get involved in this project, or if you have any ideas for future offerings that Shambhala can take to the prisons, send me an e-mail with your thoughts to: firstname.lastname@example.org