Brendon Sakey has been a YEPT teacher for 3 and a half years.
Can you describe your very first experience meeting a group of prisoners?
I experienced a group of guys keen and willing to try yoga and expressing a lot of gratitude. The class was a mix of all shapes and sizes all looking for a practice to make themselves feel better. There was some gangsta rap blaring in the background…Wutang Clan I think! There was a really big turn out because, as I was told later, they had expected the yoga teacher to be a woman.
What sort of practices do you teach them?
Asana – Dynamic practices for strengthening and stamina, including some Vinyasa style and also traditional poses for flexibility and balance.
Some basic pranayama and a guided relaxation practice, and depending on the unit sometimes a short meditation practice. I discuss yoga philosophy and therapeutic benefits of yoga with the class.
A balanced practice that encourages them to develop awareness, concentration and acceptance and reveals insight into the body-mind connection works. Just practice. It’s all good!
What doesn’t work?
Unexpected lockdowns. It’s important to teach the practices gradually and progressively and demonstrate and communicate clearly.
How do you prepare for a prison yoga class that may be different from a normal community class?
I tune in to how the energy of the group is on the day. Many factors influence the class, such as, new people attending who are brand new to yoga with many injuries. I prepare by chanting mantra and recalling my intention and tuning into my teachers and inspirers and remembering that yoga is an ancient tradition passed down through many inspiring lineages with the intention of raising the light of consciousness.
How do you feel after a class?
It’s always a rewarding experience. Knowing that I’ve supported some prisoners in their path of transformation into yogis is pretty special. I call them peaceful spiritual warriors. And a sense of freedom being released from prison is always a good feeling.
How has YEPT been as an organisation to work with?
They’re a great supportive team and they continue to do important work in promoting the cause and mission of yoga in prison, which is ultimately uplifting all of society.
How have Dept Corrections been as an organisation to work with?
It has improved and is really good now. The programme coordinators are helpful and go out of their way to support my classes. The prison officers give positive feedback and show an interest in yoga. They have noted some benefits among prisoners they have observed attending yoga.
Can you give us an example of the kind of change you have seen in any prisoners?
I’ve watched prisoners progress physically with improved flexibility, strength and endurance and also better concentration and participation. During the final relaxation practice at the end of the session I’ve observed prisoners who were usually restless and disruptive become calm and still. Prisoners have shown an interest to learn more about yoga and develop their own personal practice and even make plans to practice yoga in the community after they’re released.
Whats your favourite part of the job?
To see people who have suffered trauma, violence and despair find some inner peace and a sense of self-worth through yoga and knowing it makes a difference.
What frustrates you?
That we still too much power in society that continues to create marginalisation, inequality and separation.