Our newest affiliate Jasmin Dingemans speaks about teaching in Milton.
How long have you taught in OCF for?
For two months now, twice per week.
Can you describe your very first experience meeting a group of male prisoners?
As they walked into the room, I overheard them being given a pep talk of sorts by a guard. I think he wanted to make sure they were respectful of the opportunity – they have been the whole time.
They arrived into the class space and I noticed a fair amount of apprehension or nervousness. They were very quiet and fidgety. I also got a sense of a lot of agitation in the group. I could see a lot of tense faces and bodies and darting eyes.
Other than that, it became much like any other first class with a new group. I was really impressed with how quickly the whole group’s focus improved, and by the end of the class it was like being with a whole different group of people because they were so chilled out compared to the beginning.
The two guards who were there were visibly surprised at the effect of just one class. One of the guards said after that the change was “unbelievable”. He said about this one guy, “He is a VERY angry man, I have never seen him look so peaceful and relaxed.”
What sort of practices do you teach them?
I started by going back to the basics with a focus on awareness. We worked on breathing and moving slowly, in synchronization with the breath, with gentle sequences and asana including Savasana. We started gradually to build a good foundation of connection with the body and breath, and a new awareness of thoughts and sensations.
I’ve since introduced new Pranayama as well as many more asana and sequences, but keeping the level quite light at this stage. I also touch on what I call applied Yoga philosophy in most classes, which they seem to really look forward to and engage with. I create space for dialogue and ask them, and encourage questions back throughout the class. I love hearing how they are plugging what they are learning back into their daily life.
They do love to be challenged, so I include Surya Namaskar (sun salutations), balancing, and activities that target the core in most classes. Every now and then we have a meditative class, where there is no ‘dialogue’, giving them an opportunity to really zone in to their own space and experience.
Consistent pace, a good balance of energetic/activating and calming/subtle activities, slow, clear instruction and strong shepherding of attention if there is wandering focus. A long Savasana at the end seems to really lock it all in.
What doesn’t work?
Occasionally we start a bit late so have to have a shorter class. At an hour it already feels like a minimum, so that can be a bit of a challenge, and you do notice the difference if the final Savasana has been cut back.
How do you prepare for a prison yoga class that may be different from a normal community class?
I created and follow a program that is aware and inclusive of the YEPT correspondence course material (several students in the class are also doing the course) and I treat it more like a course than classes, so I can keep building on what I know they have learnt. The prisoners seem to enjoy the structure and progression of this approach.
I have to be sensitive to the context I’m teaching in – a prison, with prisoners. This means being very focused on the specific words I use to respect the context, and also mindful of the risks. I always make sure I’m in the right headspace and have enough energy to stay absolutely alert to that. It’s kind of easy to prep mentally though, as it’s a long drive out to the prison, so plenty of time to gather and focus.
With community classes, I never know who is going to come along so I have to be more flexible, and can be more spontaneous in my approach.
How do you feel after a class?
Energised and inspired.
How has YEPT been as an organisation to work with?
Wonderful. I love this organisation and all the people in it. So much combined wisdom and heart.
How has Dept Corrections been as an organisation to work with?
Amazing. So supportive and open.
Can you give us an example of the kind of change you have seen in any prisoner/s?
I hear from the guards as well as directly from the prisoners some amazing feedback. For example: improved quality of sleep, no more back pain, so relaxed, feel like I can take on anything. The changes I have personally seen are written all over the open and relaxed faces, in the obvious increased awareness (less fidgeting, following instruction etc.), the enthusiasm to learn and apply what they learn, and in the whole group vibe, which feels now like we are all working together for the same thing.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I love knowing that Yoga is helping. Helping individuals who may not have had access to it before, for whom these amazing tools can be, and already are being, put to good use to change the way they see, think about and approach life and its various challenges.
I love hearing about the changes, not just in the prisoners who attend the classes, but in the whole units that they then go back to, knowing the ripple effect is already in full force. And I love thinking about how this effect will eventually help the families and communities that the prisoners will be with when they are released.
What frustrates you?
A northwesterly wind?