A few years ago, I couldn’t even imagine stepping a foot inside a prison. These days I really look forward to it each week. I feel extremely honoured to have this opportunity to share the practice and gifts of yoga in both Manawatu Men’s prison and Arohata women’s prison.
Every Wednesday Paul and I head out of town to share both music and yoga with the guys out there. The guys we practice with are blown away that we make the journey out to Linton and in return seem to be very eager to get to their mat each week.
We started this experience with a couple of regular groups who weren’t involved with regular programs, giving them a wee bit of extra time out of their cell block. Then, last christmas whilst the prison programme paused, a few of our regular yogi’s headed out into the yard to practice their sun salutes…this sparked interest amongst fellow inmates and the yoga was shared. On our return, the prison had extended the yoga invitation to all units! Some of those units included youth and those on remand, waiting to be sentenced. These groups as you can imagine are often highly stressed and on edge, yet by the time savasana comes around – there is stillness and a sign of peace as their eyes close and a rainbow of smiles spread across their face.
“I forgot I was in jail for a while just then. When we come here, its like a piece of mind, you know? It’s like, we are just here, doing our yoga. Soon as we step back out that door, we are back in jail. Thanks heaps for coming again.”
From the very start our intuition told us we needed to at least try and see if our project could offer something to someone within a prison. Yes, we know that we believe how powerful music and yoga can be, but it doesn’t mean everyone feels the same, which is absolutely ok. We are all so different, with different ideas, tastes and beliefs. What feels incredible to one person can feel a whole lot less to another.
As with every group we practice with, we had no expectations. If it didn’t fit or wasn’t received well in this prison, then at least we had tried. But to still be there a year on and see our project evolve, to feel it…to be IN it, has tugged at something deep inside. It absolutely belongs to this opportunity. The men we practice with, turn up each week and fully receive us, eager to learn and give everything a go. And it’s not just the asana or physical practice, they have been just as interested in the Prana/breath, the philosophy and meditation. We stop and pause in silence after each tune to observe the breath, the temperature in the body and the heart rate. Simply noticing and being with the life that is present…with kindness. Using the tools we have picked up along the way, with the intention of practicing them in life off the mat.
“I am committed to becoming a better father and husband. Yoga is helping to become that man. Yoga is the one thing I look forward to and it gets me through the week. It’s awesome ay?!”
“Everyone should have learnt this as kids. I bet ya, there would be wayyyy less of us in here.”
People often ask how the music works in Prison…The music softens everything. Just everything. In these particular classes it fills the room and seems to accompany the yoga in such a nurturing way. Paul takes request from the guys, so our playlist isn’t always what you may imagine moving to yoga to, but it means the world to them when their song is played. They adore our Paul! His music makes it feel safe for everyone to explore, focus, sing, to feel, have a laugh at ourselves, to be held and to step away from what we can’t change but perhaps inspire us and work toward the things we can. Making the most of the life that exists beyond our worst mistakes.
“Your voice bro, it’s magic ay? It takes me out of this place. I felt like I was lying on the beach. Can you make sure I can come every week?”
“Mannnn, you have skills. I nearly had a tear ay, that was emotional.”
I know I’m biased, but I can feel how genuine Paul’s open heart is, it is present in every strum and in every word he sings. I’m sure the guys get that too. To witness them comfortably close their eyes, to immerse themselves in the music and the moment-speaks a thousand words.
A year on and we are both enriched with some unforgettable experiences of human connection. We learn so much from these men and we tell them on a regular basis. At first they laugh at us, after a while they are able to accept that and take our words of truth. We have witnessed transformation, in all of us, on so many levels – what a blessing.