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Why yoga in a prison?

“Yoga IS magic.” After 8 years of teaching it’s easy to forget the transformational, magic that happens each time you step on the mat. It is easy to get caught up with green avocado smoothies and handstands on the beach, the yoga world can at times seem like it is for the super human, hypermobile. Don’t get me wrong I love looking at those instagram movies and are motivated and in awe daily but there is more - it just might not make such spectacular viewing…..does watching someone breathe get followers, or likes?

But it is there in the controlling of the breath or the simplicity of an asana where the magic lies.

Teaching yoga in Jinja prison and observing and mentoring Timothy a Ugandan male teacher has bought me back to the essentials of yoga: self enquiry, centering, letting go, present moment awareness and being of service to others. Together we have approached the students with an open heart and mind. Prisons in Uganda are very different from the rest of the world. Lawyers go missing, people are held without bail, judges are bribed, prisoners are held for years without trial. Instead of assuming they are inherently evil and deserve to be locked away, we look at each student as a human being with a story, obviously crime is often involved, we then approach that as a result of unresolved trauma.

Our teaching methodology addresses years of malnourishment, no education, abuse and trauma. Through breathing exercises, dynamic Baptiste sequences, and deep relaxation, we teach anger control and management, stress reduction, and how to create inner peace wherever you are.

I have wondered how I fit into this role I helped create, me a white female yogi in a male prison. Dressed in lululemon pants and shaktishanti top. I’m good at creating flows, finding ways to adjust asanas to suit individuals….but in an African prison where do I fit in?

I wonder if my traumas are enough to help me understand theirs. Do my wounds, stories, hurts, failures, abandonment issues even scratch the surface in comparison? In my heart I know I don’t need to compare or compete. We have all endured trauma, sadness, loss and the feeling of being let down. What is different is along the way my privileged education, finances, family and community have given me tools, stability and safety to overcome life’s challenges. The prisoners don’t necessarily have these luxuries. So unresolved trauma stays unresolved.

Trauma whomever it belongs to stays locked in the body. The hips hold painful memories, the neck and shoulders hold stress, we build an armour around the heart to protect it from loss and hurt.

This is where the power of yoga, the magic gets to happen. As we stretch and strengthen the body we begin to create space for movement, space for letting go and space for change. We develop a sensitivity and awareness to our body and our breath. An appreciation for what it is capable of and of what it does each moment that goes unnoticed. This simultaneous strengthening, sensitivity and awareness are incredibly healing.

I remind the students that there are many distractions on the outside; pain, war and illness to name a few. Even with the privileges that many of us have, there is an immense amount of suffering everywhere and that the only way out of the inner prisons we all seem to live in is to discover the wealth that abounds in our hearts, bodies and minds.

If I can lift one student then I know I have found a place.

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