I am fortunate to have the grace of coordinating our Jail Yoga Program. On Saturday, November 22, 2014 I had the privilege of meeting the next group of ladies in the STOP program. Walking through the metal detector, the alarm went off and I quickly realized it was my shoes. The sound even startled me as after six years, I normally do not set off the metal detector. Forgetting about the metal staples in the soles of my clogs. I signed in and the guards buzzed me through the first set of doors. Continuing down the long corridors and up the elevator I could feel the excitement and a twinge of nervousness building within me. Who are the ladies that will be in this group? How many ladies will be in our class for the next three months? Are they as excited as I am about this journey? The guards buzzed me into the secure area and took down my information. An inmate was finishing sweeping the room that we would utilize for yoga. I thanked her and then I set up. I unrolled my mat, pulled out my watch (you are not allowed cell phones in the jail, and there are no clocks) and sat, setting the space for the class. I waited several minutes before the ladies arrived. Eleven ladies entered the room. This is a large group! We’ve had classes as small as three and up to about twelve.
I passed out the waiver forms, getting the paperwork out of the way. I shared my story with the ladies — how yoga has had an enormous impact on my spiritual journey. I spoke briefly about Kashi Atlanta and the other yoga teachers that they would meet, and then I asked them to share. One by one, I learned a little bit of information about them.
We dove into a shortened asana series. First, I learned that many of the ladies are backwards breathers. I was too, before yoga. So we talked about this a little, and later used the crocodile pose to practice expanding our bellies outward while inhaling and contracting while exhaling. We moved into rope pull. I asked them to imagine breaking through an obstacle that stands between them and their happiness. One of the ladies said out loud, “Jail.”
We rose to standing, staggering on our mats as the room was full. I demonstrated the 3-Part Breath. It took a couple of the ladies a few times to get the hang of this. Inhaling in three parts each time you move the arms – arms extend straight out in front of you at chest level, then open up straight out from shoulders, sweeping the arms up overhead, then in a big “Haaa” exhale through the mouth sweeping arms down and hinging at the hips in a forward bend, almost like a rag doll. We repeated this several times. We finished. I asked them to close their eyes, slowly circle their hands to prayer and to become aware of how and what they felt. The stillness in the room was thick. The outside noises were still present. I love this. A moment of peace, a moment of silence that manifested into existence. The knowledge that it can happen anywhere! Even in jail. Even when outside noises and distractions are still present. We can dig deep into our selves, turning our focused inwards, and connect to our breath. That it takes us right there — to the moment, to the silence, to the stillness, to our divine selves.
We moved through some more postures, and took a few moments in corpse pose. I brought them back to an easy pose and taught the Bhramari Breath, also known as the Bumble Bee breath. This is an excellent breath for addicts, for anyone struggling with anxiety or depression. It instantly stops the chattering mind. A long slow ujayii breath on the inhale and a long humming breath on the exhale. As we began the breath, one of the door alarms started buzzing. As we inhaled, you could hear the sound of the door. As we exhaled, the buzzing alarm merged with our own buzzing and the noise could not be heard. The door stopped buzzing on our second to last breath. One more big deep breath in and we exhaled our final, longest Bhramari Breath out. Again, the stillness burst forth. Slowly we gathered our hands to prayer, ending class with “Namaste”. The ladies opened their eyes, coming back into the space. I asked them about their experience with the breath — and they all had an immediate experience. They could feel the difference. We talked about using the tools of yoga off the mat — that they could do the breath silently if engaged in an intense conversation.
I am blessed that I have this opportunity to share and serve and learn with these ladies.