Freeing the Prisoner

ilaI arrived in Boulder, Colorado yesterday afternoon and was greeted warmly by a fantastic friend:  Michelle McAlpin.  We know each other through our mutual association with the Amrit Yoga Institute, the Ashram, and various Facebook groups related to the Ashram but we never actually met until I stepped off the bus yesterday.  This kind woman welcomed me into her home and made me feel as though I were a frequent guest here.  Unexpectedly, a chance arose for her to travel to Muktidham to help with a Reiki training there; so, I now sit alone in her apartment with her poodle, Webster, as I type this.

websterWho allows a relative stranger into their home and trusts them to be there alone for a weekend?  Who trusts themselves to a relative stranger when travelling to an unknown city, wakes at 3:15 am to drive them to the airport and then watches their dog for the weekend?  If you had asked me these questions four or five years ago, I would have answered that only fools would do any of that.  How can you dare trust someone that you’ve never actually met and only really know through Facebook?  Why would you do that for someone you don’t really know?

These last four years have changed me dramatically.  What has happened in these four years that I am now more trusting and less afraid of the world around me?  The easy answer would be to say Amrit Yoga but that wouldn’t be true because Amrit Yoga is just a tool.  What really has happened is I have seen myself as I truly am and I’ve been letting go of what I am not; which brings me to why I am in Boulder, Colorado this weekend with Webster the dog.

james_foxLast night in an upscale yoga studio I met a very interesting man, James Fox.  James teaches Yoga to inmates incarcerated at the San Quentin State Prison in California.  He also founded the Prison Yoga Project.  You might ask yourself, “Why should we provide Yoga to prisoners?  They don’t deserve such luxury, they are in jail.”  I know that I would have said that five years ago.  I would have said that they got what they deserved and these cushy things like Yoga should be denied them.  If you find yourself questioning the purpose of Yoga in a prison, ask yourself this:  “Upon release from prison, what kind of person do you want returning to your community?”  I know I would rather have someone who has changed for the better while in prison rather than someone who simply did their time.

Click to donate a book to an inmate.
Click to donate a book to an inmate.
I am here for this training with the hope that I can help bring Yoga into the penal system in Utah.  Yoga isn’t a magic pill but it is a very accessible tool to help a person see who they really are and let go of who they are not and, in prison or out of prison, that is real freedom.  What I find most interesting is that I never have considered myself a prisoner and so the yogic idea of liberation has always seemed a bit foreign to me.  It hasn’t been until I starting writing this post that I recognized how long I was a prisoner of my own beliefs and prejudices about myself.

Jai Bhagwan

If you want to help take Yoga into prisons, you can do it simply by donating one of the Prison Yoga Project’s books to an inmate.  Just click the book image to the right and scroll part way down the page and you’ll see where you can donate a book or buy one for yourself and an inmate.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter sent to James by B.T. about the program’s effect for him.

I returned to find old cellie had moved out and a new cellie there.  My new cellie said that while he was moving in and the other cellie was moving out, the other cellie was trashing the place. . . . I took a deep breath, paused for a moment, and then introduced myself to my new cell-mate and began cleaning up the mess.

The next day the word on the yard was that I owed that dude a complete ass kicking, and that none of ‘his people’ would retaliate be cause of the way he had disrespected me. . . . Some of the people who I thought were my friends told me they were told that they were not aloud to talk to me anymore, unless I go smash on that guy right now! . . . They just didn’t get it.

Only one person commended me for showing tremendous control, and he just happened to be another one of our fellow students from the yoga class!  At the next class I took the time aside to personally thank our Instructor.  Also to let him know that it was only because of the inner peace and trust that was instilled, developed, and nurtured in the Yoga class, that I was able to respond to that situation with calm.  Calmness developed over years, through the months, week to week, day after day, hour by hour, minute by minute, one breath at a time.