Posted on May 13th, 2013
A group of yoga students gather on a Thursday morning across a crowded play yard. Words of welcome and handshakes are exchanged, mats are rolled out and shoes are removed. As the teacher begins to speak, attention is given. Breath is encouraged and movement begins. Simple and dynamic all in one, a slow Hatha practice is what these yogis seek and will receive.
Laying on my mat, hearing my own breath intertwine with the collective souls surrounding me, I begin to hear the words being spoken. “We will now begin Yoga Nidra.” Exploring a different level of consciousness, a request is made by the teacher. “Allow a word to be spoken that represents what you are wanting to invite into your life.” As my mat begins to absorb more of my being, hopes begin to take a voice. “Harmony. Peace. Satisfaction. Fulfillment.” The awareness of where I am at slowly slips further and further away as the teacher continues to guide us on a journey. I hear geese in the yard and I drift further into another realm.
I faintly hear the teacher’s voice. “Yoga Nidra is now coming to an end. I invite you to speak a word that represents what you are feeling now and what you will be taking with your for the remainder of the day.” My breath begins to deepen and I hear a siren in the background. I am suddenly aware of where I am. “Victorious. Freedom. Calm.” My eyes begin to swell with tears as I hear these words fill this sacred space.
I am reminded that I am lying next to a military veteran serving a life sentence in San Quentin Prison for a crime the details of which I will never know. In fact, I am breathing, moving and sharing space with a room full of twenty military veterans, all serving life sentences and participating in the Prison Yoga Project (http://www.prisonyoga.org/) founded and taught by James Fox.
I am not scared. I am not nervous. I am grateful. I am completely aware that my life is changed forever and a wave of gratitude washes over my body and sinks into my soul.
Carla Charters of Bremerton, WA, is an Off the Mat leader participating in the Empowered Youth Initiative (EYI). EYI gives leaders unparalleled access to groups and institutions who work with at-risk youth, so that leaders can better understand the personal, cultural, socio-economic and political challenges these youth face, and incorporate this deeper knowledge and training into their own work serving youth.
Help Off the Mat to continue and expand our programs like the Empowered Youth Initiative. Join the Seed Network and donate the price of one yoga class per month to Off the Mat, Into the world. When you join the Seed Network, you invest in a community of leaders, like Carla Charters, who are initiating grassroots social change from the inside out.