Prison TTC: Hatha yoga class – They are students, we are teachers

Before starting the course the main question haunting me was: “how is my mind going to react? Will I be able to avoid judging them for what they did?” Despite my deep motivation, I couldn’t help but wonder how the beautiful theory will face reality; how I would be able to apply here the Vedantic concept of “we are all One”.

But as soon as the hatha yoga class starts, there are absolutely no questions nor doubts: I am assisting the class as I would for any other group. Starting by observing the students practicing, watching their posture, their face, getting to know them on the mat. Continuing with adjusting them, bringing their feet together, straightening their back, helping them to understand better the asana (yoga posture) or the pranayama (breathing exercise). I have absolutely no hesitation in touching them, it feels completely natural: they are regular students and I am a teacher doing my duty.

Soon another preconceived idea gives way. The second day, as I’m adjusting one of the students I suddenly realize that most of them have probably not been touched gently or talked softly for years, if not decades. If until there I have been thinking of myself as a potential attraction – being the only woman in the course – I realize that what they need probably the most is affection and loving kindness. I begin seeing the inner child in them and I’m immensely grateful to have the chance to live this experience and to feel this compassion.

Yes they are responsible for committing crimes but they are now paying their debt – and when you are in the prison and start imagining spending years there it seems inconceivable. Life circumstances probably contributed leading them to act and the point is not to search for an explanation but to look at the future. Despite – or thanks to? – the circumstances, they have the opportunity to undergo a deep, positive transformation, growing and discovering there true nature. This yoga teachers training helps planting seeds of light within them, so that they continue growing this light and share it with others, inside or outside the prison’s walls.

Also read about our first day of the TTC in prison.

First day of the TTC in prison: sparking the light

We just finished the first 10-day intensive session of the Yoga Teachers Training Course (TTC) that we are holding in a correctional institution.

It is an amazing human experience on many levels! For 10 days, our team of 6 trainers left the ashram at dawn to spend the entire day – from 6:30am to 7:30pm – teaching in the prison.

The first day, we were both excited and nervous – wondering how it would go.

We welcomed our new trainees into a once cold prison gym that we helped metamorphosed into a temple, complete with an altar including pictures of our teachers Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda, fresh flowers and candles. We sat altogether on the floor for a group meditation followed by the chanting.

These first minutes were intense; as Srinivasan, the ashram’s director, started chanting ‘Jaya Ganesha‘ I suddenly remembered my own TTC 18 months ago in India. It felt completely surreal. I started chanting back as loud as I could, trying to both lift the energy up and channel my own emotion.

As in the classic Sivananda TTC, the course officially started with the initiation of the students by the teacher, passing on the knowledge along the lineage or ‘guru parampara‘. The trainees were called one by one to prostrate in front of the altar, receive powders[1] on their forehead and be given a uniform. As they came back to sit in their yellow and white uniform, the room suddenly light up, the 16 tough-looking inmates turned into new TTC students.

One after the other, they stood up and shared their motivations for taking the course: some had already been on a spiritual path for sometime, others were new to yoga; some desired to teach, others wanted to deepen their own practice; but all of them expressed their deep need for inner peace.

I would be happy to give to others what has been given to me.” – An inmate from FCI Otisville

[1] Ash, sandalwood paste, kumkum