On 4th November 2015, Isha Foundation conducted an upa-yoga class for the inmates of the Central Jail, Thiruvananthapuram. A volunteer at the program shares her experience.
The Central Jail at Poojappura, with its 15-foot-high barren, white-washed walls, made us quite apprehensive. None of us had ever seen what lay beyond. As we were ushered through the low prison gates with bent heads, we could see a few inmates being admitted after entering their numbers into the registry.
We were taken directly into the prison premises by a policeman, through the courtyards, through corridors bordered by spotless prison cells, with those padlocked iron gates obstinately glaring at us. As we walked through the grounds towards the interior of the prison, we met about fifty inmates. Sharply dressed in clean, though well-worn, plain white dhotis and white shirts, they stood with straight shoulders, heads held high. Not curious, they did not give us a second glance.
As we walked into the hall, 32 of the inmates who had opted for the yoga session were seated on the rugs laid on the floor. A diverse age group from 20 to 55, most of those present there were serving life terms.
The participants were already getting restless, so we went outside and started off with games. Following the instructions from the volunteers, the inmates stood in two lines, looking uncomfortable. The teacher took over from there in all enthusiasm and as the games progressed, within a short while, the participants were enjoying the game, running and clapping, encouraging each other.
The yoga session then began inside. When the teacher asked them what they felt during the games, various replies included:
“I could forget my misery. There were no thoughts. My mind was empty.”
“I was seated there with the mind of an innocent child.”
“I felt as if I was in school, playing with my classmates.”
“For a while, I forgot the fact that I was in jail.”
After listening to them, the teacher continued the session as the participants listened intently. The upa-yoga session continued for 3 hours, and included several practices designed by Sadhguru. The practices help relieve physical stress and tiredness, exercise the joints and muscles and rejuvenate the body and mind.
After the session, the song “Alai Alai” began. At first the inmates just looked at us in disbelief. The teacher began to dance; impulsively we all joined in, encouraging everyone to take part. Except for one middle-aged man, who stood dazed, tears rolling down his cheeks, they all took part in it most exuberantly. The song came to an end far too soon for everyone!
As the session concluded, many of them came up to us enquiring about the ashram, some of them with tears in their eyes. Even one of the policemen approached us and asked if we could impart the classes to the officers as well. We came out of the hall to find that it was raining heavily. The teacher, the volunteers and the inmates were so deeply involved with the session that none of us were even aware of it.
By the time we walked out of the prison gates, those we met inside were no longer prisoners or policemen, they were just human beings who yearned to enter the realm of yoga.