Summer’s heat sears my body and mind as I arrive at the prison. I had put my personal belongings in the locker and headed towards the security area. As I was getting ready to go through the security search I was surprised to see Annie arrive in the nick of time. This would be the first time Annie and I had volunteered together. We were processed though security, led down the long, wide, brightly lit, desolate hallway and eventually to our destination, the prison chapel.
We set up the meditation cushions as the inmates arrived. Our reuniting is often a tender and awkward moment. Tender because of the mutual appreciation and friendship that is developing between us and awkward because those warm feelings, vulnerability and openness otherwise rarely occur inside these impenetrable walls. We started with a 20 minute meditation using the simple mindfulness technique of following our breath. After this period of sitting meditation we had a “check in” time that gave the guys a chance to express whatever issues, questions or anything at all that may be arising for them. One guy suggested that we introduce a larger variety of mindfulness techniques in the class such as chanting and mantras. Another guy agreed that a greater variety of techniques would be useful for cultivating mindfulness. He said that the daily schedule in prison is always the same and very monotonous. They really appreciated the class and what we have been offering them thus far, but craved more variety. I began to discuss the role that boredom (lack of entertainment) plays in our practice and how cool boredom can allow us to settle into the present moment. Several of the guys have heard this before, sort of got it, but today they wouldn’t budge from their “variety grievance”. I felt a bit hurt and sulky. I wanted to stand my ground 🙂 … and that’s when I looked over towards Annie realizing that she was an experienced yoga practitioner.
Annie started to skillfully lead us through a VARIETY of stretches, movements and breathing exercises. Positions included the cobra position, humble warrior positions 1, 2 & 3, cat position, cow position, dolphin position, downward dog position and much more that I can’t remember! She emphasized the importance of synchronizing our body movements/positions, breathing, and mind. After 30 minutes of yoga instruction all of us were energized and relaxed. Clearly, Annie had met the inmates variety quotient!
We were all happy to include Annie’s yoga into our class’s mix. Variety is now the spice of life at the prison’s meditation class!