Yoga at San Quentin

I could have been with monks in the Himalayas, surrounded by majestic mountain peaks

by Anneke Lucas, January 11, 2012 for

James Fox, who has been teaching yoga to inmates for past 10 years, introduced photographer Robert Sturman and myself to the group.

As my eyes scanned the room, every man inside nodded respectfully.

Fox continued the class, sometimes cautioning his students not to take note of the visitors or any loud noises, and to go inside.

Judging by the degree of focus and the resulting dense stillness that blanketed the room, such a reminder seemed hardly necessary.

Fox repeatedly brought the class’ attention back to the basic moment-to-moment experience inside the body as it goes through different challenges in the poses, reminding the men that a pose stands as a symbol for any situation outside of the classroom.

I saw men quietly berate themselves for falling out of a balance pose, or making weight-lifters faces trying to maintain lunge poses, but the prevailing sense was that whatever they did, the experience was deeply internal and personal.

During the finishing postures, a peaceful quiet settled over everyone, and we were spared the din of alarms, gunshots (from the shooting range in the nearby hills where CO’s and other officers hold their firing practice), and the testosterone-spiked clamor from the adjoining yard.

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