June 23, 2014

Yoga, God, Prison & Self-Love. ~ Anita Brown

jail prison woman

I have a yoga client. I guess you could call her that. She lives at the Federal Detention Center for a crime I know nothing about. And I don’t really care. Let’s call her Dee.

Dee shared an experience in class today about how she has been practicing with several other inmates and me a couple of times a month since October and how, honestly, she never really understood what the all of the fuss was about.

She had no idea if yoga was just stretching or something more, she just wanted to participate and stay active.

The women at the FDC are stuck in a high-rise in the center of the city and never, I repeat, never get outside.

They eat, sleep, exercise and exist on one floor of a 10-story building.

They have a rec-deck on the third floor where they can see the sky out of the top of a two story space, the top 10 feet of which, is covered in bars.

A slice of sky and a few birds flying in several times a day—that is the extent of their experience with nature while doing their time. It breaks my heart.

I am fortunate to offer a chance to embody a yogic connection once a week.

(If you have never practiced, I would describe yoga as the chance to merge with the divine that is alive inside of you, inside each and every one of us.)

I leave after each session with the women at the FDC only hoping that other than relaxation, yoga will work its magic in its own time.

As Dee shared her story, I realized that she had experienced some of the magic that yoga had to offer.

Dee told us that the day before as she bent over to tie her shoes, she was overcome with the wave of an awful memory of her abusive boyfriend’s face and denigrating attitude.

Dee was filled with just a moment of self-loathing that after a year of daily exercise, maybe she had not come that far after all.

You see, every time she would simply tie her shoes in front of him, he would remark that she was fat and worthless: just look at you, all out of breath just from bending over.

She started to tie her shoes in a room where she could be alone—a room away from him.

Well, on this day, in this moment, she acknowledged the old feelings of shame and looked them straight in the eye and then took a deep breath.

Within that breath, she held a new voice, a new memory.

It was of me telling her to just exhale and go a little lower, a little deeper into the expression of the pose.

As she folded over to tie her shoe, she exhaled and within that place of surrender, she felt a new emotion arising:


Dee told us she had never felt such a strong sense of worthiness emanate from her own body before.

She often hated her body but on this day, she loved what her body was relaying in no uncertain terms: you are enough. 

Her tears seemed to mix with our tears as we acknowledged the truth in her exclamation, “I feel like I finally know what yoga is about and for”.

I can’t help but notice that in all the articles we read about yoga’s benefits and life-changing qualities, one could just as easily replace the word “yoga” with “God”.

>> Yoga is making me a better mother, friend, daughter and wife

>> Yoga has been a savior to reduce my stress and relieve my anxiety

>> Yoga helps me feel more connected to myself and others and less depressed

>> Yoga helps me manage my eating disorder

>> Yoga eases my desire for my drug of choice and has impacted me staying clean

Some people say going to yoga feels like going to church.

Again, I will repeat, our yoga practice is meant to connect our mind, body and spirit in a way that God meant for us to operate.

It is out of wholeness and connection to our authentic self that we can truly understand how much we are loved, how we could never do anything to separate us from God.

That which we are desiring, is desiring us.

What are you yearning for?


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Editorial Assistant: Emma Ruffin / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Stephano Corso/Flickr

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