And on the Fourth Day God Said….Let There Be Yoga?

On my first Sunday morning here in federal prison, which was only my fourth day, I woke early and wandered down to breakfast at about 6:20 AM. I must admit, that despite the self surrender going smoothly and the fact that had already made some deep friendships, I was feeling down. The initial wave of adrenaline had worn off and it felt as if a dull wave of molasses had washed over me. Everything felt slow, sticky and uncomfortable. A bit like that dream you have when your feet are stuck in mud and you can’t run as fast as you’d like. Not depressed, but just stuck. This was going to be my home for the foreseeable future and that was settling in my gut. As I pondered what to do for the rest of day while drinking my second cup of office-quality coffee, someone at the breakfast table said, “Hey, are you going to yoga?”

Through my networking I had heard that there was a yoga class here along with many other sports and recreational activities. When I was preparing for prison a good friend made me promise that I would try the yoga if it was available and I casually agreed that I would. Now with the proposition confronting me, I thought to myself, “Oh crap, I’m going to have to go to this silly yoga class.”

So, with a bit a hesitation I followed a few new friends down to one of the little-used outdoor courts that overlook the meadows in the back of the camp. The sun was still low in the morning sky and just beginning to peak above the green hills.

The instructor, a sort of Buddhist-felon guru, with an easy and thoughtful demeanor, was waiting for the group to gather. There are some inmates here that have clearly grown to become completely different people than they were when they walked through the door just a few years ago. They have truly “fallen upward” as Richard Rohr calls it. You can hardly imagine the circumstances that could have led them here. They are like some type of larva that have transformed into butterflies in their prison cocoon. Mr. Yoga is one of those butterflies. A truly decent and contemplative person who’s kindness belies his past.

As the students filled up the mats he spoke gently to the class, “Let’s begin by getting on our backs and doing some gentle stretches while we focus on our yoga breathing.” So far so good. I’m up for little early morning stretch and nose breathing.

Well, thirty minutes later I’m twisted around like some kind of Salvador Dali pretzel and panting like a dog. Screw breathing through my nose, I’m trying to suck in as much oxygen in my lungs as possible and mouth breathing was the only viable option. “Now reach around, grab your left foot with your right arm while sticking your right leg vertical in the air. This is called Downward Facing Lizard Moon,” or something like that. So much for my easy morning stretch.

But, by somewhere in the middle of the class I loosened up, got into the rhythm and began to appreciate the morning. The sun was still low, but warming up quickly, and I could feel the radiant heat on my skin fighting away the morning chill. The mist was burning off in the gullies between the hills in the background and, with God as my witness, a doe with two young fawns trotted across the open field to a small stand of trees.

The molasses began to dissipate with each new move and each deep contemplative breath I took. I felt, well, normal. Maybe better than normal. The reality is, I hadn’t felt normal for over two years since I was indicted. There’s a lot of molasses wash away.

By the end of the class I found yoga was both refreshing and challenging at the same time. Dare I say spiritual? I didn’t want the hour to come to an end. The time to focus my thoughts and body in the morning sun was just what I needed. A mental and physical boost all at the same time. I was hooked and I have made the thrice a week class part of my daily routine ever since. Thank you, Mike, for making me promise to try yoga. The gift was much more than flexibility.

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