I went to the prison facility just like I do each Wednesday. I signed in and said hello to the officers at the main entrance.
Then I was told Correctional Officer who usually accompanies me was out that day. What did that mean for my weekly yoga class? Well, the staff had to find another officer who would be willing to sit in on my class. I took a deep breath. Smiling, I asked how I could assist the process and provided a list of participants to the officer.
Then I was told Count happens at the same time of the class and I would have to wait until that cleared prior to my entering the facility. I inhaled for a count of three and exhaled for a count of three. I sat in a chair, closed my eyes, and focused on my breathing.
Fifteen minutes later another Officer greeted me and we walked to the space where we practice yoga. I thanked him for volunteering to be with us so we could have our class. When we got to the space, I was informed that Count could talk up to 30 minutes to complete, after which participants could come down. Together we waited. Again, sitting in a chair, I began to breathe deeply.
Twenty five minutes later, I heard an announcement to come down for yoga.
Over the next fifteen minutes, participants trickled in to our space. I welcomed each individual with a smile and a handshake. And then something happened.
Each participant, in his own words, said to me that he thought I forgot about them or that I was not coming this week. I asked each how that made them feel when they thought I would not be here for class.
Once everyone was there, I asked that we get a mat, set up in our circle, and take a seat.
I thanked the participants for coming. I told them I was glad I was there. I thanked the volunteer Officer for his time so we could all be together for our class. Then I said that all of this that happened, THAT is where yoga can be a tool.
Being able to stop and breathe when our routines are disrupted. Being able to be OK with things we have no control over. Having the tools to identify our feelings – to observe and reflect on them instead of just reacting.
I told them that I too have been waiting for our class to begin. That I too had no control over the system. That instead of getting frustrated or flustered, I just sat and patiently waited. I breathed. Because that was all I could do.
I looked everyone in the eyes and said that unless I inform them the week before that we will not be having class or if there is an emergency, I will be here for our class. That I committed to being there with them. To practicing yoga once a week together in that space with them. I will not break that promise.
At this point we only had about twenty five minutes together. We found a comfortable seat and I guided them through the ujjayi breath.
Afterwards, when walking out of the facility, another Officer asked me how yoga went. He said he didn’t want me to “waste my time.” I told him that I was not wasting my time.