by Pascha Jirasakwittaya
It’s a yoga class without mats, blocks, straps, bolsters, tight leggings, sports bras and energy bars. It’s literally just people doing yoga, as organic as it gets.
Never before have I taught yoga in such environment - the room at the Phuket Provincial Prison, where we practice, is a sleeping hall; in it - 80 female prisoners, each with less than an arm’s-length of space available - clearly, they can’t all do the downward dog at the same time. Although they aren’t shackled, space is extremely limited and therefore - precious. It’s all they have, all they have been given, and they can’t escape it – bars and walls separate them from freedom.
My idea for this two-hour session was to teach them some basic, slow-paced asanas, hoping to create more space in the only place they truly own - their minds. I failed completely. These women overflow with restless energy; their bodies and minds loud and busy. The rattle of a chainsaw, abrupt announcements, and alarms from the outside don’t help either. A calm, therapeutic and meditative way of practice is not fitting for this class.
I decided to try something different and partner them up to make the exercise more fun. This approach works and releases them from their prison reality – if only for a moment. The power of touch, trust, and connection with others also help cultivate self-awareness and presence of another. This, I believe, will improve levels of cooperation and heighten healthy relationships, once they re-enter into communities.
Challenging? Yes. Rewarding? Very! My instructions, improvisations, cueing and assistance become much more refined, as I have to pay extra attention, become more flexible and creative. My job is not putting these women’s bodies into preconceived yoga poses, but to listen to what do they actually want to gain from this practice.
‘Why teach these people yoga?’, ‘Should criminals deserve punishment or empathy?’ some ask me. These questions comment on the true essence of yoga and the art of living - the values of loving kindness and compassion. Not hatred, but hope and healing will give rise to major shifts. As we sow the positive seeds, they will sprout and grow, and we all will reap.
About the author: Pascha Jirasakwittaya RYT, MA. Dance and body movement are central to Pascha’s interests. She works full time as a yoga teacher. When not on the mat, she is a student of life and a well-known lover of art, culture, and travel. Writing is her small hobby. With what she has learned along the way, she aims at opening dialogues with others. Contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org and visit flowspace.yoga to learn more.