People in prison tell us repeatedly that yoga and meditation are helping. The practices allow them to sleep and feel more at ease. They also say they’re getting along better with family, fellow prisoners and officers, and discovering a sense of hope and purpose in their lives. Most importantly, meditation and yoga help them see that they are not separate from the rest of the world. They speak of feeling less fearful, of wanting to give back to society, of feeling connected with something positive.
How do yoga and meditation help this to happen? Day to day stress as well as tension from traumatic events in one’s life are held not only in the mind, but also the body. Yoga keeps the body’s systems strong and healthy, and also releases tension in a safe, controlled fashion. Seated meditation, sustaining attention on the breath over time, allows the normal activity of the mind to slow down, so that thoughts and feelings can be more easily seen. This allows you to see that strong physical and mental conditioning can be responded to with wisdom, instead of habit.
As this ability to see one’s own inner “workings” strengthens, and with support from PPT letter writers and yoga teachers, prisoners develop concentration, interest and even joy in their meditation. This leads them to become more familiar with an inner, living strength which is not reliant on concepts, and which reaches beyond their past and notions of who they are or are not. That spiritual strength matures through a regular practice of “not thinking,” so we offer silent meditation on the breath, as extolled by the world’s wisdom traditions.
This practice is not confined to any one religion, nor does one have to be a believer in any system to practise it. It is rooted in silence and informed by silence, which means familiarity with the mind that isn’t overwhelmed by feeling or conceptual thinking. The only belief necessary is that such silence can be therapeutic, and that you can feel better.
Many prisoners take yoga and meditation seriously and discover that their thinking and feeling become clearer, and that they have fresh energy and creativity to engage with their lives.