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YOGALife - Spring 1998
Table of Contents Om
 ·  Memories of Swami Vishnu-devananda
 ·  Truth
 ·  Peace Mala
 ·  Vastu Shastra
 ·  Yoga Behind Bars
 ·  Sattvic Servings

Yoga Behind Bars

Last October a prisoner, a former murderer, wrote a good article explaining how the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, which had been sent to him by the Sivananda Yoga Center, had changed his entire life. The article contains a few 'crude' words but is otherwise very inspiring. He won an award for the article in an essey competition. In the same issue a review of the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga informed prisoners that the Sivananda Yoga Centers give free copies of the book to any prisoners who asks for it. We never made a claim to that extend, but the writer made it anyhow. Very soon, our Headquarters in Quebec was flooded with letters from around North America. I was assigned to the project of correspondence with these prisoners. Letters continued pouring in. Although I don't have an accurate count we have had around 350 - 400 requests.

It has been very difficult for me to keep my corresponcence up to date. So many prisoners have been writing to me that I usually run about a month behind. When asked what they can do to help humanity while in jail, I tell them to do likhita (written) japa of Om Namo Narayanaya and send it here. One of them sent me a letter aimost every other day for weeks together with his japa sheets! They ask a lot of questions, from basic body problems to kundalini to deities. Some are in agonizing conditions, such as being locked up in isolation, sensory deprived 23 hours/day for 7 days. Some prisoners are living in a great pain. One guy wrote how he has recurring nightmares of killing a storekeeper while burgling his shop (the action that actually put him into jail in the first place). He requested that he be sent a copy of the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga IMMEDIATELY.

While some prisoners are in for life, others are being released after a few years and express their wish to visit us here. So far none has shown up, but it still is too early. Several invited me to come and visit them (which I would like to do some day). Some letters are very funny. One guy signed his name as 'Wallbanger,' because he didn't know what to do with his empty time. A few of the prisoners are women, very few though. Many prisoners convey a feeling of being under much stress. Some are ill, physically or mentally. One prisoner wrote that he would be there until 2017. I suggested that if he practiced the Yoga techiques in the book, he would probably be released long before than. He replied that no, he would be happy to stay till the end because jail life offered him time to do his yoga practice.

There are a few true sadhakas, with years of experience in the spiritual life. In fact some of the prisoners write about their expriences in jail in glowing terms, the pressure being a challenge. There is a searching there and it is good for them to be exposed to yoga. I always remember how our teacher, Swami Vishnu-devananda spoke about being detained in Cairo jail while on his round-the-world peace mission.

One man offered me a whole list of recipes for delicious health sweet "treats". When I asked him how he manages to cook such delicacies while in a jail, his answer was characteristic of many prisoners: where there's a will, there's a way. At present we have about 150 - 200 people waiting for their copies of "The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga." A minimum of $2600 US is needed. Any one out there wanting to contribute?

Swami Padmapadananda, Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch Colony, P.O. Box 195, Woodbourne, New York 12788, USA

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Related Pages:
Yoga in Prison

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