“A Light from the Inside”

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    My name is Garridan. I’m an incarcerated Yoga Behind Bars instructor at Stafford Creek Corrections Center reaching out to help those outside the razor wire and fences who are experiencing a life of “confinement” in these times of quarantine and social distancing.

    I have been incarcerated for 25 years now and I’ve practiced yoga for 24 of those years. While I do feel yoga has truly helped maintain my mind, body, and spirit, I’m not going to be just another yoga instructor that tries to tell you to just breathe when you start to feel the walls closing in. There’s much more to it than just breathing and “finding your happy place”. I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned so that your home – your sanctuary – doesn’t begin to feel like a prison.

    I have spent time in various types and sizes of cells, the details of which I won’t get into, but doing time – strike that – ‘living’ in cells always starts the same way… cleaning! The first niyama is Saucha, cleanliness. In his book, ‘Light on Yoga’, B.K.S. Iyengar writes that saucha is essential to the purity of body, mind, and food. However, saucha is also relevant to the space you occupy. Whether it’s your home, workshop, office, or a prison cell, a cluttered space leads to a cluttered mind space. Anyone that has flourished in prison can tell you that you don’t need yoga to teach you this bit of wisdom. A clean and organized space immediately improves the mind space and personal morale! Whether you share a 70 sq foot concrete box with another person or have a mansion, after a time of isolation within these confines, the space does seem to get smaller, the walls do close in around you. Keep your space clean and you’ll keep your head on straight. So we start with cleaning and organizing – if you have more than one room, begin with the common areas, then move to the more frequently used rooms in order of priority. This task also gives you something to occupy your time.

    Once you have things organized, it’s time to establish your network – call your friends and family. Make sure everyone is okay, if not okay, how are they? Are you in a position to help? Do you need help? Communication is crucial! Real isolation isn’t just a physical state of being, physically separated from others, but also not being able to talk to people. Stay in contact. Set up regular check-in times/days. And try to keep things positive, especially if they are worse off than yourself.

    Now it’s time to “get a program” – a routine that keeps you busy throughout the day. If you’re able to work from home, or if you already do, you’re ahead of the game. If you don’t, or can’t, it’s time to reinvent your life. You have a luxury that I do not – the internet. What a valuable tool to keep your mind working! But skip the social media – spend your time doing something that has meaning and provides growth in your life. So many inmates will fall into the trap of watching TV or playing cards all day – it’s a program, but it’s not living.

    State libraries are closed, but you can find tons of reading material and education programs online. Pick subjects you’ve always wanted to learn, but didn’t have time, or completely new subjects altogether – you have time! And there is plenty if free stuff out there.

    Maybe you try a challenge that is, for some, worse than facing death – public speaking. With social distancing an issue, look online for a Toastmasters International club. Not only is it a world renowned communication and leadership training program, but practicing speeches from your own home significantly lowers the stress/anxiety of speaking in public. Not to mention that the education credentials look great on your resume (always plan for the future!!) Toastmasters changed my life and improved my yoga teaching.

    Now for a bit of fun – find a hobby. In here we have several “in-cell curio” that we put our creative energy into. Music, writing, drawing/painting, beadwork, embroidery, cross stitch, knit/crochet – if you doubt that “hardened criminals” do this sort of thing, check out: inmateartwork.com. If we can do it, with our limited access to supplies, so can you – and you have a wide range of mail order vendors. Our budgets are pretty tight, so we start small. But if we manage to sell some things (which you can do online), then we can build up to more projects that become a self-sustaining hobby. You can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs. Get creative, make something. Make gifts for family – it will make your heart smile! 🙂

    Exercise – a key element to surviving confinement. A body in motion, stays in motion. Get off the couch and do some yoga asana. Develop you’re own sequence or find some online resources (I don’t have any online, but I appreciate the interest), there is a lot available. You can also just walk – if you are truly confined to your home, create a path around the house that you can follow and do laps. If you have stairs, incorporate them into your laps. But it is preferable to get out and get fresh air…

    Next, get outside! If it’s necessary, drive straight out of town without stopping to get back to nature. Get away from the city and hug a tree. Let the kids/dogs run wild. Let them have fun and get dirty – hose them off later. I have to go to the ‘Yard’ to walk laps and breathe fresh air, but it definitely helps me to clear my head.

    And when you get home, experiment with foods. While some places are doing “contact free” delivery, try new recipes with foods that require just some hot water and a minute in the microwave (I have some great recipes).

    In the end, it’s becomes a mind over matter issue – you don’t mind the space because the walls don’t matter. ‘Then’ you can breathe and find your happy place.

    Stay safe and make the most of every day. ~ Namaste

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