Real Reform

A Belgian prisoner, Courtesy 'Yoga Revue', Belgium

The beginning was a disturbed childhood, a habit of drinking and no good purpose in life. At eighteen I landed in jail on a charge of petty theft which started the vicious circle of theft for easy money and a good time, arrest, trial, prison sentence, hate for society, release, and again theft and thoughts of murder for revenge.

Reversing the vicious circle

After eight months I began to feel the effects of imprisonment. Luckily, sickness came- insomnia, constipation and headache and a daily routine of visiting sick bay. Drugs were given without much relief and even more symptoms appeared. I began to think it was due to the prison food, so I obtained a book on dietetics.

One time, I accidentally visited the prison butchery and received a terrible shock. Hanging upside down was half an animal, frozen nine years earlier. From then on I stopped eating meat. This was indeed difficult to manage inside a prison. While others were trying to get alcohol and medicine, I was trying to obtain fresh and healthy food.

Slowly I began to feel better which assured me that I was moving on the right path. Then I discovered yoga and began practising from a book. It was the only physical exercise possible in the confines of a cell. As I performed different asanas, I felt a transformation taking place, not only outwardly but inwardly also. I suddenly realised that my life had been a succession of mistakes. That hate was a much heavier burden for myself than it was for those who were the object of it.

'Breaking out' of negative habits

I was still drinking alcohol and smoking nearly three packets of cigarettes a day. I learned that this was weakening my heart and destroying my lungs. It was the reason I was coughing and spitting.

Over one week I decided not to smoke during my walking hour and it was quite an ordeal. Progressively I reduced the number of cigarettes daily. I thought firmly, 'I will get rid of this smoking habit', and repeated this sentence again and again. Then I began breathing more deeply and with awareness for the first time. Finally I exchanged my cigarette provision for sweets. However, this need slowly disappeared and with my success in giving up smoking, I decided to win over my alcohol habit also. That was another victory. Gradually I got rid of many unhealthy habits which improved all levels of my being - physical, mental, emotional and psychic.

Reforming the inner man

Here I was, however, still a slave of my negative thoughts, so I consciously decided to transform my thinking and my mind. Now I understand that the first steps of transformation started with taking responsibility for my own health and habits. My conscious efforts started with one of the most destructive emotions in man- hate. Where there was hate, there would be love, where there was selfishness there would be generosity, etc. I wrote these maxims down and repeated them like a sankalpa every day.

I realised then that I was the only one responsible for my evil tendencies. No matter what injustice I felt in this world, I decided to forget all ideas of revenge. It felt good to live without hate but in peace with all. Even my cell seemed larger and more pleasant. A new life was blooming before me- one of love for others and nature, for everything in fact, that made up our existence. The metamorphosis resulted in a new and happy man with many inspiring friends, made through continued study of health, yoga and dietetics. This revealed to me that the outer world changes as one's inner world evolves.

A life sentence of freedom

After five years of jail, a warder came to my cell and told me, 'You are free'. I smiled. I was already free; free of the ideas which bound me more than anything else. The reason I am relating this today, is for anybody suffering in similar circumstances; living with hate; or thinking it's too late to change. It is possible to change the world- that is, our view of the world, to a beautiful and positive one. You can expand your health, awareness and happiness with fresh, nourishing food, yogic disciplines, and a balanced lifestyle.

This is not the first time that yoga and a higher life have been discovered inside prison walls. Being 'inside' is a time when one can reflect on one's life, to think, to meditate, to make decisions to change, or to continue the downward spiral of self-destruction. In the words of Tagore:

"I was asleep and dreaming that life was only joy. I woke up and saw that life was all service. I served and saw that service was pure joy".