I am about to share my experience of the very first day when I walked in to teach yoga to the remand prisoners who were in the age group of 18 to 24 years in Chennai Central prison at Puzhal.
As it was my first visit, I was overawed to see the massive area inside with many towers and blocks. Since I walked in very early before the concerned officers could report to duty, I was escorted by a newly recruited constable to the Hospital block about half a kilometre inside.
At the entrance of the block I saw a swarm of people. Yes, there were around 160 prisoners sitting under the supervision of one lone constable. To be honest, I just got psyched by the mere appearance of these friends. Many of them were clad in lungies, different hair dos, many with weird beards, swearing as I walked near them. I was taken inside the block which also houses a meditation hall.
Since the room could accommodate only around one hundred people and the number of mats was also less, I was left alone inside with one batch of people, and the lone constable was managing the rest of the crowd outside while keeping the doors of the hall closed. Immediately, the people inside started making noises and were swearing with gestures just to unnerve me.
There I am standing on the stage and for the first time I experienced a surge of fear and started sweating. As if that wasn’t enough, four strong guys jumped on the stage and flanked me. I closed my eyes and prayed to the Gurus, ignoring the pandemonium that was increasing. I slowly started moving away from body consciousness and could feel myself as a bundle of energy. I saw only bundles of energy surrounding me in different forms. I felt that from the edge of the fear I had fallen into it and reached the centre where I could see that it is not just fear, it is love for acceptance, acknowledgement and understanding, which manifested as fear.
I could also resonate with the feeling of all others without any judgement which made me love them all while acknowledging the fact that it is their longing for love, acceptance and understanding that has led them to this situation and could empathize with them. Slowly I was able to feel a wave of calmness engulfing me. I started gaining confidence and slowly opened my eyes, understanding the fact that I should be the one that is leading and not the other way around.
Noises and swearing still continued. Sensing their energy level and disturbed state, deciding to play it their way, I asked them all whether they liked to shout. They all wanted to shout and I told them, “Let us all not just shout, but roar and roar like true lions.” Slowly I guided them to sit in simhasana and demonstrated simhagarjanasana. They were taken aback by listening to the big roar from a small guy like me and slowly started joining me and enjoyed the asana. They started calming down a bit and started flashing friendly smiles at me.
Then I made them sit and started the practice of short wave Om chanting, with a few of them succeeding to sit in padmasana, which made them totally calm and comfortable. I also led them to watch their breath and guided them to the practice of kaya sthairyam. I helped them to become aware of their body, made them visualize themselves in their inner mirror, guiding them to appreciate all the goodness in themselves without any judgement.
Then we all made an attempt to rewrite destiny by focusing on the chidakasha or the sky of their mind by gazing at the eyebrow centre observing whatever was seen there without getting stuck upon just one image. Slowly they were led to visualize a tiny candle flame, observing it in totality, the colour, the shape and finally noticing the luminosity with the understanding that it is the inner light within each of us that is shining.
It was time to rewrite our destiny and we all tried to go down and retrieve the deep longings and dreams that lie within and made an attempt to write the same as a short affirmative sentence in the midst of the jyoti with faith and a promise to ourselves that we were ready to make all the efforts to make it manifest. I could see that many of them really made an attempt to go through the practice in all earnest.
I then took them through the tadasana and trikonasana series and made them do eka pada pranamasana. By now they started enjoying the session so much and we started doing pawanmuktasana part 1, followed by nadi shodhana pranayama, bhramari pranayama. We ended the practice with chanting Shanti Path for universal peace, and I explained to them the meaning of the Shanthi Path.
As soon as the session was over all of them stood up and gave a standing ovation, which was very heartening. This episode reaffirmed my faith in the power of yoga and surrender to the Guru without whose grace, nothing would have been possible at all. It has been heartening to see these people waiting for our yoga sessions during my subsequent visits.
My heartfelt thanks to the Guru Parampara.