Prison Yoga with Bob Dylan

Rummaging through my kitchen cabinets earlier today, looking for an old antique pottery bowl to give a friend of mine as a gift, I came across another piece of pottery I had completely forgotten about.  I had tucked it away in the cabinet so as not to break it.  I do that sometimes; put pieces of art away to protect them, then forget where they are, and when found, regret that it wasn’t displayed or used as it should have been.  It’s a beautiful bowl; Asian in style. It has the palest of green background with jade color markings smudging the outside and covered with a thick cream glaze.  The quality is similar to a piece you might find at an art show, pottery house or farmers market.

I received it as a gift a while back.  While I was in the middle of teaching a yoga class it was dropped at my studio door by UPS.  The package had no return address, and my name and address had been handwritten on the outside.  After class, I sat on my mat with my package and opened it.  I found a note resting in the bowl, which was nestling protectively inside of a multi-colored quilt.  It read, “Jennifer, I wanted to thank you for coming to teach us and being so kind.  I have a hard time sitting and quieting my mind, but when I make things it helps me meditate.  I hope you enjoy these gifts and want you to know how much your visiting and teaching us means to me.  Namaste, Janet”

Janet was an inmate at the Woman’s Prison and one of my yoga students.  She was also a lifer who had already served eighteen years.  I had been volunteering in the prison to teach yoga to the inmates for some months and Janet had always been my most enthusiastic student.  She looked like the sort of person you’d find working at a Starbucks – very polite, wholesome looking and always neat and clean.  I never knew what put her in prison for life at the age of nineteen, and to be honest, I never wanted to know.  I had asked the women in charge of the program to please not tell me why any of my students were there.  As I saw it, I was there to teach, to help their present state of mind and to alleviate anxiety.  I was afraid that if I knew what it was that put them behind bars I might judge them without meaning to…..I’m only human…

We practiced each week in a cold grey room, moving tables and chairs before each class, then moving them back after class.  Students would drop off, new students would start and others would lose privileges all together. But Janet: She never missed one class.  Every week she sat in the front by herself, smiling, listening and practicing.  When I would read at the end of class and lead them into meditation she seemed to melt on her mat.  This went on for months, until the room needed to be used for something else, something sterile, and the classes had to be postponed…

And so it was that the bowl brought me back to prison, which brought me back to yoga, which was subsequently where I was headed to after finding the bowl this morning.  I placed it on my table, filled it with nectarines and headed to meet up with my practice partner, Judy.

Every time I enter our little yoga room I feel warm inside.  There’s something really amazing to not only practice yoga, but practice next to a friend as well.  When I say friend, I don’t mean some superficial friend that you go have dinner with or double date with, while talking of recent events or politics, I mean a friend that if I were sick, would take care of me; would insist on taking care of me.  If I were on the street, would have a warm bed for me and if I were an emotional basket-case (of which I have been….ugh,) would encourage me on.  Of course we do the superficial stuff as well, but it’s nice to know you can swim in the deep end of the pool if you need to, instead of always hanging out in the shallow end.

After our hellos and a quick catch up session, she set her Ipod to Bob Dylan and we began our practice alongside one another.  The older I get, the softer and more feminine I become both physically and mentally, as does my yoga practice.  We usually chat some while practicing as well, but today we were silent, letting each pose flow freely; lost in practice and music.  I felt especially blessed to be healthy and free.  When the song Blowing In The Wind began to play, my thoughts were brought back to Janet, in her cold grey prison cell and her making of the bowl; wondering if she still practices, still creates works of art and still tries to meditate – her mind blowin in the wind…

 “Blowin’ In The Wind”

 Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea ?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free ?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.


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6 thoughts on “Prison Yoga with Bob Dylan

  1. What a lovely memory. The fact that one of your students felt so grateful from your skill and talent shows what a tremendous woman you are. It’s not everyday we can affect people in ways that they show us just how much we’ve made an impact. Whether they are tokens of gifts or memories of warmth that stay with us when we let it. :)

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