I invite guest bloggers to contribute their musings on what is meaningful to their lives and personal evolution as it relates to our world at large. My intention is that readers learn from encountering individual, unique experiences in order to expand their capacity for kindness, compassion, and right action in all circumstances. —LS
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People do not think of prison and incarceration as a potential for waking up. It’s often seen only as a dreadful punishment, which it is. But it can become so much more.
If one chooses and is proactive, there are many skills that can be learned while in prison that are extremely helpful in a post-release life. During my fourteen years of serving time, and my self-initiated study of yoga, I discovered I possess a fully transferable skillset for my reintegration journey. And I am applying it daily to my newly acquired freedom.
When a person is incarcerated for a long period of time, that person sees the same things repeatedly for many years. If they choose to develop a consistent yoga practice, it allows them to build inner strength and momentum for their personal evolution. It also allows them to face each challenging situation with whatever new habits they are trying to build: tolerance, patience, nonviolence, to name a few.
Now that I’ve been released, I notice myself stretched thin for time. I am not finding the time to read as much as I did while incarcerated. I do not practice breathing as much, or work to stay grounded for the bulk of my waking hours. When we make the effort to practice yoga, we practice and practice, in preparation for when life will put us in the arena of uncertainty. When uncertain, we really need to slow and watch our breath, or recall texts from great beings, so we can respond with less reactivity.
With all the ebbs and flows, all the ups and downs, and the glamorous flittering of the flirtatious mind that society constantly offers us through social media, TV, and interactions with people, one must be consistent and disciplined in their practices of yoga. I did not know what this life of reintegration would look like for me once I acquired my freedom. I have discovered that continuing to love myself, a journey I began in lockdown, is a top priority. I must hold it as sacred.
The sacredness of loving oneself arrives through the consistent practices of introspection, self-reflection, and focusing on the moment-to-moment practice of becoming more mindful, more kind, regardless of our environment. Continuing to develop this practice now that I am “free” has reminded me of the centeredness I chose to seek, and the internal compass I found.
When my head’s full of too many ideals, inner chatter or talks with outside people, thoughts about the future and the past whirl and prevent me from anchoring myself in the present moment. So, I come back to my inner compass, tethered by loving kindness, and allow it to guide me back to the next present moment.
I come back to the mat. I come back to some basics learned in prison: scheduling meals, sleep, and studying. I return to my inner focus, not the external gaze. I come back to my yoga sadhana, to my meditation and breath observation that remind me we are all students of this present moment.
Now, I can see the auspicious fruits I obtained through my consistency developed over the past fourteen years. I can enjoy the now, even with all the uncertainties arriving with freedom, the bills, reunification with kids, and distractions of technological over-convenience.
One drop of water consistently dripping on the same spot of a mountain can cut that mountain in half. And ten minutes of meditation a day can cut through the thick veil of Maya, the belief in illusions. If you are looking to unlock the inner doors to personal freedom, the key is consistency. Consistency requires discipline. It can be uncomfortable, but everything worth having takes effort.
By Faraji Bhakti
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I am a community-building, social equity advocate working with the Black Prisoners’ Caucus, Civil Survival, and through hands-on, boots-on-the-ground work. You’ll find me and my children feeding homeless folks or speaking up for the voiceless. My unique perspective, and the lenses I see through, come from my lived experience: addicted parents, the foster care system, the criminal injustice system, and being a black man in America. Yoga came into my life during my incarceration and allowed me to access greater self-awareness. Yoga opened a path of service to the disenfranchised in my community. I serve all kinds of people. In June 2021, I went from being a Yoga Behind Bars (YBB) student to becoming a yogi beyond bars, reintegrating into society. I am currently working for YBB as the community engagement specialist.
Top image credit: ArtHouse Studio