From prison inmates to people with MS: the power of yoga

I had the pleasure of my lovely Lebanese friend, Duna, visiting London recently. We had good chats, went to a yoga class together and she taught me to proper pronunciation of important words such as halloumi and hummus (the ‘h’ should always be a bit breathy).

She and I did our yoga teacher training together in India and then our preggers yoga training in Austria. I’m always impressed by what she’s been getting up to. One minute she’s teaching a class on the beach to 50 people who say thank you by giving a donation to charity, and the next minute she’s teaching inmates at a Beirut prison. Yes, even drug dealers and convicted murderers are getting a dose of Duna. No-one is immune.

I told her that I thought it was amazing, her going into a prison and sharing the power of yoga with all these blokes. Her husband thinks it is terrifying and that his wife has finally lost the plot.

She said how it started off as a one-off workshop, visiting the prison as part of an NGO, teaching a class of laughter yoga. One inmate apparently broke down during the class as he couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed. Despite the tears they loved the class – it was fun and different to anything they’d done before. Duna now visits on a regular basis and she’s noticed how much calmer the guys are the end of each session.

Pics of Duna and I smiling
Duna (right) and I (with balloons) on our pregnancy yoga training course

The benefits of yoga are indeed far reaching. I turned up to teach my regular Thursday night class at a little hall in London Bridge and I found a middle-aged lady standing outside the door leaning on two walking sticks. She asked if I was there for the MS support group and I gave her the disappointing news. She followed me into the hall, heavily reliant on her sticks, and told me how she was meant to be a case study, talking to others with MS about what it’s been like to live with the illness for the past 24 years.

She’d never done yoga before and decided to join the class so as not to have a wasted journey. I told her to only do what was comfortable and just to enjoy it. She certainly didn’t find this too difficult, smiling and joining in where possible during the class. She did her own seated version of surya namaskar, stretching her hands up above her head and brought her head into her bent knees with her feet flat on the floor. I helped her move from sitting to standing and she did shoulderstand with her legs up against the wall. She found this quite entertaining.

At the end of the class she said how much she enjoyed it and that she may even come back.

Yoga can now be found in the most unlikely places and people who aren’t young, free, flexible or nimble can practice. I’m still teaching the triathlete ironmen and have taught people with ME/CFS. We certainly have to be thankful for our bodies, what we’re able to do with them, and also be thankful for our freedom.

No matter who is practising asanas, the benefits felt by all are the same. It unites people and seeing students’ chilled out, de-stressed faces after a nice long savasana is enough to warm the cockles of your heart (definition for those not familiar with old English idioms).

Om shanti.

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