yoga for prisoners
posted: October 9, 2013
When we saw this story in the BBC, we reached out to Dan Houston, a member of our community who is making a big difference in Texas. Dan was born in Ontario, Canada and now lives and serves in Houston. He is passionate about sharing his love of yoga and music to deepen his students’ sense of empowerment both on and off the mat. Dan is an instructor at Big Yoga Houston and is the Chief Empowerment Officer and co-founder of In-Powered by One Significant Act.
My BHAG (that is, my Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of founding In-Powered by One Significant Act and bringing yoga to prisons—yes, you read correctly—was born in the schoolhouse.
As a high school teacher I routinely connected with students born into environments typified by poverty, abuse and struggle. The most unlucky ones eventually ended up “falling through the cracks” of the system—an idiom that I felt tolerated the notion that some kids simply can’t hack it.
I always felt a tremendous sense of frustration when a student was expelled and/or sent to “juvie.” Their disappearance was like magic; now you see them, now you don’t. Gone. And the unwritten guide to teacher survival taught me to accept that you can’t save ’em all.
Still, one significant question lingered heavily on my mind: Where do these kids end up? A new school? The street? Juvenile detention? Prison? My heart wanted to know.
When I moved to Texas I quickly learned that this state truly lives up to its motto. Everything is bigger in Texas, even when it comes to its prison population. And it was there that one inspirational organization, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, made it possible for me to create In-Powered’s first prison yoga program.
Before starting, I naively believed that our mission was to bring freedom through yoga to the lives of prisoners. Yeaahhh… I quickly realized the true scale of my own BS around that belief when I stood to teach in front of 50 inmates and actually said, “Take an enormous inhale… and know that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.”[Cue an excruciating and awkward silence.]
Umm… That came out wrong. So I thought at first.
Through the transformative power of yoga, I saw men waking up to the reality of their past, the power of their present and the possibilities that lie ahead for their future. Many of the men I connected with shared that doing time was easy. All you have to do, they said, is “turn off your mind and shutdown.” But the poignant truth they revealed was that the “free world” isn’t always free.
My prison yoga experience taught me that we all possess the potential to be imprisoned or completely free, regardless of our physical station. Simply said, we construct our own mental binds, shackles and walls.
My perspective of what a prisoner is has completely shifted. Here I thought I was bringing freedom and yoga to inmates. Little did I know, they would bring freedom and yoga to me.