Guard towers and the Present Moment – at the Prison Yoga Practice

guard tower eckhart tolle shiva steve ordog prison yoga practice

In the car, I have been listening to Eckhart Tolle.  He has been telling me that there is no more important relationship than our primordial relationship with the present moment, and that this relationship is with life itself. 

As I arrive at the medium security prison, I am greeted by guard towers like the one above.  I pass several on the way to park.  I get my gear out of the car and go to a gate with a phone box in the direct gaze of one of the towers.  I dial the number and identify myself and that I am here to teach the yoga class.  After a few moments the gate in front of me rolls open.  I leave my gear in front of the small building, walk in, and sign the book.

Outside, I wait under the watchful eye of the tower.  There seems to be no movement outside the buildings today.  It is just after 6 PM.  After a brief wait, a familiar face appears and the next gate opens.  I accompany the staff member to the building where the class will be held.  There is some time to wait for entry.

“There is a different feel here than at the minimum security prison I teach at.  There’s no one in the yard.”  “Yeah, short of staff today.”  We go on to have some small talk about the differences.  Central Prison is higher security, but that is just  place I drive by in town.  The man I am talking to has a long experience with the system and starts to explain about the security needs and some of the measures.  I discover that the weapons I have seen in the hands of the guards in the towers are shotguns loaded with buckshot.  They are watchful for people escaping.  They have orders to shoot at escapees, hopefully to slow them down for capture.  The last time it happened, though, the man was killed.  I shiver.  Although I immediately feel for the man who was killed, I also start to feel for the man (or woman) who had to take the shot.  The dead man is free.  The guard has a life sentence.  We move on to other topics.

The class arrives.  Catfish, Johnny Cash, Psycho, and the rest.  During the class they are willing and enthusiastic participants.  The grunt and joke about their difficulties.  I give the talk about the individual nature of the practice.  Some competitiveness creeps in nonetheless. 

During the class, I focus on my breathing.  At some point, I notice that some members of the class have had more trouble than I would wish them to have, so we stop.  We sit cross-legged and talk about coming to full presence during the day by watching the breath and counting.  We do it together.  It only takes a minute or two to watch the breath and count to ten.  We talk about the technique.  We are sensing our primordial relationship.  The one Eckhart was talking about.  The relationship with the present moment.  The relationship with life. 

After a little while of this, we resume asanas and do balance poses, then shoulderstand, fish, self massage, and then corpse pose.  A final namaskar.  Then packing up.  The man I have picked out as the most likely to reoffend rolls up my mat for me and hands it to me.  The men put the room back in shape and leave, walking through a quiet yard.  I walk to the gate with Paul.  The guard in the tower opens the gate.  I sign out.  The outside gate opens.  I walk to the car and drive away.  Past all those towers and shotguns and buckshot.  I am listening to Eckhart again.  Fostering my primordial relationship.  Moving the mind away from the man who was shot and the man or woman who took that shot.


About sordog1

Shiva Steve Ordog is a Yoga Instructor certified by Yoga Alliance - RYT 200, a Thought Field Therapy Practitioner (TFT-Algo) and a Zen practitioner. He is the author of a book on meditation, mindfulness, and yoga called "Hey, Yoga Man!: Yoga Practices for Everyday Life from a Prison Yoga Practice"
This entry was posted in Buddhism, Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, karma, meditation, mindfulness, namaskar, nc, Presence, prison, Tibetan Buddhism, yoga, Zen. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Guard towers and the Present Moment – at the Prison Yoga Practice

  1. khrey55 says:

    Hey Yoga Man!
    Your talk of an empty yard reminds me of my recent jail stay, when I was sent to the hole (twice). In the hole, the common area of the pod is empty, except for on M-W-F, when one prisoner at a time is let out of his cell for 30 minutes — while wearing handcuffs! While watching from my cell window, I marveled at the requisite ingenuity of other inmates as they prepared to take a shower with handcuffs on!

    The reason for the handcuffs for a solitary prisoner in an otherwise empty pod may not be immediately apparent to outsider: It’s part of the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle psychological war waged on prisoners in our penal system, because after all, we’re being punished right? Especially in the hole?

    So for that reason, as you write in closing, breath awareness helps inmates “Move the mind away” from the present moment, to escape the lukewarm cruelty of conditions in jail. And so as breath sweeps mind, it can either help us be in the current moment, or it can help us escape it!

    And being 0ut of the moment can be helpful for everyone, as I learned on Monday, when I had a dentist appointment to have a tooth pulled. And as the procedure took place, by focusing on my breathing, the otherwise intimidating specter of the dentist pulling out one tool after another, as he wrenched on my poor little tooth, and the accompany crunching and breaking sounds, was MUCH less painful than it would have been otherwise!

    Yay for Yoga!!!

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