Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Freedom Meditation Brings

Before being trendier than baby bumps and bob haircuts, yoga in America was a New Age endeavor practiced in church basements, recreation centers, and, in my case, an old firehouse in Woods Hole, one of the last bastions of hippiedom- not boho chic, not hippie haute couture- I'm referring to authentic hippies sans shaved underarms, with a reverence for Birkenstocks and sure indifference for Birkin bags.

At college in the south, I happened upon a "yoga school" not far from campus, which met in a church function room to practice Ashtanga every Saturday morning (yoga studios as we know them were still a few years away). I'd set out for class right around the same time the frat boys in the neighboring apartment would begin their morning tailgating festivities in our shared front yard. If I had a dollar for every time someone offered me jungle juice en route to my makeshift ashram, I'd have at least enough money to buy some pre-cut fruit at Whole Foods.

By my junior year, I was thrilled to be going abroad but slightly anxious about leaving the routine of my Saturday morning sanctuary. What's more, I wasn't headed to a far off land where yoga was widely practiced. In fact, I was headed out to sea to study aboard a ship for a semester. How on Earth, err, ocean, was I supposed to continue my new found regular practice without my regular class, teacher, or a ground that didn't move? Fortunately, I shared this quandary with my teacher, who imparted the following piece of wisdom, "The great thing about yoga is that you can do it in a prison cell." Then, to underscore his point, "You have a mat, right?"

Indeed, he was right. Not only did I bring along my mat and begin practicing yoga daily, but I also started teaching my peers, sometimes as many as two hundred of them, at once, on the top deck of a ship at sea. It was breathtaking.

I've never forgotten the sensibility of my former teacher's insight. The truth is, you can practice yoga any time, anywhere- even in prison- although, God willing, the need never arises.

However, for some people, practicing yoga and/or meditation in captivity is a reality. Check out the trailer for Dhamma Brothers, an intriguing story of eastern philosophy meeting western society's prison system in the deep south. For me, it's a eerie illustration of the lesson my teacher touched upon nearly 10 years ago- and it will, no doubt, constitute my plans for this weekend. The documentary seeks to reveal the freedom and healing that can be found through the study of meditation- even in the most unlikely settings. For screenings, click here.

No comments: