Norway: A MediYoga course by instructor Anne Vatne Myhre has had a profound effect on inmates in Arendal Prison’s high security wing. In her own words, and those of the inmates, she talks about the experience that has also had a profound effect on her too.
The 90-minute session every Friday morning is both fantastic and special. Via the project Active in Daytime that I work with, I am fortunate enough to finish the week with MediYoga in the high security wing of Arendal Prison, part of the Norwegian Correctional Service.
My first visit inside the prison walls had a powerful impression on me, and it took a long time to take in. Of being locked in behind you when you step through doors and enter buildings, seeing all the fences, the cells, hearing the sound of jangling keys sends a shiver through every cell of your body. Added to which, the sight of the tiny outdoor exercise yard where all you can see of the outside world is a patch of sky, was so powerful and intensive, that it brought tears to my eyes when I was standing in the middle of the carpentry workshop.
Every week, the inmates came up to the top floor of the prison, where I was greeted with firm handshakes, smiling faces, open minds and a thank you. The feeling that more and more of them wanted to tell me everything, about why they were there, their plans and dreams, for when they were released, to explain about everything that was painful and difficult. Of seeing (people who were often diagnosed with many things) lying close together entirely at ease, breathing side by side, being inside themselves in all the exercises, tears were dried, snores and smiles. To feel the sense of heartfelt gratitude that filled the room, of what they were now involved in, is nothing short of magical. You have to experience hearing someone say “this beats getting high”, “a dead wonderful feeling”, “my body is totally relaxed”, to understand. It makes me feel deeply moved, grateful and humble.
In order to fully document what I was experiencing, I asked if they could bring a notepad and write down what they felt and thought about the yoga session. Here are a few of the notes they gave me:
“Yoga means a lot to me here in prison. It helps me relax my mind and body and makes everyday life much easier to face. I am very grateful that we have been offered something so wonderful.”
“Yoga for me has become an hour in the week where I am able to completely clear my head of bad thoughts. And where I find an inner peace that is totally unique compared to all the hours in the rest of the week. Yoga has therefore become very valuable for me. It also helps me to find the calmness to sleep at night with the techniques I have learnt.”
“MediYoga for me was very therapeutic and liberating and a little “escape” from everyday stress. It was good for both body and soul and is absolutely something I would recommend to others. I think it should be offered at more places as I think and know most people would gain a great deal from it.”
A big thank you to our Yoga Instructor who comes to the prison and spends time with us inmates NAMASTE (This man was moved to an open prison with forest clearing work).
Nobody could foresee that this hour in the week would have such great importance for inmates, warders (who get calmer inmates) and the undersigned.
An extra big thanks to the Extra Foundation that enabled me to realize my Dream of being given permission to “enter my own world”. I hope and believe that this is just the beginning of being an agent for MediYoga in prison.
A thousand thanks, Anne, from us, your colleagues, for making the difference here.
Author: Anne Vatne Myhre