Lessons from Teaching Mindfulness to Incarcerated Men and Women

Teaching Mindfulness

Today, right before I wrote this, I finished teaching a meditation and mindfulness workshop to incarcerated men and women. I have been teaching yoga to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence for a few years now. But those classes have always been in-person. Some clients have become regulars over the years, and we have developed a rapport built on trust. There were women in my class who wouldn’t look me in the eye when we had started, and the same ladies went on to laugh and joke on the yoga mat, eventually. I love in-person interactions to understand growth and build relationships.

But with the group of incarcerated men and women, it’s been different. The meditation, mindfulness talks, breathing exercises, and yoga have to be delivered via a virtual platform because of COVID-19. We have never met in-person. I don’t know if they have access to yoga mats or any props. I haven’t had the opportunity to get a feel for the energy in the room or make eye contact. It still feels a little strange looking into the camera of my laptop, leading a webinar or workshop on Zoom, and creating a space of trust. How do I welcome them into a safe, sacred healing space online when the society abandons them at one point?

It’s been a great learning experience for me navigating virtual teaching for this audience. I have been creating themes for each of the workshops. In one of the workshops, the theme was gratitude. When I asked the group to share what they were grateful for, one of the men spoke in the most real yet compassionate voice, “I am grateful to be alive despite being a Black man in America.” 

That night I didn’t sleep. “I am grateful to be alive despite being a Black man in America.”

Having almost died a couple of years ago because of a sudden bout of illness, I have held every single breath that nourishes my cells, sacred. But to have to live with fear because of the color of your skin…it felt unfathomable. That day it hit me what it meant to be a Black person in America. What it means to live every single day with fear of losing your life, constantly being judged, looked at suspiciously, and evaluated on the basis of your skin.

I said to the gentleman, “I am so sorry that you are made to feel this way. In our sessions, you are safe, and you make all the decisions because no one knows your body better than you.” In every class since then, this gentleman told me that he feels blessed.

I have understood that creating safe spaces for dialogues, movement, and mindfulness are key to everything. If we can’t make those spaces available in-person, online methods will do. Healing doesn’t discriminate on the basis of skin color, religion, and ethnicity; I want people to know that. Wellness shouldn’t be a privilege, but a right.

To work with a demographic that might otherwise not have much access to self-care and wellness has taught me about compassion on a deeper level. It’s been uplifting to read the participants’ comments about how they finally know what the release of stress and anxiety release feels like in their body. To feel in-charge and in control of their lives, even if it’s for an hour a day. It’s been an honor to witness meditation, yoga, and mindfulness empower people no matter how weak and unstable the world around us feels. 

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an international speaker, best-selling author of 12 books, and Ayurveda and mindset coach is a wellness columnist for SEEMA and committed to helping people thrive on their own terms. As a trusted source on health and wellness, most recently appearing on NBC and Radio Lifeforce, Sweta has dedicated her career to writing about and teaching a more holistic approach to creativity, productivity, health, and nutrition. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries. Sweta is a trained yogi and certified Ayurveda health coach and holds a Master’s in Strategic Communications from Columbia University. Voted as “One of the Most Influential Asians of Our Times” and winner of the “Voices of the Year” award (past recipients have been Chelsea Clinton), she lives in NYC with her husband.

DISCLAIMER: Information in this article is presented for the sole purpose of imparting education on Ayurveda and the information isn’t intended to diagnose, treat, mitigate, cure, or prevent any disease. If you have a medical condition, or are pregnant or lactating, please consult a health professional. Before making changes to your diet or routine, it is recommended that you speak with your physician.

All content in this article is the copyright of SEEMA and Sweta Vikram. No part of this article can be replicated either in part of whole, without permission from SEEMA.