Traveling Within Concrete Walls

Every Sunday morning, I travel, passing through locked doors and gates into a world surrounded by concrete and barb wire.  Welcome to the Anchorage, Alaska Correctional Complex, a huge juggernaut of non description, tucked into a hill with the endless Alaska skyline of mountains in the distance.  

Wait! Let’s back up…and start with some context.  

First, you have to know something about me, I love to travel! 

The exhilaration of going to new places, hanging out in interesting destinations, and having unique experiences that only such places can give, brings me great joy. Going out into the world whether it be across the globe, locally or just to some weird occurrence, all make my heart sing. These moments expand my horizons, literally and symbolically. When I get to combine this love of travel with yoga, that’s even more blissful. Retreats, visiting other studios in different cities, and the novelty of practicing in picture tag worthy locations, these are all fantastic and truthfully fun experiences.

But, there is a catch.  

An unavoidable contrast  emerges when traveling with a yoga mat under my arm. The distinction between my own privilege with those who lack any of the same such liberty sharpens in my mind. Once observed and recognized, it is everywhere. The contrast and disparity now appear wherever I roam, whether here in my own city or out there in the vast wide world. 

It’s hard to ignore an eye opening experience.  It changes us. The awareness flows into every corner of our lives.  As I step on my mat the realization of privilege challenges my personal affirmations and lifestyle. It leads to a question. How can I continue in my traveling yoga lifestyle  and freedom unless I help others claim their own personal independence? Instead of traveling outward and filling my life with endless adventures and experiences, I want to start sharing my yoga with those who lack the ability to go anywhere.  

Where to start?  Sure, I could go on some service trip to a developing nation. I have done such things.  Back in my thirties, I partially owned a business leading others to do just this.  But even this can be an opportunity of privilege.  I want something raw.  After reflecting, it came to me.  Prisons!  Right here, just miles from my house are three such places,  Actually, a variety of homes that I  lived and stayed in during my life had correctional facilities  nearby. If you look at where you live, I bet you will be surprised to see that correctional centers are near you too.  

So, it begins.  

Every Sunday I travel within concrete walls. Unseen eyes behind camera lenses watch as I pass through the double sets of shatter proof doors with a yoga mat under my arm.  After wandering through a labyrinth of heavy hallways and up staircases I enter the chapel. Really, it’s a multi-purpose room with non-descriptive institutional chairs, colors and whiteboards around the chamber. Boxes of Bibles are tucked away in corners, religious pamphlets litter a table by the door and some grave verses taken out of context  are written in wet marker on the boards.  Fluorescents shine above brightly, giving light but no illumination. 

I take the next fifteen minutes getting  everything ready. I unroll mats and stagger them around the room, walk to the corners of the room reciting mantras then take several sun salutations on different mats. The clock reads 9:30am, almost time. The rattle of keys and the clicks of locks open heavy doors  in the hallway. Twelve men in yellow scrubs walk into the room escorted by a guard. They great me, shake my hand, some of them bowing slightly with hands pressed in front of their hearts.   

We begin, traveling inward with every pose. Together we are free.  We are explorers going beyond this chamber into realms untouched by the woes of this world.  We enjoy the experience and every moment even if just for 90 minutes. Then, it’s over.  Keys! Locks! Guards! Farewells with an Om and a Namaste. These are my students. This is my studio. 

Every Sunday I travel within concrete walls…