Question Time: Yoga for Prison Recovery

A PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) sufferer recently asked if I had residual trauma from the jail experience, and if so, how I deal with it. Fresh from prison, I was tense, edgy, and uptight. It took a year before I began to feel normal again. Here's what I looked like:

Now, I’m mostly happy and relaxed, but I still have nightmares. I recommended yoga for PTSD.

For many people, yoga brings to mind dozens of sweaty people in a studio, stretching into bizarre postures. But that’s only a small part. Yoga is a system of many parts developed over 1000’s of years for psychological well-being, not just physical development. Besides exercises, yoga provides ways to train the mind, and meditation is one of the most powerful. My Mum, who suffers from depression, uses Vipassana meditation. The initiation includes ten days of complete silence, and ten hours a day sat cross-legged meditating. When Vipassana was introduced to a high-security prison in Alabama tremendous transformation occurred in a variety of prisoners, including murderers. Below is a trailer for a documentary movie called the Dhamma Brothers about Vipassana at the Donaldson Correctional Facility, Bessemer, Alabama.

Most of the prison doctors I saw were happy to dole out medication, but I was lucky enough to run into Dr. O who prescribed plenty of yoga. Medication undoubtedly helps serious cases, but it seems so oversubscribed.    

The weekend just gone, I participated in two days of yoga with an emphasis on meditation. Here’s what I posted to Facebook when I got home:

Just got home blissed out from two days of Isha Yoga at the ExCel Centre, London with 1000 yoga freaks and the hilarious yoga master Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev who flew in from India. Sadhguru had people laughing, crying and at the end, dancing like wild moonies.
I actually left the building in the pouring rain, wearing only flip-flops, shorts and a T-shirt, with my arms in the air, getting soaked to the bone, yelling, "Mother Nature embrace me!" :) Must have looked like I was on drugs. :) Who needs drugs when you've got yoga? :)

On a more serious note, during the morning meditation and breathing exercises on the second day, I flashed back to jail. The experience ran through my mind like a film on fast forward, even including the visuals I saw after meditating for hours on end in my cell back in 2003/2004. My face wouldn't stop contorting as if I were experiencing various emotional states in rapid succession. The tingling at the base of my spine built into an intense warm feeling that slowly rose through my torso and out of the top of my head. I shed a few tears. It was my trauma. I immediately felt lighter, and still do. I heard other loud emotional reactions – screaming, shouting, laughing – but afterwards those people looked joyous and said they felt unburdened.

Today, I woke up with Sadhguru's chanting in my brain. I had no nightmares last night, and I wonder if they've gone.

The two day’s of yoga were part of a course called Inner Engineering by Sadhguru’s Isha Foundation, a non-profit organisation doing good work around the world. Isha holds the Guinness World Record for the most trees planted in a day with 700,000 saplings in Tamil Nadu.

We have the ability to heal ourselves with a powerful tool called the brain. Thanks to yoga, I’m learning to harness that power.

Shaun Attwood  


Anonymous said...

So happy you've had such and incredible experience Shaun! I can picture you shouting joyously in the pouring rain - what a glorious image!

"Doing Time, Doing Vipassana" is another brilliant documentary about meditation helping prisoners overcome their trauma and is on YouTube.


Shaun Attwood said...

Thanks, Gab, I need to watch Doing Time, Doing Vipassana

Anonymous said...

Hell yes. Who ever said doing rain had to be a bad experience. They trained us that way. Good job going against the grain.


Jon said...

Thanks, Ashley. rain feels great on your head when you've got no hair. :)

Anonymous said...

Dhamma Brothers is a fabulous DVD.....


Anonymous said...

I read your blog entry Shaun.... so glad you had a wonderful experience... I'm interested in something like that too as I haven't done yoga for a long time.. the meditation retreats and meditating daily help keep me happy. The monkey mind quiets down.... ;-)


Jon said...

Thanks for letting me watch your copy of Dhamma Brothers, Patty, My Mum really enjoyed it too. Yes, the monkey mind. Dr. O used that term a lot.

Anonymous said...

Just had a read I think i need to have a go.............!


Anonymous said...

Yoga is good for the body and soul I have rodney yee power yoga dvd, all yoga is good, must get back to it.


Jon said...

Yes, Josephine, the hardest part is maintaining the practice, but the benefits are tremendous.

Anonymous said...

Surviving challenging circumstances
in good order,
requires determination, perseverance, and courage.

I think it is fair to say
that one Shaun Attwood is in good order,
and is busy sharing what he knows
with others.



Jon said...

Awwww, thanks so much, Zen

Anonymous said...

Im going to have to give this a try. Ive seen this working for a lot of people and would like to benefit from it as well.

~Big Jason

Jon said...

good luck with it, Big Jason