I would like to tell you about something that has inspired me greatly – our Satchidananda Prison Project.
Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev) always cared deeply about serving men and women in prison. When he lived in Ceylon, he and the members of his ashram built temples for both minimum and maximum security facilities and conducted regular prayer meetings for the prisoners. Sri Gurudev and a few others were allowed to enter the prisons, give lectures on spiritual life and Yoga, and speak to the prisoners individually in their cells.
After he came to the United States, Sri Gurudev continued this service by visiting prisons across the country and giving satsangs. He also encouraged his students with an interest in this type of service to teach Yoga in prisons, and there are many moving stories of inmates who were helped and rehabilitated by this service.
The Satchidananda Prison Project – Why?
Throughout the years, inmates have contacted the Ashram and Integral Yoga Institutes, looking for spiritual guidance. These letters come to us in a steady stream, making it clear that there are people in the prison system wishing for a better life and for spiritual direction.
Several of us were moved to organize our service with people in prison, making Sri Gurudev’s teachings more available to them.
The Satchidananda Prison Project – What?
We collect spiritual books to send to inmates and prison libraries.
We correspond with inmates, answering their questions about spiritual life.
We are working with prison administrations to have Yoga classes taught in prisons around the country.
We hope to eventually connect with prison projects sponsored by other Yoga and Buddhist organizations so that we can join together in serving this population.
Sister Maithreyi collected all of the transcripts of Sri Gurudev’s satsangs at prisons. Inspired by these transcripts, and by her own work in prisons, Rev. Kumari de Sachy wrote a book called Bound to be Free: The Liberating Power of Prison Yoga. Bound to be Free includes Gurudev’s prison talks, a fully illustrated Integral Yoga Hatha I class, and a listing of non-profit organizations that have prison projects. The book has been well received by prisoners, friends and relatives of incarcerated individuals, social workers, Yoga teachers, and by the general public and is available through Integral Yoga Distribution. The following review, which appeared in LA Yoga magazine, offers an overview of the book:
Freedom is a state of mind. We have all had the experience of being a slave to our desires and disempowering thoughts.
Bound to be Free is primarily a compilation of the talks of Swami Satchidananda, beloved teacher and founder of Integral Yoga, given to inmates in jails and prisons across the U.S. Through his inspiring stories and parables, he teaches the inmates how to transcend their negative thoughts and reform themselves through Yoga, meditation and mantra. He shares that how they perceive their incarceration is in their minds and that they have the opportunity to think of prison as a spiritual place or ashram.
The book also shares heart-opening stories of prisoners deeply touched by the Swami’s teachings and used their time behind bars to connect more deeply to their spirit, inspiring fellow prisoners to do the same. Free also highlights numerous nonprofits dedicated to serving the spirits of the incarcerated. Particularly inspiring is a thought-provoking interview with the most well-known proponent of Yoga in prison, Bo Lozoff, founder of The Human Kindness Foundation. Lozoff is also the author of We’re All Doing Time, and A Guide for Getting Free.
Free speaks to all who are on a path of growth and spiritual reform. While prison and jail are a physical reality for many, they are a symbolic reality for all. True freedom is a peaceful heart and mind. Swami Satchidananda speaks to the practices that make this possible. He reminds us that we have the power to see the divine in all situations, including those that seem the darkest. Heaven is everywhere we choose to see it – even behind bars.
–– Reviewed by Larisa Stow, founder and lead singer of Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe, and co-founder of The Shakti Tribe Foundation, which travels to prisons, jails, halfway houses and institutions to help raise consciousness through musical transformances and inspirational dialogue. She is a co-founder of Sacred Sounds Radio and a transformational life coach.
The Satchidananda Prison Project – How You Can Help?
We invite senior disciples of Sri Gurudev to help answer the letters we receive from prisoners and to send them books.
We humbly accept donations of spiritual books in good condition to give to prisoners, monetary donations to buy books, pay for postage and help us print Bound to be Free. Please make all checks payable to Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville with “Prison Project” in the note line.
We welcome volunteers to help us with any of our projects.
If you are interested in assisting us in any way, please contact Rev. Lakshmi Barsel via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone (434) 969-3121 ext. 116, or write to:
Rev. Lakshmi Barsel
108 Yogaville Way
Buckingham, VA 23921
Thank you and Blessings to one and all!
Reverend Lakshmi Barsel