Amanda Bonfiglio Cunningham shares her story of bringing yoga to the Western Kentucky Correctional Facility and the rewards of touching the lives of female prisoners.

Yoga in Prison

I reached out to the Western Kentucky Correctional Facility to see if they’d be interested in offering yoga to their inmates. It’s been something I’ve wanted to offer for some time and since my recent travels had me in KY, the stars seemed to align.

Turns out the warden had been looking for local instructors but to no prevail. Western Kentucky is remote; the closest, largest cities (Nashville and St. Louis) are 3 hours away. The inmates had requested yoga as they came across a DVD many months ago and enjoyed both the physical and calming aspects of the practice.

This facility, also known as the Prison Farm, houses both men and women.  This is rare, as both sexes are not usually kept on the same grounds. It’s home to over 450 inmates, a 1000% increase over 20 years. Phones, cameras and props are not allowed in the facility, so we just had our mats and ourselves. A good reminder of what’s important.

I believe as yoga teachers we are here to serve, to share our teachings to all, without judgment. I always knew this but I believed it when we {Yoga Medicine} travelled to India for our Seva project this past December. India solidified my passion to give and to serve without expectation. We had the opportunity to visit Mother Theresa’s tomb whilst in Kolkata. She spent her entire life giving, dedicated to making this life better for others. I was humbled by the encompassing aura. For the first time, I understood that being a teacher was a gift. A gift to share with those who need it most.

Sharing the Gift of Yoga

The women and children in India were empty of things yet full in life. The women in prison shared this strong similarity.

I felt passionate about giving these inmates, probably for the first time ever, a space to become aware of their bodies and minds. It was important to me to offer them choices. To empower them by asking them to drop within and to feel, to choose. These women had their power of choice taken from them inside these walls. Some of the women had never felt strength, confidence or control. Some had never learned to love their bodies, or been given love.

A woman about 45 asked me why I wanted to come and teach them. She said “most think we are rapists or murders, they don’t care about us. But, we’re all good women who have made a few bad choices”.  Another woman, age 28 and serving the last few months of her decade sentence, was in tears after I assisted her into king pigeon pose. “I’ve been trying to get into that pose for 3 years, you’re the first instructor I’ve ever had.”

These women desperately wanted information to improve themselves. Mutually grateful for the experience, we parted ways feeling a new purpose. Everyone deserves the opportunity to explore their own depths. I was honoured to open that door for them. If you’re in the Western Kentucky area and are interested in picking up where I left off, please contact me at seva@yogamedicine.com.

Amanda is a Yoga Medicine assistant – click here to learn more about her.

UPCOMING COURSES & EVENTS

Amanda Cunningham

Amanda is the founder of Full Body Fitness & Yoga, co-owner of Soul Yoga + Wellness, Anatomy & Physiology faculty for Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, a Yoga Medicine E-RYT 500 instructor and coordinator of our Yoga Medicine Seva Foundation. Her teachings are greatly influenced by her on-going yogic study, decade of travel and love for all styles of movement.