Women in Karachi jail do yoga for peace!

Women in Karachi jail do yoga for peace!

Aisha Chapra, who has a degree in social work, decided to teach yoga to women prisoners on her return to Pakistan from Canada two years ago. Chapra didn't have difficulty convincing authorities. "I wrote an email to the authorities and I was allowed to volunteer," Chapra told PTI.

Over the past two years, she has taught 30 to 40 prisoners in the age group of 20 to 40. She has taught some prisoners' children too. It is optional for the prisoners to join her class. "These days I have six students in my class," said Chapra, who teaches the women behind bars for free. But their "warmth and genuine happiness recharges her battery".

Ironically, Chapra discovered yoga as she was trying to tide over a bad patch. She was, as she puts it, depressed, disoriented and directionless and it was yoga that gave her peace. Her first class in prison wasn't easy but her experience as a social worker helped her pull through.

She had scores of women and children watching her, some ridiculing her and few participating. However, as the days passed, she became friends with the prisoners by listening to their stories and even massaging their sore muscles.

"Soon I was their friend, listening to their woes and counseling them," she said.
 Chapra's stint at the jail has been a great lesson in life. "I get as much from them as I give them. I admire them for being strong and having faith, despite their circumstances."

For Chapra, the connection with these women is special. "It is this desire to access freedom from within, to liberate in a way that inspires, moves and lifts me outside of myself. I know it is their strength, their incredible compassion that I feel at the end of the class."

"But it is always the moment after we get out of 'shavasana' and we all sit with our hands in prayer as we close the class, that I feel that connection – that connection to them and to God, to the earth, wind, water and sky. It is as if in that one moment we are all the same, yet many bodies breathing and thinking," she wrote on her blog. Chapra's "prize pupil" was a Malaysian, who has since returned to her country.

"One day as she smoked a cigarette, I invited her to join...She would do yoga everyday religiously and motivate other foreigners too...she has been released (from jail) and has returned to Malaysia, and we’re still in touch. I know she’ll be doing yoga for the rest of her life. I've even encouraged her to train to become a yoga instructor."

Apart from prisoners, Chapra teaches yoga at a Karachi cafe-cum-gallery. The funds generated by these classes help her buy basic essentials like yoga mats for the prisoners.

The going is not always easy for Chapra. As she posted on her blog once, "and I had brought new mats today for women who had said that they would join last week. But based on the last few weeks I did not expect much, in fact I thought that the mats would go to waste." That day, 10 women turned up for the class and that kept Chapra going.