Sixteen months ago, I was in a room alone with 13 male inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. The guard post was all the way down the hall, nowhere to be seen. The door was closed. The wire-enmeshed windows opposite the room faced the courtyard, with a view of double electric fences and a tall, dark watch tower that loomed overhead. The room was hot and the air heavy. The windows that faced the courtyard only opened slightly. There were still no guards in sight.
One of the inmates approached me. He's a big guy, over six feet tall. I notice he has huge hands as he put them on my shoulders and pulled me in close. I noticed a heaviness to his hands as he looked directly into my eyes.
“I am so sorry that the man whose job it was to protect you violated you. I am so sorry that the man whose seed gave you life did that to you. I am so sorry,” he said.
Suddenly my heart opened and received the full weight of his words. His sincerity was like receiving an universal apology from all men. The kind words of this man who I barely knew, managed to peel back layers of hurt that had resulted from being molested as a child. I felt a huge shift in my soul as the layers of guilt, shame and unworthiness dropped melted away.
How did I come to have this pivotal life moment in a maximum security prison, of all places?
It began with my decision to take my breathwork practice to this prison. I teach the inmates how to use their breath to release stress, anxiety, worry and pain, with an easy tool that can be used anywhere or any time. That powerful tool is the breath.
I was introduced to breathwork while studying at the Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development. The breath called to me because my soul was ready to heal the trauma of being molested by my father as an infant and toddler.
When the inmate shared his feelings with me, we had just completed our first breathwork session together. It was a powerful session, and the first time any of them had ever experienced breathwork. I was first met with some resistance from a few naysayers, but the majority supported my presence there and said, “Let’s listen to what she has to say, be quiet.”
I began the session sharing the benefits of breathwork and my story of how the breath supported me in healing from the trauma of molestation. How the breath released the misbelief of unworthiness and reminded me of the truth about myself: I am worthy, deserving and lovable. After the session, I asked the men to share their experiences as well.
Many had expressed how much more relaxed they had become. All of them spoke about the peace they felt in their hearts and mind. They were excited to start using the power of breathwork in the facility to release the stress and anxiety of being “locked up.”
Several of them also said they were going to use the breathing techniques to help them sleep. They explained that it is always noisy in prison and it’s hard to tune out the noise in order to sleep restfully. I explained to them that breathwork supports the bodies’ ability to produce melatonin, a natural sleep aid. They said they were going to share these breathing techniques with other inmates.
Sharing the breath with the inmates is a gift for me as much as it is to them. The inmates are able to establish a sense of peace and calm in challenging circumstances of which they have little to no control over. They can easily release stress and open their hearts, which for most of them, was never really an option. The breath opens a new world to them, and a whole new way of being.
For me, the practice of breathwork not only saved my life, but also opened me up to life. The loving apology from that inmate allowed me to release a shackle on my heart.
Breathing is Freedom.