real life

"Why I teach yoga to murderers."

As told to Corrine Barraclough.

Karen Rudd is a 43-year-old yoga instructor who lives on the Gold Coast and runs Bend and Stretch Yoga. She started doing yoga when she was pregnant with her first son who’s now 18. While going through a bad breakup four years ago she trained as a yoga teacher and now teaches in Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre…

When I walked into the prison a year ago to teach my first class, all my senses were heightened. I wasn’t nervous; I felt fear. I’ve never even had a traffic fine or been inside a court so this was very new territory for me.

I could see all the women in the yard as I walked through, some shouted or whistled. I had guards with me but fear still ran through me. Obviously I stood out as I was wearing my yoga gear with a mat over my shoulder.

The 20 women I was teaching were all in the gym with prison guards. They sat talking and laughing as I walked in. I sat on my mat, introduced myself and taught it like any other class.

At the end they all sat up and one woman said, “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve felt like I wasn’t in prison.” I just knew this is where I’m supposed to be.

I do get backlash. People say, “How can you teach drug traffickers and murderers?” Or they presume I have no compassion for victims, which isn’t true at all. Whatever these women have done, it’s not for me to judge. Some people say, “it’s outrageous the government is paying for this”. I don’t get paid – I do this for free.

“Wow, that’s the first time I’ve felt like I wasn’t in prison.” Image via iStock. 

I want these women to come out and stand a chance. I want them to be better mothers, sisters and members of the community. They won’t be in jail forever, at some point they’ll come back into society.

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I went to an all girls’ school. Looking back, my life has been incredibly sheltered. These women have had tragically hard lives and many get caught in a vicious cycle.

Yesterday, I walked into class and a young woman I hadn’t seen for a while was there. She called out, “Miss, miss…” as she smiled and waved. “I got out but I’m back inside.”

Her mother was sitting beside her. It breaks my heart. They’ve seen me cry, I can’t hold it in. I’m teaching them to let it out, so I have to do that too. I often cry in the car driving home.

Five months ago I started teaching in juvenile because I want to get to them before they’re trapped in the cycle. Lots of the women I teach have children in juvenile.

I’ve built a good rapport with many now and can see how much they value the kindness and hope I offer. Protected women are those separated from other prisoners, either for their own safety, or because they’ve done something really serious.

I teach 14 of them, they take it very seriously. Maybe that’s because they don’t have much physical contact, and also their pain runs very deep because of their crimes.

"Their pain runs very deep because of their crimes." Image via iStock.

One woman said, “I’ve been in here for two years. I have a family in here. I’m so scared about what’s out there.” Image via iStock. [/img_caption]

At the end, I sit with them and guide them through meditation. When we’ve finished they all sit up. Many are crying. “I’m thinking about my children,” one said.

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Others say they’re thinking about what they did. It’s a good thing they’re letting all of this emotion out. It stops it building up, festering and coming out as anger.

In one guided mediation I talk about walking along the beach. The women get very upset and when they really break down they’ll say, “I haven’t thought about stuff like that, I haven’t been around that for so long. I’d forgotten things like that exist.”

Often, these women haven’t been taught how to show kindness or emotion. People say, “Oh, really, you touch them?” Of course I touch them. I put my hands on them during class and I can feel their hurt. These women are like us, they cry and hurt too.

I’ve been surprised by many talking about fear; they’re scared about coming out. One said, “I’ve been in here for two years. I have a family in here. I’m so scared about what’s out there.” Some find a connection with other human beings in jail they’ve never had before.

One woman said, “I’ve been in here for two years. I have a family in here. I’m so scared about what’s out there.” Image via iStock. 

I have to take time for myself otherwise I’d get emotionally burnt out. I walk on the beach with my little dog every morning. I have a wonderful partner now, fantastic children and great family and friends. I often retreat, switch off my phone and take time out just to be with myself. That’s important.

I’ve fallen into the most incredible job. I feel so lucky and blessed.”

For more from Corrine, follow her on Facebook here.

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