“You’re lucky to play the violin.” I paused from playing “Edelweiss “ and laid my violin in my lap. I sat in a chair by the bedside of the veteran at Walter Reed Medical Center. Nurses peered into the room to see my violin. I watched as the veteran struggled to sit himself upright, as he slowly stretched his hands out in front of him and shared how envious he was that I could play the violin.
He must have noticed the puzzled looked on my face because he went on to share how he had watched my fingers dance on the fingerboard as I had played some of his favorite music. He continued and said that his cancer had begun to diminish his ability to move his fingers without pain.
Before I left, he thanked me for sitting down and spending time sharing music and triggering old memories… I thought about that moment as I stood next to the yoga instructor in front of the security checkpoint in the jail. I felt anxious as the alarm buzzed and gate slowly opened, as the chains grated against the gears. I silently told myself bringing this combination of yoga and violin music for the inmates would create a positive impact.
The instructor and I had worked together providing music and yoga for gym members and one evening discussed the idea of starting a program in jail for female inmates. The yoga instructor and I navigated through various checkpoints, and we waited by our designated room while a Bible study continued. As time ticked closer to our reservation, the Bible study leader indicated that he had the room booked for another hour.
My heart sank, and I began to wonder if we would be able to hold the session at all due to the jail’s strict rules. Our yoga mats were in the corner of the room on a cart, and the floor looked clean enough to eat dinner from, but we couldn’t use the room. We made our way back to the control center and explained our dilemma to the officer on duty and were then offered to utilize an empty unit. We grabbed the cart carrying the yoga mats and walked towards our new destination. While we waited for the officer to usher the female inmates into the hallway by the empty unit I couldn’t help but smile. This was finally happening. After months of planning, I would have the opportunity to use music to help people in a unique way.
The class size was maxed at 12 ladies, and everyone seemed eager to begin. After the officer unlocked the unit I began to wonder how we could use this space to hold the session. The air smelled stale, and I noticed dust particles floating by the ceiling lights. The empty unit had a big open area with high ceilings and cells on one side and stairs leading to a second level of cells. Tables were scattered in the center of the room, and I saw bugs crawling on the floor.
However, within minutes, the ladies began pushing tables towards the empty cells and sweeping the floor. The empty unit reminded me of the Correctional Facility used in the 3rd season of The Walking Dead, but fortunately in our case, we didn’t encounter zombies.
As the yoga instructor began the session I took a deep breath and sought to transform the unit’s aura with music. I thought of warm colors as my vibrato carried the overtones throughout the unit.
I watched as the women laughed while trying new poses and testing their balance. I changed the music in response to floor exercises and standing poses. When the women were asked to quickly exhale and create an odd facial expression, I accented notes at the end of their breath while adding a harmonic to supplement the motions.
I noticed people soften and show vulnerability through laughter and curse words in response to poses that required more balance and coordination. They encouraged one another to keep trying and be respectful of the instructor. As we approached the meditation portion of the session, I felt calm. The space which initially had seemed unsavory for yoga because of the bugs crawling by the ladies’ yoga mats had transformed into a warm safe space.
The ladies were asked to lay a washcloth over their eyes and initiate the Savasana pose. In that moment, I stood by the instructor once more and felt goosebumps along my arms. I dug deeper into my strings, unearthing richer sounds from my violin in hopes of the music reaching the hearts of the women. I could hear the echo of my violin as the sounds bounced off the walls of the empty cells in the unit.
The instructor prior to the session shared that she also specializes in Reiki and will often utilize it during the meditation portion of her classes for members in hopes of helping them find balance and restoration. I watched as the instructor moved closer towards the women and spread her hands to share her energy with the class.
After the session, a woman approached me and shared with me and her new friends that because of anxiety she hadn’t been able to sleep since getting locked up. She then said that the yoga and music was not only soothing but helped her feel relaxed for the first time since becoming an inmate and that she would finally be able to sleep. All the written feedback from the evaluation forms were positive!
“I liked the fact that I got a decent workout that was not strenuous! It was very soothing. I also liked the Violin! It put an extra sense of peace to the class and workout!” “I loved it! I can’t wait for the class to come back. It made me feel better mentally and physically.” “I enjoyed the yoga class so much. Please have them return. I know I personally enjoyed it and it really helped clear my mind. Thank you for allowing them to come.”
I’m thankful that the session turned out well regardless of the changes and space. I look forward to returning to share music for a community experiencing a difficult time in their lives.