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Teaching prisoners the art of living

Updated Sunday, November 6th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3
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SONAL NAGDA quit a well paying job that she had held for 26 years to concentrate on social work. Through a global educational and humanitarian organisation, she is teaching inmates at Kenyan prisons on how to lead a stress-free life. She spoke to KIUNDU WAWERU

Life at Kamiti Maximum Prison moves slowly and mechanically. Inmates follow their chores like clockwork, but in no hurry. After all, most of them are serving life sentences while others are there for more than ten years. Yet others live in seclusion, in death row.

One such man, Brian Kariuki, has served five years of his life sentence. In an interview with Presstv, Brian, who was a student at Nairobi Aviation College before his arrest, says he harboured deep-seated anger against the people who accused him of the crime he is in prison for and which he maintains he did not commit.

"I would get really mad and even have nightmares," Brian said, face contorted with feeling. But now he says he has found the perfect remedy; the air. "Every time I get angry, I breathe in and out," he says.

The remarkable transformation that has helped Brian and other inmates accept their circumstances and learn to forgive, blew their way when they accepted a course with the Art of Living, a global not-for-profit organisation engaged in stress management and service initiatives.

Sonal Nagda of Art of Living-Kenyan Chapter quit a job she held for 26 years to champion the organisation’s roots in Kenya. One of the initiatives is the specially designed prison course, which is also given to street children.

"We teach them simple techniques to help them deal with stress, including long deep rhythmic breathing, yoga and meditation," says Sonal.

The rhythmic breathing technique, says Sonal, is known as sudarshan kriya and it gives oxygen to every cell of the body, leaving one feeling more relaxed.

Sudarshan kriya also releases toxins from the body.

When Sonal, a third generation Indian born in Kenya started the courses at Kamiti, there was resistance from the prison officials and the prisoners. They thought Art of Living was a religion.


James Mwangi, another inmate serving a life sentence at Kamiti and a beneficiary of the course, says: "Initially, I thought the school had something to do with religion, but I have found out it is not."

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