Bryan Shull, 39, learned the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga in the Richmond City Jail. When he was "shipped out" to the state correctional system in August 2010, he began sending me interesting yoga-related letters with fabulous artwork on the envelopes. The first letter from Dillwyn Correctional Center is transcribed (unedited) below. To see Bryan's handwritten letter, click here. More to follow.
15 November 2010
Sorry it’s been so long, it took awhile getting classified, settled in the new digs & catch up on my envelopes if that makes any sense! And if it doesn’t well this is one crazy as way to live, if you can even call it living! At any rate please know you’re sorely missed! And that the only way I’ve remained anywhere near sane is through my practice. That jail [Richmond City Jail] was horrible but having a solid opportunity to learn something like this, I’d have definitely stayed for that alone. It’s been a rough go of it out here on the outskirts of humanity, esp. for those doing yoga on the rec yard! As some people get a little freaked out and you have to listen to a bunch of stupidity, oh well. What made it hard are the days for some reason you can’t! & I’ve found out that there’s almost always a way to do at least something & about the worst thing you can do is miss a day! By August or the end of it I was getting so much farther than I ever thought I would I kinda kicked it in to overdrive, started doing a full practice every day and sometimes it’s hard because – No mat! & it’s a charge for doing exercise in the building but I sneak & do it anyway, and you don’t really need a mat outside in the grass. However I’m kinda wondering what I’m gonna do this winter when it gets cold? I’ll sneak inside! Right! With time I’ve figured out every single thing you said was true! The breathing is the most important thing & I didn’t really get how important the dristi was until one day when I was in Janu Sirsasana A and had decided I was going to concentrate that day on really staying focused on my gazing point all the way through & I was staring at my knee and realized I could extend my neck, head & shoulder area & touched my forehead to my knee!! Then the next day I almost got my head to my knee in Parsvottanasana & I really started concentrating on my posture & form, my breathing and my dristi, from there I started saying to myself well why not “try” to do every single asana whether you can or not? And man a month later I was amazed, it’s hard with no one to keep a watch or help, but there’s a certain very personal & very peaceful aspect to just being completely alone in my practice, internal honesty at its best or Samadhi? There are times I wish you were here! – to see how great something is & then there are times when I’m like man I’m glad no one can except God (that matters). I’ve had some really great moments, a feeling that maybe can’t be described in just a few words, but maybe like Yoga’s been here with me & been my friend when it was just me and God! I also feel like it’s reintroduced me to myself not only to the healthy body I grew up in, that I now feel comfortable in! Very comfortable in by the way I ran into a kid from the [Richmond City] jail named Spoors (?) & he was like wow you look different how much you benching? To which I replied about ten sun salutations! You know five A’s & five B’s and he said what are you still doing that crap and I said dude I’ll be doing it when I die. It’s hard to remember everything you said but I try! Like tightening the bandhas, it really being equal parts [effort] and surrender. Or sucking in your stomach in downward dog. Sometimes it’s like I can still hear you talking but I bet if you saw me you’d see that there’s a lot I’m not doing right! But I’m trying every day! Looking at my thumb when I’m supposed to as well! And really enjoying it! I’ve not had a chance to work on me in really any respect since I was a teen so I’ve been reading all the way cool books especially the Bible along with my favorites Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (nothing to do with motorcycles) you’d love it, Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose, & Bag of Bones by Stephen King was way better than I thought it would be! I’m not able to eat bad or smoke so I’ve been trying to really eat right, sleep right, be physically fit & read, study, draw – basically all the yamas and niyamas respectfully! And really between my recovery & yoga, my new relationship with God I feel completely like I’ve found my way! Robbie I got to say I wonder if you know what a great thing you’re doing? It would be a great thing to expose these folks at any rate but add in to have the blessing of the exposure during a very bleak & dark time in your life is even more profound. I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s a very humanitarian effort that the 2 of you are giving [Jennifer Miller was teaching the Ladies at this time] oh so freely of yourselves, very compassionate. & to bless people most folks are afraid of or won’t go near lest they be infected? If you only knew how heartwarming it was to have something really enjoyable & positive to look forward to & even able to count on as well! I’ll never forget it! & how I found it, while living in an environment not un-equal to that of a P.O.W. camp in WWII. I’m grateful to you as then and now there are a lot of days when it’s the only thing I have to look forward to, short term! As you’ll see by the envelope’s return address, I’m at D.C.C. [Dillwyn Correctional Center] (wherever that is) and surviving the best I can! I’m trying to get them to let me have a mat and as a way to verify what it is I’m doing I gave them the # you gave me! I hope it’s OK & I had asked my Mom to call ahead of the letter as I thought it would be faster however I haven’t heard back from “them” or Mom yet, however I am nothing if not persistent! I wonder what the best thing to do is when it gets to be too cold to be barefoot outside? I don’t think I can sneak a full practice by them even 5 days a week and the tile sucks once you get sweaty! I will work it out one way or another right? I really would like to get a full first year in & in the time I’m here master the First Series!
We have nothing but time…
I wonder how you’re doing?
I wonder about the guys [in the Richmond City Jail] & the class as I’m sure it’s rolled over a few times by now! I wonder … I hate to mention if it’s a sore subject however I wonder how things are going for your Mom? Like I said if it’s a sore subject I apologize.
… I hope you’re well and your work at the jail’s going on, please with Jen happy holidays for me & tell her I could sure use some of those cookies about now. This is the part where I say that I’m on a rant & that if you’re ever out this way please stop on by & thank you so very much.
And now for the poetry section of the talent show!
He gives more grace when the burdens grow greater.
He send more strength when the labors increase.
To added affliction, He adds His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we’ve exhausted our stored endurance,
And our strength has failed as the day’s half done.
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
The father’s full giving has just begun.
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure.
His power has no boundary known unto men.
Far out of his infinite riches in Jesus,
He gives and gives … and gives again.
Yogi, Mystic, Factory Trained Brain Tech,
Bryan the Magnificent!