SAHAJA YOGA MEDITATION programs were held at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in Queens, New York, from 1999 through 2001. The following report contains testimony and observations of the instructors of SAHAJA YOGA describing the manner in which these programs were conducted and their results. The reference letters of the Rikers Island prison officials also describe the positive effect the meditations had on the prisoners’ behavior.
During the free weekly programs, the prisoners were taught all the techniques used in SAHAJA YOGA MEDITATION. They were taught how to cleanse and balance the chakras and the proper methods of achieving thoughtless awareness. Sahaja Yogis saw miracles happen frequently at Rikers Island. Before meditation, the prisoners were loud and very nervous. Tension and aggression permeated the halls. After sitting quietly and gently putting their attention inward on their SPIRIT, they became transformed. They would all become peaceful and relaxed. The tension and stress vanished. In meditation, with their eyes closed and their attention away from the replay of events that put them in prison, prisoners experienced the Reality of their Spirit and very deep inner peace. Inner turmoil was replaced by smiling faces and shining eyes. After the meditation and the awakening of their individual KUNDALINI, the prisoners’ response was always the same, “I feel so much peace and love. I feel so good and relaxed. Thank you!”
This was achieved by the awakening of the energy of the KUNDALINI, which purifies and balances the human being. This awakening is also known as self-realization. It allows the seeker to discover that all the answers are within him/her self. The cool vibrations of the KUNDALINI felt by the seeker connect him to the Almighty Power of the Divine. Prisoners are helped tremendously by SAHAJA YOGA MEDITATION. One can compare KUNDALINI AWAKENING to a lost child who has found his mother. The child accidentally walks away from his mother and is lost. He feels abandoned and lonely. Then he suddenly finds his mother and is once again safe and secure. He is nurtured, fed, and loved by his mother who never really abandoned him. Most importantly, the child feels his mother’s love. Prisoners are all looking for love and SAHAJA YOGA gives them unconditional love that does not seek anything in return. When the KUNDALINI is awakened and the prisoner begins to meditate, he becomes a realized soul.
Rikers Island is a holding center for all prisoners who are waiting to go on trial. Once the trial is completed, then the prisoner is either sent to a state or federal penitentiary if convicted, or released if found innocent. It is also interesting to note that statistics show that 65% -75% of all prisoners are incarcerated because of drug violations. SHRI MATAJI has stated that drug abusers are often very strong seekers of truth. An average of 2 to 5 yogis, both male and female, participated in the free weekly Rikers Island programs. The sixty to ninety minute meditation workshops were held for the prisoners, but often the staff would participate because they would feel the peace and silence emanating from those meditating.
We were fortunate enough to hold programs in five areas of the prison. The first area was the section that included prisoners with medical problems. These programs were given once a week for two months. The second section was the area of the prison that held all male prisoners who had committed various types of crimes, but were not ill. In this area, the captain allowed prisoners to foot soak, meditate with the candle, and even permitted two musical programs. The enthusiasm and joy that these male prisoners felt during these programs was incredible. We were in this area for 5 months. The captain of this area received her self-realization in the presence of SHRI MATAJI. In her own words, “I want to give these prisoners whatever is good for them and whatever will keep them from returning to Rikers Island. I know that SAHAJA YOGA is very good for them.”
The third area was in the SAID PROGRAM, the prison drug rehabilitation center that held and treated all those involved with drug violations. This area contained the greatest number of prisoners. There were at least five to seven huge, overcrowded rooms that contained at least 50 to 60 prisoners each. Every week different groups of yogis were assigned to different rooms. We remained in the area for about 9 to 10 months. We held programs in the women’s area and this lasted for two months. These women were incarcerated due to various crimes but most had violated drug laws. We learned that most of them had been abused as children and that the majority of their parents had been alcoholics and drug addicts.
Finally, we held programs at the juvenile detention center, where teenagers between fifteen and nineteen years of age were being held for various types of criminal activities. This also lasted for about 2 months. Surprisingly, many of these teenagers were already familiar with meditation, tai chi and various forms of martial arts. The head of this department allowed a program that included the teenagers and the prison staff together. For one month, we also held programs for the staff with an average of 2-3 staff members.
Sahaja Yogis experienced many miracles while conducting prison programs. One expectant mother came to our programs several times and received her self-realization and KUNDALINI awakening. She said that she had been on drugs all her life and was concerned for the child about to be born. When she returned to the program after giving birth, she was ecstatic. She told us that her baby boy, “Baby Richard,” was born without a trace of any drug in his system, and the doctors were amazed as to how this could happen. The mother also stated that the baby’s body emitted cool vibrations! These are the cool vibrations one experiences when the KUNDALINI is awakened. The baby was born as a realized soul in prison! Approximately six months later we visited Hale House in Harlem, New York. This famous institution takes care of babies born to parents who are drug addicts and cannot take care of their children. It also takes in babies who are orphans and have been abandoned. Speaking to the directors of Hale House about the programs we held at Rikers Island, we learned that they were taking care of ‘Baby Richard” and that he was very healthy! We asked to see him but were refused. Rules regarding the visitation of the babies were very strict.
Another story involved a man who had committed a double murder. He was awaiting trial, expecting to get the death penalty. He came to the meditation quite often and would also bring along his footsoaking bowl. Footsoaking utilizes the elements of earth and water and is one of the cleansing techniques used in SAHAJA YOGA. We learned that he was able to save the life of a prisoner who tried to commit suicide. He stated that he felt he was able to eradicate half of his karma and was now hoping to help save another life! He also was amazed that he did not receive the death penalty. He was spared his life and given a sentence that he did not expect at all. He was very grateful for SHRI MATAJI’s teachings and for having been given the opportunity to forgive himself and forgive his past. This particular quality of forgiveness, which is so important to the prisoners, is located in the Agyna Chakra, the sixth energy center in human beings. The chakras, of which we have seven major ones, govern and control the physical, emotional, and mental aspects in the human being.
A young man also came to many of our programs. He was a former member of the “Bloods,” one of the most notorious gangs in the United States. He continued to tell us that he was innocent and we encouraged him to meditate and allow the KUNDALINI to balance and cleanse his charkas. If he was innocent, the Divine would protect him. He was incarcerated for over 22 months because he could not afford bail. This very spiritual young man went to trial and in one hour he was found innocent and released! The story of his trial and his verdict was reported in ‘The Daily News,” a major newspaper in New York City. Many prisoners who expected to do a lot of time actually received a lot less. One man who received his self-realization was expecting at least 3 to 6 years in prison time. After his trial, he received only 3 to 6 months! He is now free and very grateful for having experienced SAHAJA YOGA.
One very hot day in June, we were holding meditation in a huge hall used as a gym. There were approximately 20 people, including the Sahaja Yogis. It was very hot and there was no ventilation. Everyone was perspiring and it was very uncomfortable. Forgetting about security measures, I asked one of the officers if he could open a window. He answered, “Miss, this is a prison and we just don’t open windows here whenever we feel like!” He didn’t open any windows but SHRI MATAJI answered our prayers! As soon as I started meditating, I started to feel very cool. After five minutes into the meditation, everyone felt the coolness! Everyone smiled as we enjoyed our meditation! The gym continued to remain very hot but the meditation area was surrounded by a very cool breeze!
Probably the most dramatic testimony is the transformation of Temba Spirits, a former prisoner at Rikers Island who found one of our pamphlets. He was able to receive his self-realization and started to meditate on his own while at Rikers Island. In his own words, "It was in prison where I found SHRI MATAJI and SAHAJA YOGA. My spirit was seeking an awakening and it was there that I became a child of SHRI MATAJI." A talented singer and conscious Hip-Hop artist, Temba is presently preparing for a concert and attending college. There are many miracle stories in SAHAJA YOGA, and these are only a few out of the thousands and thousands of stories that have occurred.
TESTIMONY AND EXPERIENCES OF OTHER SAHAJA YOGIS who participated in the Rikers Island programs:
Jerry Mayfield: “I found that the prison participants were basically the same as on the outside. Prisoners knew about the chakras and had a lot of knowledge about spirituality. Maybe they were following something false, but a lot of had already dabbled in a spiritual practice of some kind. The very first program was held an area with prisoners who had medical problems. The guys were all lined up and came in shackles; in chains they were coming in. Some also came in wheelchairs. I remember a bird flying in. This bird had nested in the rafters and every now and then it would fly in and chirp as Andrea spoke” (Andrea Cousins, the Yogini leading the program).
Benjamin Blythe: “My memories rush back in a curl of warmth and gratitude at having had the chance to be a part of MOTHER'S work there. I can, thus far, say that I have seen miracles take birth in Rikers Island.’
One member: “I think what helped the prisoners the most was that we went in there strictly with the present, not looking at their past and having no agendas with their future - like mass conversion or something.”
Alan Wherry, an Irish Sahaja Yogi living and working in New York writes, “It was easy for me to empathize with them because I had seen so many like them in Belfast, people who could not see the choices in their lives, people who, given the choice between dealing with drugs or getting a low paying job, saw no choice and hence made the wrong choice. Most of them were aware that the cost of their decision, as well as the prison, was more importantly, the loss of self-respect…..Basically we saw men in groups of 50 or more, living in one huge room with cots, with no privacy and a side room where there was a TV and some plastic chairs.”
Maryanne Berman: “WOW! WOW! WOW! The most remarkable part is how I felt - an unspoken, indescribable feeling of PEACE, JOY, AND LOVE. From noise and confusion in the beginning, to a silent meditation where you could hear a pin drop. Even the men who did not participate were respectable and whispered as they spoke so as to not disturb those meditating. It was as though something special was taking place. These men knew that no matter what mistakes they had made, they could now forgive and be forgiven.”
Another interesting experience comes from Stella Americo: “Some of the men told us how they would meditate with other inmates…. I always carried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my purse (in case I couldn’t stop for lunch.) During one of the visits, an inmate, David, mentioned that the meals at the prison were not adequate. I offered him my sandwich. He accepted it covetously. On subsequent visits, I would bring sandwiches for the men who then would eat them as if they were some exotic foods…. One day after I had explained how SHRI MATAJI’S photo emitted vibrations, an older man who came to meditation, but never spoke, told me that he didn’t believe that the picture could do what I said it could. Then he passed in front of SHRI MATAJI’s photo, turned to me, and said, “I didn’t believe what you said about the picture. But just now when I walked in front of it, I felt the vibrations…. The whole experience was very inspiring for me.”
Prison populations continue to increase. Rehabilitation methods used so far have not worked so why not try something different and dynamic? The benefits of SAHAJA YOGA are many. Medical studies have proven that this meditation reduces levels of stress and tension. It has also helped young children with Attention Deficit Disorder and asthma. It has also helped many people suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and other physical and emotional diseases. Practioners of SAHAJA YOGA have stopped smoking and alcohol and drug abuse. SAHAJA YOGA was founded in 1970 by HER HOLINESS SHRI MATAJI NIRMALA DEVI. She has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize and among the numerous awards SHE has been given is the prestigious Einstein Award from Russia. SHRI MATAJI has founded a hospital in India where the patients are treated only with vibrations. This very unique and unconventional method of treating patients has produced many miraculous cures, all of which have been recorded. Recently SHE also opened a center in New Delhi that houses abused women. Her work in SAHAJA YOGA and Her teachings have helped many people throughout the world. SAHAJA YOGA continues to grow in large numbers every year! With only a few practioners in 1970 in India , this non-profit organization has grown to thousands and thousands of members from all over the world and from every race and religion!
Thank you so much for your attention to this letter. The other Sahaja Yogis and I all desire that SHRI MATAJI’s vision comes true. It is a vision of world peace, joy, and living with an awakened spirit. It is a vision that will allow each and every human being, regardless of race, nationality, or religion to come together and to understand and love each other. SAHAJA YOGA teachings provide the knowledge and the means to achieve this vision.
Please feel free to contact me and the other Sahaja Yogis at anytime for further information at 718-626-6476 in Queens, New York.
There are SAHAJA YOGA centers in over 90 countries throughout the world. More information can also be obtained on the website at: www.sahajayoga.org
Jai SHRI MATAJI!
Anna M. Mancini, Jerry Mayfield, Benjamin Blythe, Stella Americo, Mayanne Berman, Alan Wherry
SAHAJA YOGA Coordinators – New York