Asphodel Myhre

The yoga teacher introducing the practice to prisoners, and helping create better mindsets as a result.

Words Natalie Cyra

Asphodel Myhre, who goes by the spiritual name Adhyatma, is a ‘yoga for mindset’ champion bringing the practice to the prison population.  

When you think of prison, the next thing that comes to mind probably isn’t yoga, right? Well for Asphodel Myhre it is. Since 2007, she has been voluntarily teaching yoga and mindfulness in prisons around Aotearoa, and set up the Yoga Education in Prisons Trust (YEPT) to support her mission and increase the service by enlisting more teachers in cities nationwide.

When Myhre first began volunteering her time as a teacher she was amazed by the response she received from prisoners. 

“They responded so enthusiastically, and positively, and I saw the effects of the practices working quickly. The men I was sharing yoga with at Waikeria prison (south of Hamilton) started to practice daily, in their cells, or in the compounds and I could visibly see the difference in their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.” 

When founding YEPT, Myhre’s aim was to help prisoners use the practice of yoga and mindfulness to improve their physical and mental wellbeing, deal with the stress of imprisonment, and develop the self-awareness necessary to understand their own offending behaviour and create a better life path. 

YEPT works by supporting trained teachers to run yoga and mindfulness classes within the prison system, providing financial support, training and mentoring. Adds Myhre, “We have recently supplemented this with a self-study course which guides prisoners to develop their own yoga and meditation practice, and, for advanced students, to learn the skills necessary to teach other prisoners.” The course is rapidly gaining popularity, with participants currently mentored via snail mail by a team of affiliated teachers. Its objective is for the student to have attained an understanding of yoga and an ongoing personal practice by completion. 

“We hope to get it approved by NZQA or a similar body which in turn will make it more useable and attractive for Department of Corrections to support in their established education programme,” says Myhre.

There are currently 21 YEPT-affiliated teachers operating in nearly every prison around the country, as well as in some specialist treatment units. Many bring with them expertise in counselling, youth work, or mental health. 

YEPT also provides additional training in working with people with post-traumatic stress disorder (which is said to impact approximately 50 per cent of the prison population). YEPT training also includes teaching asana (postures) pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation, relaxation and philosophy practices. 

Myhre believes wholeheartedly that yoga and mindfulness can transform the lives of those imprisoned. She also believes she has found her true purpose in life. 

“Yoga increases self-awareness which leads to the ability to self-reflect, manage, and transform habits, mind states and emotions, from negative to positive… My work is about empowering yoga teachers to help empower prisoners and creating a more peaceful, compassionate and positive community in prison and beyond.”

To vote for Asphodel Myhre, winner of the Wellbeing category, to be the People’s Choice winner, click here.

o find out more about Asphodel Myhre and YEPT, head online to yogainprisonstrust.org

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