My journey with yoga and meditation started when I was a child. Immediately after birth, I was adopted by my maternal aunt and her husband. At a young age, my adoptive father inspired me to practice yoga postures with him. When I reunited with my biological parents in 7th grade, my biological father nurtured my passion for being active by building a full set of gymnastics rings at home. When I was 16 years old, I learned to formally meditate. In 2008, I became a professional yoga instructor, and in 2010, I became a certified meditation teacher.
That same year, I became acquainted with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the International Association for Human Values, a non-profit organization that works with the United Nations Economics and Social Council to implement stress and trauma relief service projects in prisons all over the world. A few years later, in 2013, I acquired a QCI Level 2 certification by the Indian Government Ministry of Ayush. I also began volunteering at a correctional facility in Mississippi, where I have been teaching prisoners yoga and meditation ever since.
The IAHV Prison Program was created to help inmates reduce stress, anger, and violence. It has a track record of cost-effective sustainable impact in thousands of prisons worldwide in 60 countries. It uses the SKY (Sudarshan Kriya Yoga) meditation method, which is the practice of maintaining health through a unique breathing technique. The method has resulted in a lower recidivism rate and reduced depression and anxiety, among many other benefits. I believe the program’s philosophy is simple: a stress-free mind leads to a better human being, which equates to a better society.
My inspiration to give back to the community came from something I experienced after I got into a major accident in 2004. I was bedridden for nine months—physically and emotionally handicapped. This was when I decided to go back to my roots in yoga and meditation. I realized that I was in the prison of my own body and my mind was going crazy.
Being behind physical bars in prison, the inmates’ experience wasn’t much different, I reasoned. I felt my hardships allowed me to connect with them. After my own transformation through the practice of SKY meditation and seeing its impact on the minds of inmates, I wanted to volunteer for the IAHV Prison Program and share my skills in yoga and meditation to help others.
The IAHV Prison Program is typically three hours every day over five consecutive days, with weekly or monthly follow-ups available. While my students are typically skeptical of the techniques at first, they become very receptive by the end of the day. The way the program transforms the inmates is evident almost immediately. Successful prisoners who stick it out through the class are often the best spokespeople for this program because their transformations inspire other prisoners to join as well.
It is personally rewarding when inmates open up to me and tell me how impactful the program was for them, and how they wish they had the opportunity to learn about SKY meditation earlier. One inmate, a criminal with three murders on his record, told me that he wished he had known this technique and knowledge before committing the crimes. He would have been a different man as it makes him feel so calm. He also asked if we could please bring it to the Parchman Farm, Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), so inmates from other prisons could benefit from it, as well. Another prisoner came up to me after the second day of the course and said, “Last night was the first night that I slept since I’ve been here for two years.” Another said I was an angel sent by God.
Through these testimonials, I continue to learn just how monumental of an experience the IAHV Prison Program is for the inmates that I teach. It is extremely gratifying to be able to transform their lives by doing the thing I love.
I would like to dedicate this blog and give special thanks to my parents, as it is due to their teachings and blessings that I am where I am today, as well as my husband, Dinesh, and kids, Sameer and Nayan. It is because of them that I am able to continuously grow and better myself.
If you would like to learn more about the IAHV Prison Program, please visit their website.
Parveen Chawla is a yoga and meditation instructor who teaches children, adults, and senior citizens all over the country. In addition to teaching in the IAHV Prison Program, she also teaches veterans with PTSD. She has over 4,000 hours of credits in yoga and has since stopped counting as she is always learning. Originally from Delhi, she immigrated to the United States with her husband in 1994. She now lives in Cleveland, Mississippi with her husband and her two children.