Out of Site

Photo credit — The Healthy Tradie Project

Lycra: When people, in the western world, think of yoga classes most have a vision of a group of slim, fit, straight backed young ladies, clad in the latest sports fashion wear, seated cross legged with eyes blissfully closed murmuring “OM”. The room would be filled with incense and the décor definitely “New Age”. Subtle shafts of morning light would gently filter onto lovingly restored and aged polished floor boards. A collage of painted toe nails, coloured mats and lycra. Of course, thousands of years ago, at its beginnings in India, yoga teaching and training was reserved mainly for men. Yoga however should be everyone. This was Krishnamacharya’s dream of bringing yoga to the world.

Special significance: Yoga, as we know, confers many benefits for all people but has a very special significance for certain collective groups. An example is people in prisons. These are people who have suffered, or are suffering, trauma, loneliness, anxiety, depression, agitation, despair, pain, fear and anger. Many prisoners have become desensitised and separated from both their bodies and emotions. They regularly have a history of abandonment or mistreatment coupled with aggressive behaviours. These days, abuse of alcohol and drugs features largely in the mix. Yoga can assist the incarcerated ease the symptoms that lead to both stress and those actions that occur without sufficient thought or planning. Mindful awareness, as well as the physical practices of yoga supports this rehabilitation. Inspiring projects like “The Prison Yoga Project” provide a life buoy for these prisoners. “Where love is so sorely lacking, the transformation is profound…” [i]

Lifestyle: Although not to the same degree, there are some striking parallels with the FIFO worker’s environment. The workers are separated, from their family and friends along with the rest of society, typically 3 weeks out of 4. They all wear the same uniforms. It is dominated by young males. Life has a regimented routine where meals are served in common mess halls and accommodation is in single room quarters. Outside of work interaction and socialising is restricted. The hours are long, communication is limited and the pressures from home are magnified by the lack of ability to attend to domestic problems. Mental health issues are common, but often hidden. Some people complete their long working day, have their dinner and then lock themselves in their rooms until the next working day. Others spend every night in the solace of alcohol as the only means of being able to socially interact. Any previous mental issues are usually amplified, in this environment. Men are often unwilling to discuss mental health issues due to a perceived macho culture. Suicide rates are high. The West Australian Government launched a parliamentary inquiry to establish the mental health impacts of the industry [ii].Some companies have recognised these issues and have provided sports facilities, higher education options and health awareness schemes such as “SafeSpine” This is a musculoskeletal health education package which specialises in injury prevention techniques for the individual[iii] . FIFO life isn’t for everyone.

Notwithstanding the hardships there are some pluses for individuals in this industry. The pay is good. One is freed up from domestic chores and commuting. There is a distinct camaraderie among the workers with the feeling they are all in the same boat. These people are already “out of the ordinary” by their willingness to extend themselves. They have an inquisitiveness and often willing to try new things.

Unique Environment: This rather unique environment presents some tasks along with advantages for a yoga teacher. The individuals are spoilt in that normally, along with their food and accommodation their recreational facilities are for free. Some therefore have an expectation that yoga classes should be provided as part of the gratuity. Others are most grateful. Many are new to yoga so the classes have to start “as for beginners” with the addition that many are young fit males, from the gym. Strangely enough most of the activities undertaken, after work, are still in a male environment like heavy weights in the gym, watching football on the big screen and drinking with their buddies. The fact that the few ladies who are on site are also drawn to yoga, provides an almost unique opportunity for socialisation and better behaviour. This is not often found elsewhere, on the site. Teaching males yoga especially for the first time, as many of you would know, comes with its own set of challenges

Yoga for Men:Yoga is seen by many men as a class for “girls”. The common comment “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga”. Their picture is of people tied up in knots. Men, it seems, are innately constricted. When born, both boys and girls seem to be flexible enough to put their foot in their mouth. (Although some us continue to do this throughout our life!). Perhaps its hormones, perhaps anatomy or maybe girls, generally speaking, are encouraged to take up dancing and gymnastics while boys play football and cricket where flexibility may be a handicap to strength. Not always, but generally speaking, men are “shoulder centric” while ladies have flexibility and hip opening. Men can have a fear of not being able to perform and being intimidated by of all things, WOMEN, in a class. Some however have read, seen or have heard whispers that top sports people do yoga. They are curious. It is this fact that a good yoga teacher can work with.

A few tips: Here are a few tips you may wish to consider when teaching in this environment:

  • A good starting point is the gym. Here people already have a fitness regime and a mindset that is conducive.
  • Find a good location as peaceful and complimentary as possible
  • Make sure you convince management to supply mats.
  • Understand that these tough young males are going to be very self conscious, when they start.
  • Remind them of their objectives — if you leave a little relaxed and stretched then it has been a success. It’s not about whether you can turn yourself into a pretzel. Leave a little for next time
  • Introduce breathing with Asana early. Start them with good habits.
  • Use lots of Sun Salutes to wear them out. Remember they are “shoulder centric”.
  • Get the class to balance to release tension and have a few laughs
  • A brief of the health benefits during some of the poses is a good idea
  • Keep it light.
  • Try to refrain from too much yogic philosophy but make sure you do Savasana.
  • Make sure you all have fun.


[i] Prison Yoga Project (www.prisonyoga.org)

[ii] www.parliament.wa.gov.au

[iii] www.vitalityworks.com.au

About the author

Robert Molck has been a devoted Yogi, for the past 10 years and teaching for the last 8. He has an Advanced Diploma of Yoga Teaching form AYA and is a Level 1 Registered Teacher with Yoga Australia. His belief is that teaching should be all about the students, not the teacher.