Paul’s 30-minute headstand challenge

In our July issue, we wrote about the work of The Prison Phoenix Trust, a charity that brings the benefits of yoga into UK prisons, helping inmates deal with the stresses of life inside and supporting them on their journey outside. At the OM Yoga Show, one former inmate, Paul, will be taking on a 30-minute headstand challenge, which you can watch live…or join in yourself!

Inspired by his experiences learning yoga in prison, Paul is currently training for a 30-minute headstand, which he will perform on stage at the OM Yoga Show in October to raise funds for the UK’s leading prison yoga charity, The Prison Phoenix Trust.

The charity trains and supports yoga teachers to work in prisons and supports prisoners directly with specialist resources and peer mentoring. It also links prisoners with trained volunteers who write to and support them in yoga and meditation.

Paul first wrote to The Prison Phoenix Trust from prison in 2008. Through regular correspondence over the years – and studying with Helen, The Prison Phoenix Trust yoga teacher in HMP Leeds – he became a mentor for others, eventually teaching his own yoga classes to other prisoners.

“I knew I was going into prison for a long time and you never know if you’re going to make it through the system,” he says. “I wrote to the charity in desperation because I couldn’t speak to my family about how I was feeling as they were going through their own nightmare. I couldn’t speak to fellow prisoners because they look at showing any emotion as a weakness, so I reached out to The Prison Phoenix Trust.

“A letter came back that opened a door for me to express my inner fears and feelings. It brought me out and gave me an inner strength. Then I received some books and CDs and I would religiously get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, do my yoga sequence from the CD, and then meditation, until knock-up at 7am.

“What yoga and meditation gave me was a best friend. It gave me somebody, or something. I could just go into my cell and sit there for hours and release everything through my breathing. It’s a major coping mechanism. It still is, to this day.”

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Headstand challenge

The idea for a sponsored headstand came after Paul spoke about his prison experiences for the first time in public at an event for supporters of The Prison Phoenix Trust back in March.

“It was a very moving experience on my part,” he says, “being the first event of any kind I have attended since my release from prison. It was like a reawakening for me, bringing back such emotional memories. “When I was in jail I read Iyengar’s life story and he used to do 30-minute headstands. At the time, I couldn’t even do 30 seconds. I’d been away about three years and I said to myself: I want to do this. I used to do this every morning. I trained for it by counting my breath, 20 breaths at a time. It took me more than two years to get to 30 minutes, and from that day on, I did it every day. It became folklore throughout the jail – I was known for it!

“So I’m doing it again at the OM Yoga Show to say a massive thank you to The Prison Phoenix Trust for entering my life all those years ago and for continuing to be part of my life.”

Helping others

Paul continued with his yoga training in jail, eventually qualifying as a yoga teacher, which enabled him to share the practice with other prisoners.

“I watched people gain confidence in themselves,” he says. “Kids that were worried about going into the gym I would go and do breathing techniques with them. I’ve watched people come off drugs, helped by yoga and meditation. By the time I was released, I’d taught about 3,000 yoga lessons to prisoners throughout the jail.”

He has continued to teach yoga to others since his release from prison in 2019. “If I see someone that is hurting, or struggling, I like to reach out,” he says. “I’ve struggled a real lot myself. This is my passion. It carried me… and it’s still carrying me now.”


You can sponsor Paul’s 30-minute headstand challenge here: challenge

To run your own Yoga 30 Challenge or to find out more about yoga in prison, visit:

Om Magazine

First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.