Rory Bradshaw, 31, has been teaching yoga classes at a male prison in the UK for the last four years.
Bradshaw says the side hustle has been rewarding — and that he can make up to $500 a week.
Here’s what its like to be a prison yoga instructor, as told to Insider’s Aaron Mok.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Rory Bradshaw, a 31-year-old prison program lead based in London, about what it’s like to teach yoga at a men’s prison. Insider verified his income with documentation. It has been edited for length and clarity.
At my full-time job, I manage a prison program teaching male inmates tech skills like coding. But on the side, I make money as a prison yoga instructor — and it’s been a real privilege.
I first started doing yoga years ago when I was working at a community center in South London. At the center, there were women running free community yoga classes who encouraged me to attend, and I immediately connected with the practice. After getting a huge emotional, mental, and physical benefit from it, I started incorporating yoga into my own life and saw how it could support my work and relationships.
Later, the women asked if I’d be interested in teaching a free yoga class at a men’s prison in South London. I took the opportunity and trained to be a teacher, eventually teaching my first classes at the men’s prison.
I immediately fell in love with the job and have been teaching yoga classes at the prison two days a week regularly for the last four years.
Since the prison regime starts very early, I typically wake up around 6 a.m., and travel an hour-and-a-quarter by bike and train to get to the prison. When I arrive, I go through security. Once I’m inside, I go cell-to-cell rounding up the guys to come.
It’s a real effort to gather them all together. Some days, the guys are still asleep, have a family visit, or have a healthcare appointment, which means they can’t practice for the day. Other times, they’re resistant to attend because they have preconceived notions about who yoga is for. I’m often met with comments like “it’s just for women,” “I’m not flexible,” or “it goes against my religion” — to which I respond by explaining how yoga can help alleviate their stress and anxiety.
Despite these complications, I’m usually able to get around 20 people — a combination of young fit guys, weak elderly men, and staff members — to attend class that lasts for up to an hour and fifteen minutes.
In my yoga classes, I take a trauma-informed approach, where I help the men process their life experiences by encouraging them notice their body sensations and focus on the present.
Typically, my class starts with a meditation, followed by gentle movements and controlled breath work. After that, I gradually incorporate postures like child’s pose, cat-cow variations, and sun salutations as I guide them through a flow. Once the class is over, I ask the guys for their feedback. We discuss what felt good — and what didn’t — and I adjust my yoga routines accordingly.
After the first class, I go to another wing of the prison and repeat the process for a second class before I take the long journey home. A typical work day is about six hours long.
From what I’ve observed, yoga has made a positive impact on these men. The guys tell me they feel less back pain and more open in the hips, and I often hear guys say they feel lighter and more relaxed. Each class gives them space away from a very chaotic prison environment. It’s common to see men who were, at first, resistant to the practice coming back week after week.
Outside of the prison, people ask if I find the job scary. It’s not. Aside from the banging, shouting, alarms, and dogs barking, it’s just a class. It’s not in their interest to be in any way aggressive or fearful towards me. In fact, the men are friendly, creative, and intelligent — and we have a good time.
Even though it’s time consuming, prison yoga instruction is a side gig of mine. Depending on the prison budget, a standard yoga instructor in the UK typically makes between £30 to £50 ($38 to $64 US dollars) per class. If you teach multiple classes a day, you could make between £300 to £400 pounds ($386 to $514 US dollars) a week.
Moving forward, I will be teaching yoga at a new prison once a week on a voluntary basis. I’ll also be filming yoga content which will be streamed throughout the prison so all the guys can access it through their cells. I have ambitions to one day get yoga into every prison prison cell in the country.
Overall, it’s been a real privilege to be able to come into what’s a quite harsh and challenging environment, and to be able to offer space to the men to look after their own well-being.
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