It’s the last place you’d expect to find people doing sun salutations.
Nor is Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, known for being a Lycra or latte-sipping hub.
Its reputation is mostly marred in bloody and violent crime committed by local gangs of raskols in a city grappling with an unemployment rate estimated at between 60-90 per cent and extreme poverty.
The Economist magazine ranks Port Moresby among the most dangerous and least liveable places in the world.
But Fazilah Bazari, a young woman with Indian-Melanesian heritage, is tackling that angry vibe head-on.
She started a one-woman yoga revolution three years ago.
While most expats rarely venture away from the high walls and razor wire of secure compounds and upmarket establishments, Bazari has introduced free yoga classes to settlements and shanty town areas that are usually no-go zones for foreigners.
To an outsider, you’d think she had a death wish.
But through the power of yoga, Bazari overcomes her fear and sees the good in people to continue what she regards as her duty of “selfless community service”.
“You’re only good when you make someone better,” she told AAP at the Bomana prison where she’s overseeing a class of convicted murderers, rapists and carjackers alongside the local instructors she’s trained.
“Not many yoga teachers get off the mat and go into the world,” Bazari says.
Flashy studios, fancy yoga clothes and even mats aren’t necessary here.
Today we’re watching a group of eight mostly juvenile inmates, aged 16-23, and a couple of maximum security detainees on a concrete basketball court.
After a warm-up, they show off their advanced yoga and acrobatic routines with human pyramids and spectacular partnered headstands and lifts to songs like “One Tribe” and “Give Love”.
Their eyes burn with almost trance-like intensity.
Gordon, 19, is serving 15 years for the willful murder of one of his grade 11 class mates two years ago.
“In the past I was a short temper kind of guy,” he told AAP.
“I used to belt people up and drink too much alcohol.”
On release, Gordon wants to become a yoga teacher to help other young men deal with anger and develop self-esteem so they don’t end up in the slammer like him.
“It takes a lot of trust to build the human temples, without the trust the temple cannot stand,” he says.
That inmates come from different tribal backgrounds can sometimes be a source of tension.
“After doing yoga we feel united,” Gordon says.
Hannington Yaya, the prison officer-in-charge, says there has been stark improvement in behaviour and less fighting.
“Some of them had been so isolated, but they have grown out of their loneliness.”
Frank, 35, is a former raskol gang member who is serving time for armed robbery after carjacking a vehicle in 2000.
He escaped prison and lived at large for 14 years until he was recaptured last year.
Frank only made it to grade eight at school and his father died when he was five.
Crime became his meal ticket but now he’s learnt the error of his ways as a result of the program.
“Yoga has given me peace and taught me to respect people and be a friendly person again,” Frank says.
Port Moresby Governor Powes Parkop is also a yoga convert after discovering this “wonderful gift of life and wellness” by accident and experiencing its mental and physical benefits first hand.
His administration has helped Bazari expand the reach of her programs which now cover more than 5000 people a week.
“We have tried so many things in Port Moresby and they don’t make a lasting change – it’s time to try new things,” he said.
* Australian yoga teachers interested in volunteering as mentors to local teachers in PNG should contact Fazilah Bazari [email protected]杭州桑拿会所, or visit the YOUth Own Great Awakening Facebook page.