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Exercising the Demons: The Case for Prison Yoga

in YD News

prison_yogaLike us, at first thought you might assume yoga to be the perfect activity/treatment for the incarcerated. Hey we’ve never been to jail but we’ve see Shawshank Redemption! And can imagine it’s pretty stressful in there, being locked up and all. A little yoga would do just the trick to ease the angst and perhaps inspire some good habits. And with all these prisoners finding Jesus in jail, why not yoga?

Welp, what we forget is that with yoga, and deep breathing, comes the uprooting of deep emotions and psychological locks that had previously been tucked away, deep in the caverns of our mind, and our muscles. Yes, there is crying in yoga. Cursing too, dammit! You could say it’s a bit like  “ex-er-cising the demons”.  Are jails prepared to handle inmates’ emotions unleashed?

Right now yoga is actually a bone of contention in recent discussions over an $8 billion CA state prison health reform plan, where a proposed yoga space is argued as either necessary for mental health requirements or a waste of money. Perhaps not helping the case is an experiment held in a Norwegian high-security jail a couple of years ago which produced surprisingly mixed results with negatives being “agitation, aggression, irritability, trouble sleeping and mental confusion.” The program was canned.

And then… there’s the Prison Yoga Project, their mission:

“to expand the practice of Hatha Yoga and Mindfulness Meditation to prisons and rehabilitation facilities, and to provide training for Yoga instructors interested in teaching to at-risk populations in prisons, residential rehabilitation facilities, and community programs.”

That teaching bit is something special – prison yoga students probably aren’t your easiest crowd. Special skills are a plus.

The Art of Living is another non-profit org seeking to promote peace within cell block walls. You can watch a BBC video report on their positive influence in a maximum security prison in South Africa.

Jails aren’t full of cookie cutter criminals, and maybe not every crook can handle the transformative affects of yoga, so it’s only sensible to adapt programs to certain cases. The “rehabilitation” attempt seems solid, and addiction is probably a good place to start.

Also, get those poor inmates some decent $90 lululemon pants for crying out loud! What are we animals?

10 comments… add one

  • i taught yoga in a women’s prison here in texas last year. the inmates loved it and did well. the biggest obstacle to the class was the guards. i can only guess they were not happy about the extra work the program caused them. often they would not go and retrieve and bring the women to class (how else would they get there?) or they were brought late and at all different times during the class making teaching difficult.

    while the intention of the warden and the higher ranking correction officers in the unit was right on target- the foresight of the yoga classes bringing more serenity and cooperation to the population was absent in the minds of the minds of those responsible for day to day inmate movement within the walls. frankly, they did what they could to make it as difficult as possible.

  • “Also, get those poor inmates some decent $90 lululemon pants for crying out loud! What are we animals?”

    Funny! Just don’t give lululemon any ideas!! :)

  • admin

    @ YogaDawg haha, big mouth I have. it won’t be surprising when the “prison issue” line comes out

    @ Darla That’s really interesting, and unfortunate. I guess the program isn’t the only obstacle. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

  • Having taught college writing in a maximum security prison, I can say that, in many ways, they WERE the easiest crowd I ever taught…walking in and shaking my hand before class began, being deeply engaged in writing and class discussion, expressing more gratitude than I could ever imagine coming from the Ivy League students I’d taught earlier in the day. Of course, these convicts weren’t a cross section of the prison population by any means–they were people who specifically wanted to turn their lives around, despite everything the “correctional” system–which includes the violent hierarchies among prisoners–did to dehumanize them. In terms of emotions being unleashed, that happens all the time there–in the form of beatings, rapes, stabbings, etc.–as such, it seems like there’s a lot of room for healthier emotional outlets, and certainly for mindfulness. At the same time, I tend to talk a lot about how my yoga practice is helping me to “open up” and “take off my armor,” whereas, if I were in a place like that, I’d probably feel a need for all the armor, emotional and otherwise, that I could get. Then, I’d also need to tap into my inner strength, so…I’m just kinda thinking aloud here in your Comments. Anway, good stuff….

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