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YD Book Review: ‘Best Practices for Yoga in the Criminal Justice System’

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by Kate Rice

I’ve been teaching yoga service classes for about three years, but have been passionate about this field for many more – starting with the administrative work I did for Yoga Activist in Washington, DC, prior to training as a yoga instructor. I’ve been teaching yoga to women at the country’s largest jail for over a year, and working to offer yoga to jail staff for much of that time as well so, needless to say, I was especially excited to get my hands on the Yoga Service Council’s latest publication, Best Practices for Yoga in the Criminal Justice System edited by Carol Horton. I also speak to teacher trainees on the topic of yoga service and trauma informed yoga, and through my site and blog try to gather resources that can be shared for instructors who are inspired to offer their efforts in this field but not sure where to look for training.

Up to now, much of the wisdom and insight I’ve come across on best practices in various sectors of yoga service has been more informal—through my own experience, workshops, conversations, and websites or online articles—so having the collective input of a variety of yoga service professionals in an actual book is big news!

Suffice it to say, I was excited to receive a copy for review. And here it is.

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Best Practices for Yoga in the Criminal Justice System is a tremendously valuable resource for yoga instructors, yoga service organizations and other stakeholders offering, or looking to offer, yoga in the criminal justice system.

The content is clear, concise and well-organized, and the book covers a variety of relevant topics: yoga instructors gaining knowledge of the criminal justice system, addressing both staff and systems-involved people appropriately, the importance of trauma informed yoga training, and practical tips like room set up and identifying and responding to triggers. Especially interesting to me was the section on establishing yoga service organizations. Of course, quite a few resources exist on forming non-profits very generally, but guides to starting and growing yoga service organizations specifically are few and far between.

Above and beyond the content, the mere existence of this book is a huge milestone in yoga service. To be fair, so are the others in the series (Best Practices for Yoga for Veterans, Best Practices for Yoga in Schools). It is just rare in the field to compile the wisdom of not just one experienced yoga service teacher, but many, and in writing, on paper, in a published book.

Why is it so rare? Perhaps because yoga service is still a relatively new field, because yoga tends to draw folks who learn by doing and not necessarily reading and systematically recording, or because yoga service workshops tend to happen in studios which lack chairs, tables, pens, laptops and power point presentations that can more easily translate into written guides. And because it’s harder to get financial support for work that is not profit-oriented. The collective wisdom may not be new, as yoga service providers have collaborated and shared in the past more informally, but having that wisdom presented in an organized fashion in a published book is absolutely invaluable.

Honestly, there are no downsides to this book. If you offer yoga in the criminal justice system—or want to—please buy it, read it, and incorporate as much as you can into your work. If your experience differs from the suggestions here, use that as a platform to expand the conversation around these important topics.

While I don’t see it as a shortcoming, two questions do remain in my mind:

First, while the book is clearly and explicitly intended for a wide range of stakeholders, I wonder who will actually read the book and take to heart its suggestions? Second, how does a yoga instructor, even one who is well-trained and teaching as part of an established yoga service organization, navigate the reality of striving for best practice in a less-than-perfect system and world?

I suspect it will be largely yoga instructors who are drawn to this book…and that’s great! My experience over time in yoga service, though, is that yoga instructors, and even yoga service organizations, are just one part of a bigger picture, a necessary but not sufficient component. Implementing successful yoga service programs requires multiple stakeholders to collaborate, and many other circumstances and bureaucracy perhaps out of our control.

I don’t expect these questions to be easily answered, especially the second one. Nonetheless, I do think this guide is an excellent starting point, and a stronger tool to expand awareness of best practice in this field above and beyond workshops for yoga instructors who are already largely sold on the benefits of yoga.

Read an excerpt of Best Practices for Yoga in the Criminal Justice System here.

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Kate Rice lives and teaches yoga in Chicago. In addition to public classes, she teaches trauma-informed yoga in non-profit settings and connects yoga teachers with trauma informed trainings and resources. Read more at shareyourpractice.org.

 

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