Yoga in action: how yoga is steadily resurrecting the rehabilitative spirit of prisons

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“Yoga in action: how yoga is steadily resurrecting the rehabilitative spirit of prisons “

Of all the places in the world where stress and anxiety resides in the world, it’s hard to think of a place more stressful than prison. As you can imagine, being locked up in a place miles from where you live with hundreds of strangers you don’t trust or like does nothing to help you develop inner peace or for just under half of Australia’s prison population, battle mental illness.

Prison populations are sprinkled with individuals ill equipped to deal with the pressures of prison and is often why prison can be a dangerous and unforgiving place but with the recent introduction of yoga classes and recent studies revealing the 5,000 year old discipline’s role in reducing recidivism rates or improving the mood of inmates, prisons all over the world are beginning to reclaim their rehabilitative spirit.

It’s no secret that the punitive approach to prison hasn’t been effective for years and has helped seen the cost of housing prisoners increase exponentially across the world in the face of high recidivism rates and overcrowding. Well aware of this, prison officials, have increasingly allowed yoga to be taught and practiced behind prison walls and the results have been impressive to say the least.

However, the work of making prison officials see the benefits of allowing Yoga to be taught to inmates has been a long term preoccupation of organizations such as the Prison Yoga Project and Prison Phoenix Trust who have fought and succeeded in spreading the use of yoga where it’s arguably needed the most.

Driven by, in his own words “a desire to be of service”, Prison Yoga Project founder James Fox setup the organization back in 2002 after being asked by San Quentin prison to run a Yoga and meditation program. Since then, the Prison project has gone from strength to strength recruiting hundreds of fellow practitioners attracted the organizations’ mission and being invited to start programs in Norway and even Yoga’s ancestral home, India.

Fox’s work has inspired others such as native Belgian Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga Project, who worked to establish the Prison Yoga project in New York when asked to do so by Fox in 2010. Lucas was initially setting a space in New York where Fox was supposed to teach inmates but ended up teaching classes across eventually leading to Lucas creating the Liberation Prison Yoga Project in 2014.

While Fox was driven by a need to be of use, Lucas was driven by the need to address her own trauma. A survivor of a violent sex trafficking ring in her childhood, Lucas found yoga in 1993 as a way to deal with her injuries mentally and physically and since has used yoga to help others deal with long term trauma and inspired by the work and methods of Fox, sought to teach inmates who, just like her, were looking for a way heal themselves and find peace.

Partly because of her experience, Lucas found it easy to relate to her students as she was, in her own words also ” treated as the lowest of the low” . Teaching yoga has been therapeutic for Lucas as it has been for her students as their progress taking her classes reminds her of her own struggle for peace in chaos. She is often taken aback of how quickly inmates absorb her teachings taking pride in something as small as the silence that falls over a room when inmates let “peace and quiet reign”.

Lucas, like many dedicated to the cause, is impressed by the growth prison yoga movement particularly in the U.S. where the rehabilitative spirit of prison is weak and the inhumane nature of prison as an institution has become more pronounced.

Lucas hopes that yoga’s increase use in prison continues and with growing demand all over the world for yoga, she’s not alone.

[1] M. C, O-Connor, 2016, EPALE Interviews James Fox, founder of the Prison Yoga project, https://ec.europa.eu/epale/en/blog/interview-questions-james-fox-prison-yoga-project

[2] J. Rizzo, 2015, Prison Yoga is helping inmates transcend their cells, http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/shavasana-behind-bars-962

[3] V. Zutshi, 2015, Interview: Anneke Lucas – Liberation Prison Yoga, http://www.sutrajournal.com/interview-anneke-lucas-prison-yoga-by-vikram-sutshi

[4] Ibid

[5] R. Schware, 2013, Yoga in correctional facilities: it’s all about the love, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-schware/yoga-prisons_b_3051948.html

[6] Ibid

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