Yoga Behind Bars Offers Inmates a Way to De-Stress and Rehabilitate

If you think yoga is just something suburban housewives do while the kids hang out with the nanny, think again. It’s a popular fitness routine for everyone –  even inmates. But, for inmates, it offers more than just exercise.

Yoga is offered in prisons around the country to help inmates cope with the stress of life in prison. Some believe it can even help them cope with life on the outside when that day comes.

What is yoga?

Yoga is from the sanskrit word ‘yuj’, which means to yoke or bind. It focuses on postures and breathing among other things. It’s believed the first yoga practice can be traced back to 2,000 years ago. Some say it’s even older than that.

Anyone can find a yoga practice that meets their physical capabilities because there are so many different types of yoga. A yogi is someone who practices yoga. Yogis don’t simply ‘do’ yoga. It’s a ‘practice.’  

Practicing yoga requires an inward focus no matter which type you practice. There’s a heightened sense of awareness that brings a liberation or enlightenment that can change how you interact with those around you.

The practice of mastering the postures, the inward focus and breathing all help to provide the benefit of stress relief that’s attributed to yoga.


Incarceration is stressful

Stress, unfortunately, is a normal state for inmates. Your loved one’s response to that stress may be something you haven’t considered. The body releases adrenaline and cortisol, two chemicals that create a fight-or-flight response to stress. With this kind of stress and pent up anger, fighting can get inmates into even more trouble, creating even more stress.

When stress hormones are at above normal levels for so long, long-term psychological damage can happen. When inmates come home, their loved ones should be on the lookout for things like depression or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The nervous system is impacted as well, which affects heart rate, breathing, and digestion. Sleep patterns are disrupted. Things can deteriorate further with sleep deprivation. All of this can cause inmates to have panic attacks. Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or remembering things are other significant side-effects of stress.

Another problem with prolonged stress is the chemical imbalances that can happen in the brain. Problem-solving is affected when this happens. This can explain why inmates sometimes function on such a primitive level.  

The stress of incarceration is why PrisonConnect encourages friends and families to stay connected with their loved one. The volunteer yoga instructors also believe they can help inmates destress through the practice of yoga.  

About Yoga Behind Bars

Yoga Behind Bars is a nonprofit organization based in Seattle. The organization shares yoga and meditation with inmates to promote rehabilitation and personal transformation. They advocate for better pathways for re-entry. They look for ways to break down the barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated people from rebuilding their lives when they come home.  

Yoga Behind Bars services 16 facilities that include minimum and maximum detention facilities, prisons, jails and youth detention centers. The organization consists of volunteers that include professional yoga instructors, instructors behind bars and former inmates.

Yoga for Rehabilitation

Prisoners who practice yoga say it positively affects their mental state. Mentally, it can take them outside of the four walls that is prison and help them to cope with the stress of living behind bars.

An Oxford University study found that inmates who practice yoga showed an improvement in positive mood and a decrease in stress. The study also showed that prisoners were less likely to act impulsively. The results of the suggests that yoga is helpful for prisoners.

The type of yoga taught by Yoga Behind Bars focuses on a specific type of yoga that is known to be good for trauma, the brain and the nervous system. It helps inmates have more self-control and compassion for themselves and others.

There are over a dozen programs like Yoga Behind Bars around the country that offer yoga classes for inmates. Prison Yoga Project is another organization with a wide network of yoga instruction and facilities around the country. Find one in your loved one’s facility.

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