Yoga poses have long been used to aid inmates in the rehabilitation process thanks to its ability to clear the mind, soothe the nerves and promote tranquility. It’s been used in India, England and other places around the globe as a method for helping convicts manage stress, control impulses, kick drug habits and keep their violent tendencies in check. And Body & Brain Yoga instructor Bette Castoria knows that yoga benefits prisoners in ways that can help them become functioning members of society.
Castoria is an instructor at Albuquerque’s Body & Brain Yoga center, but she also spent a year teaching yoga to prisoners at the city’s Metropolitan Detention Center. In May 2014, she was featured in a piece on Albuquerque, New Mexico, NBC affiliate KOB news about her experience guiding inmates through the deep breathing exercises, mindful meditation techniques and mellow postures.
“Almost everybody by the end of class, I would say, had reached a point of deeper relaxation of sensing energy on a deeper level, and that’s the powerful thing about yoga,” Castoria told reporters.
While many people think of yoga as merely a way to increase flexibility and enhance balance and muscle tone, it actually works in a much wider variety of ways that can be particularly beneficial to inmates. Prison is widely known to be dangerous and stressful, requiring constant guard for one’s safety. Many inmates find themselves suffering from anxiety disorders due to this suspended state of hyper arousal, but yoga helps offset such tension and has even been clinically proven to reduce symptoms in people suffering from anxiety disorders.
In a similar manner, many people go on to develop depression after being incarcerated. In fact, this is a widespread problem that officials have attempted to offset by changing the colors of walls (pink is known to make prisoners happier and more peaceful) and other small changes. Yoga is an effective tool in helping relieve the symptoms of clinical depression. A study published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal in December 2007 revealed that yoga is a promising intervention for depression that also leads to reduced levels of anger. Researches especially recommended the practice for its easy implementation and low cost. For inmates, yoga can mean some much-needed respite from the sadness that comes with realizing their mistakes in life and being removed from society.
“ I think that’s real important for people to get that hope that they haven’t totally ruined their life – that yes, some bad things may have happened, they may have made bad choices, but they get this opportunity to kind of look at that and turn it around,” Castoria told KOB.
Efforts such as Castoria’s have inspired the entire state prison system to hop on the prison yoga bandwagon. The Central New Mexico Correctional Facility is now offering yoga classes for inmates. The aim is to prepare them for life on the other side of the bars and to give them new hope and a road to self-discovery that will inspire them to change their lives for the better. The correctional facility explained that, though some may find it unconventional, offering yoga in prison can be good for the whole community.
“Structured yoga classes, tailored to our population, have the power to help incarcerated individuals on their path to self-discovery, healing, and ultimately into living differently, conducting lives in a law-abiding and community-respecting fashion,” the department wrote.
Write May 27, 2014