Reminder: What yoga is all about

In the past week or so I’ve noticed a string of news stories about yoga’s potential benefits for prisoners. Here’s a quick sampling:

The BBC:

Prison was Villa Devoto, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“It was the worst place I had seen in my life,” Nick says. “They don’t have cells, they have open wings, where you can have anything from 100 to 400 people per wing. There were no beds so you’d literally be like sardines sleeping on the floor.”

He demonstrates this, lying on his side on his yoga mat, his head propped on his hand.

Nick was no innocent. Together with a friend, he’d run a highly successful business smuggling cocaine supplied from Colombia to Europe. They were multi-millionaires.

NBC in Los Angeles has a series of photos of prisoners, taken by Robert Sturman.

Edmonton Journal:

“We’re interested in promoting (offenders’) return to the community with better skills than when they left it. If meditation helps them become more self-aware and helps them control their anger, then it’s really advantageous,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, which advocates for prisoners’ rights. “It contributes to the successful re-integration of people.”

The society is in the process of taking over administration of Freeing the Human Spirit, a Canadian charity that has provided yoga and meditation classes at more than two-dozen provincial and federal institutions, mostly in Ontario, using volunteer instructors.

Metro News in West Virginia:

Female prisoners at Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County are part of a pilot program examining the benefits of yoga for inmates.

State Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein outlined the program to members of the Regional Jail and Corrections joint committee on Monday during Legislative interims.

The program is modeled after a one at the jail in Richmond, VA. Rubenstein said  had great success with their yoga program and the rate of recidivism.

Did that mention Richmond, Va.? It did — and that brings us back around to our online friend Robbie Norris, who runs Richmond Private Yoga and teaches prisoners in town.

In our minds, this is about the most amazing sharing of yoga imaginable. There are other terrific “audiences” for yoga practice — children, seniors, those with disabilities — but bringing it to those who in prison is at its own, special level.

Robbie often provides updates of his work. This time, though, it is his partner, Eddie Stern, who has shared a story of yoga’s impact on someone’s life via Robbie’s work:

The below letter was written by a young woman named Ruth Tracey, who has just finished serving time in the Richmond City Prison for theft. She wrote this letter the day before she was released, and recounts her transformative experience with yoga and prayer.

AYNY has been partnering with Robbie Norris, who runs the Richmond City Prison Yoga project, for the past two years. He is about to open a school in downtown Richmond that will gear itself towards providing a safe space for inmates who have been released from prison to come, practice, meditate, and re-engage with society.

Ruth Tracey will be his first assistant.

Here is just a little bit of Ruth’s testimony. It’s all at the above link to Eddie’s blog:

By the time I was 17 I became interested in yoga again. By then I was already a criminal, though I hadn’t been caught yet. I feel ashamed, yet oddly get a sense of freedom admitting that I stole books — among other things my parents couldn’t or wouldn’t buy me –books on various religions and spiritual systems, languages, yoga and philosophy. Paradoxical, yes, very. I was excited about yoga, but my interest in it was very superficial — focusing solely on the positions, completely underestimating the importance of or downright ignoring the breathwork and meditation aspects of the practice.

If I can be so brash to suggest it, this kind of work puts yoga lawsuits to shame, right?

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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