Another benefit to yoga in jail: Better fathers

A study unveiled this summer reaches a wonderful conclusion: Combining yoga practice with parenting classes for inmates can help them be better fathers.

Here’s a link to the study. From the conclusion:

These results also provide preliminary evidence that yoga and mindfulness combined with parenting education may benefit incarcerated fathers personally, in terms of self-awareness, resilience and parenting knowledge, which may in turn improve actual parenting behaviors. The outcomes also suggest that physical and intentional, guided yoga practices may have built participants’ capacities for assimilating new ideas and concepts, retaining and applying information shared in both the yoga and parent education sessions. Given the growing popularity of yoga and the availability of yoga instructors trained to teach in specialized settings, yoga shows promise for offering an accessible intervention with large potential returns.

The yoga part took place after the parenting session (for a variety of reasons). You might think the other way around would be better to get the inmates in the right frame of mind. But the researchers found that this sequence allowed the inmates to process what they’d just learned.

Now, this study wasn’t without some significant limitations, as it notes. But it did occur over three years with 14 different groups of men. (A big limitation: No control group.) And they are hoping to do more studies, given the findings.

Posted by Steve

Take ‘time’ to read this

Prison yoga seems to be a subtopic here. Perhaps it reflects that we’re all imprisoned in the maya of this world and our roundabout on the karmic wheel.

Whatever the reason, you might find your way closer to reaching realize if you read Tim Miller’s blog post this week:

Apparently there are quite a few inmates on death row that practice yoga of some kind, but, at this point, Tony is the only one who is proficient enough to do the complete primary series with all of the vinyasas. A couple of Tony’s “brothers on the row” have also started to practice ashtanga yoga, and he has been mentoring them to some extent. I told Tony to feel free to write me with any questions about the practice and he responded with one about the proper execution (maybe that’s the wrong word) of garbha pindasana. The irony of someone doing garbha pindasana (the embryo in the womb) on death row is not lost on me. Tony warned me that his “brothers on the row” would be writing me with their questions as well, and ended his letter with a P.S. that he saw an article by me in the June issue of the Yoga Journal on Suryanamaskara C, which he plans to start incorporating into his practice.

Read more for more of of Tim’s thoughts on time …

Posted by Steve

From prison to yoga retreat

We’ve highlighted Robbie Norris’ work in the Richmond City Jail a few times. Others, too, are working to bring yoga to current or former inmates.

But this story is about turning a former prison into a yoga retreat:

Two years ago, Shekhar Patel bought Camp Georgetown for $241,000 with plans to open a seasonal camp for high school students to foster their interest in sciences and technology. He had planned to open the camp this past spring.

That didn’t happen. Instead, he’s now considering a year-round yoga and retreat center for the Madison County site.

“We do see there is good potential,” Patel said in April. “There is a lot of interest from the investors.”

He still wants to open the science camp for teens, after getting the place open for year-round yoga business.

He’s serious. So serious, he says, he quit his job at PepsiCo to work on the Georgetown project full-time. He says he visits the site often, driving 3 ½ hours from Westchester County to the southeastern tip of Madison County.

I’d think someone might imagine a world where all the prisons have become yoga retreats.

Posted by Steve

Doing time, even if we’re innocent

Another must-read from Tim Miller this week:

Last week I received a letter from a man named Tony Egbuna Ford.  Tony wrote, “I am on Texas Death Row, and I have been doing Ashtanga Yoga for well over a year.  I am pretty proficient with the Primary series and have no problem doing any of the sequences with vinyasa.  However, I’m ‘stuck’ as I wish to find literature not only so that I can enrich myself with Ashtanga Yoga knowledge, but also so that I can begin to practice Intermediate series onto the Advanced.  Here on death row there is a ‘yoga movement’!  And now, since people have been seeing me do Ashtanga Yoga, especially the vinyasa sequences, people have been inspired to take up the Ashtanga Yoga path!”  I was blown away by Tony’s letter and mailed him a copy of Gregor Maehle’s book on the Intermediate Series the next day.

Here’s where it gets really interesting:

Tony was convicted of murder on the basis of these “eye witness” accounts and sentenced to the death penalty.  No physical evidence linked Tony to the crime and bullets consistent with those used in the crime were found at the Belton’s house.  Victor Belton’s clothing, which was seized at the time of his arrest, had numerous bloodstains on it, but was never tested.  According to the court reporter, during Tony’s trial the prosecuting attorney asked the Murillo’s, who were seeing Tony in person for the first time, if he was, indeed, the shooter.  They looked at each other, shrugged, and said “maybe.”

Find out what Tony’s accomplished during 20-plus years in prison by clicking on the link above. And don’t forget about Robbie Norris’ great work in the Richmond City Jail.

Posted by Steve

Twice the yoga in prison is twice as good

A great update on his work with inmates is over at Robbie Norris’ site.

Via Robbie Norris’ site: Ruth Tracey mid-practice

We touched on it before, via Eddie Stern’s highlighting it, but Robbie adds a little more detail:

With the inception of the non-competitive, anonymously funded grant last September, I added two classes per week for the ladies of the Richmond City Jail, to the two men’s classes I was already teaching. This joint effort between the donor, TCF, Eddie Stern and the Broome Street Temple board, has been helping me reach twice as many inmates with the same daily practice that has been enormously beneficial to me since I began learning it in 2001 — and I am deeply grateful that the six-month, $12,500 grant supporting my teaching has been renewed for a third period.

But here’s the real key: Thanks to a $5,000 grant, Robbie plans to open a yoga space in downtown Richmond for the 700 or so inmates he’s worked with during the past five years:

This is proving to be critical seed money in initiating my dream of opening a practice space downtown where I will invite the approximately 700 folks I’ve taught over the last five and a half years in jail, to come back to class and resume their practices — and encourage them to bring their families, friends, and neighbors to come practice with them at low cost.  The main focus of the new space will be conveying the Primary Series in a way that anyone who desires can learn and practice it independently or in community with others — regardless of his or her fitness level, destructive habits or station in life. My hope is that over time the space will become a cultural melting pot that is also patronized by MCV students and faculty, Sheriff Department employees, college students, and whomever else wants to come.  Ruth Tracey has offered to help me with whatever chores she can in connection with my endeavor, and I look forward to seeing her grow.  I believe she is embarking on a very bright future of being a healing presence in the world.

On our last post, I said it was a reminder of what yoga is all about — I know Robbie won’t like it put that bluntly, but that’s the best way to describe his work.

Oh, and if you didn’t see the photo on Facebook that including Eddie and Tim Miller, and a couple special guests, click here.

Posted by Steve

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

Study: Yoga helps prisoners with mental health issues, could save money

We’ve pointed you in Robbie Norris’ direction a few times. He teaches yoga to prisoners in Richmond, Va.

Now there’s even more science to back up all the great work Robbie is doing.

A study by researchers at Oxford University have completed a 10-week trial on prisoners that discovered a variety of benefits. Per the BBC:

Inmates from West Midlands’ category B and C prisons, a women’s prison and a young offender institution took part.

The team from Oxford University’s Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry measured their mood, stress, impulsivity and mental wellbeing compared to other prisoners.

Dr Bilderbeck said: ‘We found that the group that did the yoga course showed an improvement in positive mood, a decrease in stress and greater accuracy in a computer test of impulsivity and attention.

“Offering yoga sessions in prisons is cheap, much cheaper than other mental health interventions. If it has any effect on addressing mental health problems in prisons, it could save significant amounts of public money.”

The trial was run by the Prison Phoenix Trust charity.

No word on whether there is a lawsuit in the works about forcing religion on those prisoners.

Posted by Steve

This is what yoga should be about

It’s easy, and understandable, to touch on some of the lighter aspects of yoga and Ashtanga. The Ashtanga police, for instance. Who doesn’t like complaining, or not complaining, about them?

And have any of us avoided the Ryan Gosling memes? (Show of hands for those who don’t want to avoid them?)

All of these things may not, really, be critical to our yoga practices. Truth be told.

Other things, though, are. And so I strongly encourage you to read all of the latest post from other friend Robbie Norris. In other words, click that link! Here’s a sample:

During five years, less than one percent of the inmates I’ve met have appeared to me as potentially dangerous.  Mainly they are just people who need love, and help discovering their potential.

Most inmates arrive at their first class heedless of the simple logic of cause and effect, and with no recognition of mind-body awareness.  Both these deficiencies are remedied by a fundamental daily yoga practice.  So many broken bodies which yoga could dramatically heal.  Currently yoga is available to all the female inmates; but on the more populous male side, only those who are on one of the two Program Tiers may participate, which means they must have exhibited some inclination to want to help themselves.  The larger General Population I would greatly enjoy teaching — a possibility that the new jail opening next year will offer.

It’s a real joy to share this transformational self-help.  Kristen Lamb will be exiting the jail having learned a fundamental daily yoga practice that has the potential to change the arc of her life.

You can and should read her “love letter to yoga” at Robbie’s site.

And here’s a link to a “dharma” talk with Richard Freeman, recorded this month.

Posted by Steve

More yoga behind bars, and the Sterns heading to Greenwich


We’ve posted a few items about Robbie Norris, who teaches yoga to inmates at the Richmond City Jail. Our last piece is right here.

Now Eddie Stern — who has worked with Robbie and first introduced us to him — has posted a video about Robbie’s work. Here’s a wonderfully succinct description, by Eddie, of Robbie: “His adherence to teaching the primary series in an effort to instill discipline and self-reliance in the men is extremely admirable – and so is his conviction.”

Here’s the video, to pass the word along :

Speaking of Eddie, I saw on the Facebook that he and his wife, Jocelyne, will be teaching at the new Jois Yoga in Greenwich, Ct. in October. Here’s info for those close enough; admittedly, there isn’t a lot let beyond the dates — Oct. 6-8 — but of note is that nine people already are committed to going. Not sure what the limit might be, but why risk finding out?


After I posted this, I checked over at Robbie’s blog and I think he posted a new piece right about when we did. Since he mentions us, I figure I should note it so you don’t think I’m hiding something.

And, actually, his post is a bit shocking — both on purpose as a humorous gesture and really — so I’d encourage you to read it. It provides another worthwhile take on the NY Times reporter’s yoga injury book. Robbie’s whole approach, as Eddie describes it above, is truly a “reality check” for those of us lucky enough to be able to practice yoga and Ashtanga in supportive, clean, eco-friendly environments.

Here’s just one bit to jump-start your interest:

At least, Bryan Shull actually was practicing yoga at the moment he was injured, in June 2011 at Indian Creek Correctional Center — by another inmate who came up behind Bryan while he was in Virabhadrasana, and swung a lock wrapped inside a washcloth against Bryan’s face, breaking his nose.  Bryan is fine now.  He was put in solitary confinement for protection, and subsequently moved to a different facility — Haynesville Correctional Center — where he has continued to practice without a yoga mat since last July.

Robbie goes on to provide a classic example of the frustrations of bureaucracy. If you can stomach it, read it.

Posted by Steve