This blog post was originally posted on Transformation Yoga Project's blog on May 16, 2016.
What does yoga mean to you? Why do you practice?
We all have our personal reasons why we practice. For the 15 men at Graterford state prison enrolled in Transformation Yoga’s first 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training certification program, which began this month, the answer is simple yet profound: Yoga means Freedom.
Freedom…literally and figuratively. Freedom means finding non-violent ways to deal with violent situations. Freedom means having the strength to live an authentic life in an environment which demeans the human spirit. Freedom means finding joy in the present moment in a joyless environment.
TYP’s Teacher Training is unique. It provides an intensive study of both the philosophy and practical application of yoga. But it does all of this within the context of the criminal justice system while preparing the men who will be released back into the community with tangible skills and career options.
The program goes well beyond the physical practice. It involves intense inquiry in ways to apply yoga’s moral principles (yamas and niyamas), to cultivating self-care, repairing fractured relationships, coping with shame and disappointment, and identifying approaches for living a meaningful life.
We have been thrilled - even stunned - by the intensity, commitment and insight gleaned from these men. The level of participation, learning, and sharing greatly exceeds anything we have seen in studio-based training programs. It seems that the level of intensity of the living environment directly correlates to the intensity of the breakthrough. You can literally see old non-serving patterns (samskaras) being re-worked into vehicles of growth and self-inquiry.
Why teach people who are incarcerated to become yoga teachers? I’ve heard this question many times as well as the comments and judgements including “they deserve what they got, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time, taxpayers shouldn’t be funding ‘recreational’ programs for felons” and many others.
There are two strong motivators for training people to become certified yoga teachers ‘behind the walls’.
Firstly, it’s about simple math. There are over 4,000 men in Graterford, Pennsylvania's largest maximum-security prison! We can only reach 20 of them at a time in our classes…in fact, there are wait lists to get into the program. We have seen the life transforming impact yoga has had on the few who can attend our classes. Training more instructors will reach more people within the prison. More should and can be done to reach those men who are committed to working on self-inquiry and personal freedom.
Secondly, over 90% of people in prison will eventually be released back into our communities. Mindful of this fact, our curriculum contains a re-entry program for men who will be released within the next couple of years. Transformation Yoga Project will work to place men into teaching positions either within our organization or within the community.
We have a moral obligation to returning citizens and our neighbors to provide the tools for successful reintegration. It is simply unacceptable that about 66% of people released from incarceration return to prison or jail within three years of release.
Our next step will be to work with probation and parole officers to make this job option a reality. We strongly and passionately believe that providing tangible skills and training will assist these men in finding meaningful employment and a renewed sense of self-worth.
This program is funded solely through donations from individuals who care about our fellow man and woman. Not a penny comes from taxpayers.
Earning a recognized professional certification will empower these men as they regain a sense of their own abilities and worth. With continued and increased support from people like you who care, we will be able to offer more growth and healing through yoga classes and teacher training programs!
This blog post was originally featured on Transformation Yoga Project's website. To learn more about the organization, go to transformationyogaproject.org.