We usually associate the word “yoga” with peace, tranquility, compassion, and harmlessness. Rarely do the grim faces of drug addiction, theft, and even murder become conjured up when you think about this ancient practice of meditation and self-evolution. But that is exactly the gap that is being bridged in Mexican prisons these days.
For the past three months, 90 prisoners in a Mexico City prison have been receiving weekly yoga classes in attempt to rehabilitate these hardened prisoners and drug addicts. Under the direction of a yoga and meditation teacher, this video shows how these inmates are learning the immensely powerful benefits of the mind’s ability to transcend a difficult moment or situation.
Rather than giving in to the thoughts and behavior of violence and destruction, they instead, search deep within their spirit to connect with their own humanity and cultivate feelings of compassion, empathy and stillness as they watch their thoughts and emotions wax and eventually wane. The benefits that meditation and yoga have brought to these inmates is no different than for the millions of Americans who have turned to yoga as their sanctuary to offer relief for the suffering experienced in their own lives.
Most of us are not criminals, but we have all had thoughts of violence and harm with the difference being that we sit on these thoughts rather than acting them out like these prisoners have. As a yoga practitioner for the past six years and as a health professional who has worked with drug addicts and criminals, most prison systems around the world, do little to truly rehabilitate the offender.
Our prison system is just one example. With a recidivism rate of 67 percent of former inmates released from U.S. state prisons who return to jail within three years are bleak and ugly figures. Something needs to change. Many juvenile and adult correctional facilities around this country are employing yoga as a means of rehabilitation. In fact, I have a few yoga colleagues who generously offer their teaching expertise and compassion to inmates on a regular basis. Maybe yoga is the answer, or at least a partial answer, to stop the cycle of prisons from being “crime colleges” that prime criminals to commit additional and sometimes more serious crimes following their release.
Most individuals who take up a consistent yoga practice in combination with a meditation practice exhibit more control in their dysfunctional behaviors. They also gain a more acute awareness of their mind and spirit’s power to not get usurped by destructive thoughts which run the risk of leading to dangerous actions. From my vantage point, all of us, prisoners and non-prisoners alike, could benefit from the calming and introspective practice of engaging in regular yoga and meditation.