MICHIGAN CITY – In addition to a healthy workout, inmates at the Indiana State Prison taking part in a new program are learning impulse control with a goal of breaking negative behavior patterns.

The Prison Yoga Project, which recently launched as ISP, is part of the Insight Prison Project Restorative Justice Program, which covers emotional literacy and violence prevention work with offenders.

Indiana State Prison Deputy Warden of Re-Entry Dawn Buss said the program is gaining in popularity nationwide.

"The Prison Yoga Project, founded by certified yoga instructor James Fox, is part of an integrative health program originally developed at San Quentin State Prison that includes yoga and meditation," Buss said. "After its inception, the program expanded to the public sector and then to other correctional facilities throughout the United States."

The goal is both health and offender rehabilitation, she said.

"The program was brought to the ISP through a community effort and serves as a tool for developing impulse control to help offenders break free of negative behavioral patterns," Buss said.

"In addition, offenders who participate in the program will learn mindful awareness, postures such as Asanas, conscious breathing and the eight limbs of yoga. The practices help offenders to gain insight into unconscious patterns of thinking and compulsive behavior."

She said such skills play a big role in lowering the recidivism rate.

“Our research for the Yoga class lead us to the Prison Yoga Project, which believes that if you want to change the people that are going to return to your community you need to make sure that they are learning the skills to deal with anger, relax and how to remain calm in intense situations," the deputy warden said.

"Some of the participants says that yoga class is the most peaceful time of the week."

At ISP, the program is voluntary for inmates and meets weekly, according to spokeswoman Pamela James.

"We are in the seventh week of the first class and there are 12 offenders enrolled in the class. There is a waiting list for the next class," she said.

"We are getting positive feedback from the offenders, stating the class has helped them relax and sleep much better."

ISP has a Staff Recreation Leader instructing the class, along with an offender who has a background in yoga.

The facility is currently seeking qualified candidates to volunteer teaching pro-social activities and programs to offenders. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact DOCOutreach@idoc.in.gov for more information.

Not just for physical health

Prison Yoga Project supports incarcerated people with trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness practices to promote rehabilitation, reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

The program:

• Provides trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness practices as a means of self-empowerment and self-rehabilitation

• Reduces the physical, mental, and emotional impacts and healthcare costs associated with stress and unresolved trauma

• Develops the self-awareness, self-worth, empathy, and compassion that leads to positive personal and pro-social choices

• Fosters a more peaceful and humane incarceration environment for incarcerated people and staff

• Reduces the rate of recidivism among formerly incarcerated people

• Supports the people it serves in their ability to connect with their higher selves

• Publishes and distributes educational materials (books, and audio/video programs) to support personal yoga and mindfulness practices

• Assists prisons, governmental agencies, private entities, and individuals in establishing trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness programs

• Provides training in the rationale, practicalities, and methodology for providing trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness programs

The Prison Yoga Project is fiscally sponsored by Give Back Yoga Foundation, a 501(c)(3) corporation. For more information visit prisonyoga.org.

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