Way back on season one of Orange is the New Black, one of the first people Chapman meets upon getting to prison is Yoga Jones, who tells her the significance of a mandala and the importance of using her time there to do something meaningful. It’s an important piece of advice for Chapman as she sets out to do her time and for the audience in general. Now in season four, Yoga Jones seems to still be on her teaching hiatus, but that doesn’t stop her from dispensing her yogic wisdom (even if it does come off a little hypocritical at times).
Also dispensing yogic wisdom in prisons around the US is the Prison Yoga Project, a non-profit organization founded in 2002 by James Fox. Having grown exponentially since then, the Prison Yoga Project trains yoga instructors to teach yoga and mindfulness to incarcerated men and women, helping them overcome the trauma and violence they’ve experienced.
Prison Yoga Project’s Mission
Anyone who’s gotten into yoga can tell you that it’s about more than just the asanas, or postures; truly living the yogi lifestyle transforms the mind and spirit, as well as the body. This is the idea and driving force behind the Prison Yoga Project.
“Most prisoners suffer from Complex Trauma, chronic interpersonal trauma experienced early in life,” the Prison Yoga Project’s Mission Statement explains. “Carrying unresolved trauma into their lives impacts everything they do, often landing them in prison, where they experience even more trauma…Our objective is to provide prisoners with a mindfulness tool to draw on their yoga practice when they’re not doing yoga.”
Yoga teachers working within the prisons bring with them the belief that yoga, more specifically mindfulness yoga, is an effective way to release deeply held, unresolved trauma, helping prisoners to turn over a new leaf. “By putting the men and women back in touch with their bodies, they begin to care more about themselves and understand the harm they have caused.”
These are the first steps to restoring the connection between the mind, heart, and body. Once we begin working toward that connection, we begin to feel empathy for ourselves and others. This empathy, when encouraged, leads to compassion. It’s through this compassion that the Prison Yoga Project hopes to interrupt the cycle of violence in the lives of the men and women they help.
How You Can Help
Through the success of the Prison Yoga Project over the years, more and more prisons are realizing the benefits of emotionally healthy prisoners. By allowing a program that helps these men and women learn to overcome their unresolved trauma, the prisons with programs implemented have seen calmer, healthier prisoners with less chaos and lower costs.
There are more than 4,500 prisons in our country, and the Prison Yoga Project is working tirelessly to provide more local trainings to help get the yoga classes up and running, as well as provide more mats, equipment, and books for facilities without access to a regular yoga teacher at the moment. Through their website, you can help by making a donation, sending a yoga manual to an inmate, or by training to teach.
PYP Teacher Training
In their 13 years experience at San Quentin State Prison in California, the Prison Yoga Project has learned how to use yoga and mindfulness to change trauma-influenced, unconscious behavioral patterns, focusing on impulse control, mood disorders, despair, violence prevention, addiction, and PTSD.
The Prison Yoga Project has multiple training sessions for yoga teachers across the country interested in helping incarcerated men and women with the transformational, rehabilitative power of yoga. They also provide workshop documents for those who want to read more of the research behind prison yoga.
Kat Wiseman is a content writer for Span Enterprises in Rock Hill, SC. She has a B.A. in English-Creative Writing from Winthrop University and her RYT 200 from Yoga Alliance. When she's not writing or doing yoga, she enjoys Netflix marathons, mystery novels, and being at the beach.