Know about yoga & meditation for incarcerated & at-risk youth?

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Serving where it matters most.

This is the second article in a series. To view the first, click here. The next article is here.
The original version of  this article appeared on the YogacityNYC website.

A charismatic teenage boy in the film ‘The Fire Of  Yoga’ says:

“Personally, I’m a little violent, but, you know, I think I need yoga and meditation, ‘cause all the scars on my body and shit – ‘scuse my French – you know, I need something to calm me down besides hydros [hydrocodone, painkillers] and liquor and girls and the purple [pot]. I know yoga and meditation calms the spirit and gives you a sense and everything, so I’m going to look into that.”

In the US, where black youth are four times as likely as their white peers to be incarcerated, this boy was lucky to be on the streets, merely at-risk. In New York, the only state in the nation that incarcerates 16-year olds as adults, minors end up in the city’s jail at Riker’s Island awaiting adjudication for any offense, including misdemeanors.

An increasing number of yoga teachers are going into secure detention centers and organizations for at-risk youth all around the country to try and teach these kids yoga and meditation, to help them respond calmly to situations that might otherwise end in violence.

Teaching in a lock-down house isn’t exactly like working in a warm, well-lit studio. With this in mind, the Lineage Project in New York City developed a specific model for its classes, which have a theme and three parts: introductions, asanas and meditation. Bart Van Melik, a Lineage instructor who also teaches vipassana meditation says the structure helps the teens connect and participate. At the beginning of the class the students sit in a circle, and if the theme is “patience”, they might be asked to think of ways in which they know how to be patient. Teachers will stick to the theme throughout the class. Patience may be required to practice postures correctly, or to hold them, or sometimes to do them at all.

Liz Donnely, who teaches at  a New York’s OCFS Residential Facility, describes Talia, a 14-year old girl, as she makes a concerned effort to do the postures, scrunching up her nose, breathing belabored. After meditation, in the last moments of class, the girls are asked to reflect on the concept of patience: “Can you think of a time when you were not patient?” Talia responds: “Yeah, when I was upstate [referring her to time in a locked detention center] I didn’t have no patience. I just wanted to be out. But then when I was out, it was like I was still locked up, my mind was still locked up.”

Bart Van Melik’s greatest challenge in his job at Lineage is that sometimes what the kids share about their lives is so hard he wishes he could take them home with him.  “Whatever brought them there has so much to do with their condition and environment,” he says. “Sometimes, they’ve even told me: “Well, Bart, prison sucks, but at least I have three meals a day and I’m physically safe at the moment.” It’s hard, to hear that from a 14-year old.”

Miguel Gonzalez was incarcerated for armed robbery when he was 15, and released when he was 19. “Being incarcerated was a very interesting journey for me,” he says. “I had to deal with the trials and tribulations I had to deal with in the streets, now with my freedom taken away from me. I chose to rehabilitate myself by educating myself and exploring other things in life such as meditation and yoga, and asking myself questions, like what do I want to be, or what do I want to do when I get released?”

After his release, Miguel decided to get involved with Lineage. Lineage Founder Soren Gordhamer: “I think when we look at Miguel we see a wonderful example of someone who maybe doesn’t do the most perfect asanas in the world or doesn’t have the most developed meditation practice, but you see that he’s been impacted by the practice and wants to help people. Miguel shows us that yoga isn’t so much about doing it perfectly, but about transforming and opening the heart to service.”

Miguel tells a small group of students that he is there “to give you guys what I was given so it could help you in the same way it helped me, so you don’t have to be incarcerated ever in your life, and have to lose something that you don’t want to lose.”

At the end of the class, a young teenager named Travis says: “When I came in, it felt like my body was tense, like I couldn’t really move as much, but I’ve got more relaxed now. I feel like I could do like 15 back flips right now. I feel like, I feel like I’m just invincible, Yo! Like I feel I’m light!”

19 Year old Kayla, a yoga student at Brooklyn Job Corps, poignantly expresses what the classes are doing for her, and what every yoga teacher would wish for: “Before learning yoga if I got angry I would hurt someone. So not only is my life saved but their life is saved from me.”

If you are frustrated by the high rates of youth incarceration and the disproportionate confinement of racial minorities from low-income neighborhoods, consider a Teacher Training.

Please help me by posting other links into the comment box, and I’ll add them to the list.

For info in New York, check out

A TT manual can be purchased at

Online TT’s (by Webinar) taught by Fleet Maull and Kate Crisp, The Path of Freedom Integral Peacemaker Training (integral transformative justice). Next training begins April 25, 2011. Network

The Yogi Inmate Collaborative is another program by the Prison Dharma Network

In Los Angeles, beginning April 3, TT begins with Hala Khouri and more.

TT’s all around the country through Off The Mat Into The World:

Based in Los Angeles, Jailhouse offers TT’s nationwide.

New Leaf Yoga in Toronto accepts teaching volunteers, more info at

Street Yoga has nationwide Teacher Trainings and programs in Portland, Seattle and New York City.

In San Francisco, Youth Yoga Dharma offers TT’s. Here’s the link:

Om4Youth – teaching yoga & art to at-risk youth (Canada) offers TT’s:

For yoga teachers with prior experience working with at-risk youth: The Art of Yoga Project – for teen girls in the California Juvenile System

In Portland, OR, you can register for volunteer Teacher Training with Living Yoga:

In Seattle, WA, you can upgrade your 200-hour certified TT with volunteer training with Yoga Behind Bars:

Upcoming TT’s in North Carolina, Detroit and Toronto, offered through Krishna Kaur’s organization Y.O.G.A. For Youth: meditation and Kundalini yoga:

More in New York, the School for Compassionate Action offers TT’s for teaching at-risk youth

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Anneke Lucas

Anneke Lucas is the director of Liberation Prison Yoga in New York. She currently teaches or supervises yoga and meditation classes at five facilities, to both male and female inmates and youth, and places trained yoga instructors in prisons and jails. Serving in prisons synthesizes Anneke’s experiences with psycho-therapy, meditation and ashtanga yoga, bringing physical therapy, mindful awareness and peace to students whose backgrounds often resemble her own – in spite of appearances. Anneke graduated from the American Film Institute as a screenwriter and published a novel in her home country Belgium. She is currently working on a memoir about her childhood.

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anonymous Apr 9, 2014 5:45pm

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anonymous May 14, 2013 11:09am

Fastidious dialogue. I’ve occassionally found it hard to find an incarcerated buddy. Here is a article: inmate location tool that sort of helped me to go in the right direction for my search.

anonymous Sep 9, 2012 2:33pm

[…] Yoga for Recovery is looking for volunteers! If you’re a female yoga teacher in the Chicago area, please contact Lisa Duncan at lduncanvh [at] If you don’t live in the area but are interested in learning more about this type of work, a list of good resources can be found here. […]

anonymous Feb 10, 2012 5:41pm

[…] Yoga Series. Read Part 1: ‘Do Prisoners Deserve Yoga’ with photos by Robert Sturman; Part 2: ‘Serve Where it Matters: Yoga and Meditation to Incarcerated and at-risk Youth, with list of training programs, Part 3: Interviews with San Quentin prisoners with photos by […]

anonymous Jan 12, 2012 1:44am

[…] […]

anonymous Dec 1, 2011 8:54pm

[…] […]

anonymous Oct 28, 2011 10:26am

[…] Know about yoga & mediation for at-risk & incarcerated youth […]

anonymous Oct 2, 2011 2:33am

[…] Yoga for Recovery is looking for volunteers! If you’re a female yoga teacher in the Chicago area, please contact Lisa Duncan at lduncanvh [at] If you don’t live in the area but are interested in learning more about this type of work, a list of good resources can be found here. […]

anonymous Sep 27, 2011 7:25am

[…] but are interested in learning more about this type of work, a list of good resources can be found here. Related Posts on Yoga Modern: “Just” Teaching Yoga Yoga Teachers, Why Do You Teach? […]

anonymous Jun 6, 2011 8:47pm

[…] is Part 4 of a series on Prison Yoga. Click here to see Part 1, Part 2 and Part […]

anonymous May 9, 2011 12:15pm

[…] […]

anonymous May 6, 2011 12:29pm

[…] Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on […]

anonymous Apr 14, 2011 6:00pm

[…] I would love to see this tradition of social engagement reinvigorated in the yoga community today. Happily, there are signs that this may be happening. Just in recent weeks, right here on Elephant Journal (an oh so fittingly named reference for this post!), there’s been socially relevant work that: a) insists that yoga is for EVERY body and that even implicit messages that assign value on the basis of physical appearance are profoundly objectionable; b) supports the growing movement to bring yoga to those who need it most, including adult prisoners and children and youths in detention centers; […]

anonymous Mar 31, 2011 11:26am

Thank you, Carrie. I know you really know about helping others!

anonymous Mar 31, 2011 9:26am

Love this nothing is better for the soul the helping others improve them selves namaste

anonymous Mar 30, 2011 8:06pm

Shiva, thank you. I look forward to reading your book and meeting you at the prison!

anonymous Mar 30, 2011 2:21pm

This is wonderful work. The adults I work with are often a bit bewildered about the chain of events leading to their incarceration. Even a small shift toward accessing the infinite well of inner serenity available through yoga and meditation helps them immensely. Thank you so much for writing about this. My book with yoga and meditation practices and my experience working in the prisons is now available on amazon. See details at the blog or at

anonymous Mar 28, 2011 6:55pm

Michelle, thank you for your comment. I read your article and enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing. Have a great training with Street Yoga in Portland! I'm so glad there are so many readers involved or getting involved, going to teach yoga where it matters most! Nothing but kudo's to you!

anonymous Mar 28, 2011 1:27pm

I am scheduled to do a training, Anneke, through Street Yoga in Portland (though I live in LA) but it's great to have the resources you posted as well. Thank you. And thank you for shining a light so that more people can know not only about what exists but what is needed – and how they can help. So powerful. Thank you…Michelle
my recent article on EJ:

anonymous Mar 28, 2011 9:08am

[…] Know about yoga & meditation for incarcerated & at-risk youth? […]

anonymous Mar 27, 2011 1:29pm

Kate, found them. Thank you!

anonymous Mar 27, 2011 4:28am

Teaching meditation, yoga and contemplative practices to prisoners worldwide.

anonymous Mar 26, 2011 7:07pm

Y.O.G.A for Youth – Krishna Kaur's organization working with at-risk and incarcerated youth – teaching mainly Kundalini yoga and meditation techniques.

anonymous Mar 26, 2011 11:57am

[…] arts at all, but I was looking for something more personal. I was looking for help with my general teenage struggles and my problems with aggression and […]

anonymous Mar 26, 2011 7:20am

Benjy, Thanks so much for sharing and for those two links. I had contacted Yoga Behind Bars in Seattle for this series of articles and didn't even realize they also teach yoga and meditation to incarcerated youth.

anonymous Mar 25, 2011 12:06pm

Anneke, this is truly sacred work, and I SO appreciate your sharing about this realm.

There are two excellent organizations here in the Pacific NW that are helping to facilitate yoga, meditation & kirtan in NW prisons: (Yoga Behind Bars) in Washington and (Living Yoga) here in Oregon. Heather & I have presented benefits for both of these groups in the last two years, and I GREATLY encourage others to seek out and support such organizations in their home regions.

I'd also like to invite the readers to a glimpse of what it feels like to be given the opportunity to share sacred practice in the prisons; I was forever transformed by my experience, which I wrote about in my blog at….


anonymous Mar 24, 2011 7:25pm

Thank for your writing.

    anonymous Mar 24, 2011 7:48pm

    Jules, if you are the Jules I think you are, thank you for everything you do with at-risk youth. I'm your fan. And if you're not that Jules, thank you for your kind words.

Bob Weisenberg Mar 24, 2011 4:03pm

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

anonymous Mar 24, 2011 11:38am

[…] This is the first article in a series. The second can be viewed by clicking here. […]

anonymous Mar 24, 2011 11:13am

Meg, thank you for your words. It means a lot. I am also looking forward to speaking with you, and also very much looking forward to reading your own article here on Elephant!

anonymous Mar 24, 2011 10:16am

So well written, and phenomenal pics. So moved, Anneke. Thanks for doing this and for writing about it. Looking forward to talking more. -Meg

anonymous Mar 24, 2011 9:25am

Thanks Anneke. In the words of a visionary gone before — in fact one whose life could well have been spent being incarcerated — Tupac Shakur — "only God can judge me." Your piece re-affirms for me what is possible when we gather in community — and indeed, help where it matters most. When I returned to Jamaica for a brief spell in 2008, this was a vision that I held — taking yoga into inner city communities and women's prisons. The support I garnered was negligible at best. Thankfully, things are shifting. I am committed to yoga that raises consciousness and creates community. Irrespective of what our history may be when we are more conscious, we are more aware and therefore are likely to be more mindful of the choices that we make. Better yet, through conscious awareness, we come to realise that there is a choice and consequence in all of our actions. Especially loved the end where by listing out services available for others to join, there is a clear call to action. Many want to help, they just don't know how and where to begin. Bless Up, Nadine!

    anonymous Mar 24, 2011 11:10am

    Nadine, Hats off to you for taking yoga into inner city communities in Jamaica, with hardly any support. It takes visionaries like yourself to get momentum going. I'm grateful for your insightful comments, and so agree with you about the mindfulness aspect of yoga being vital to teaching in the underserved communities. That is why I speak of yoga and meditation, as yoga in the west is rarely understood for what it truly is.

anonymous Mar 24, 2011 9:16am

There are a couple more organization doing great things for at risk youth including:
The Art of Yoga Project – for teen girls in the California Juvenile System
The Mind Body Awareness Project – teaching mindful meditation & emotional intelligence to at risk & incarcerated youth (Oakland)
Om4Youth – teaching yoga & art to at-risk youth (Canada)

Also you may be interested in this radio interview with founder of New Leaf Project – Laura Sygrove

    anonymous Mar 24, 2011 10:31am

    Donna, thank you for the links. I posted the ones that have Teacher Training programs, and The Heart Of Yoga Project is looking for yoga teachers with prior experience. But the other links are in your post, and well worth checking out.

anonymous Mar 24, 2011 7:05am

Thank you. I found this very insightful. Next month I will be participating at a Health & Fitness event for youth in foster care. I will have a limited time to show them what yoga is about, but even if it touches one child, it will be worth it. Thank you for your great work.

    anonymous Mar 24, 2011 10:28am

    Blissful Girl, good luck at the Health & Fitness event for youth in foster care next month! You and the teachers I write about are my heroes! Thank you for the good work!

anonymous Mar 25, 2011 8:49pm

How great is that! Thank you for sharing this, Debbie. It's beautiful and heartwarming. And I hope they do too.

anonymous Apr 4, 2011 9:08am

"The simple point of the sentence in my article is that adolescents are sent to Riker's Island even for misdemeanors"

You seem enormously confused. The sentence still makes little sense. Do you not understand what a misdemeanor is?