June 19, 2011

Yoga Meets the Monster Factory: Prison Yoga Project builds community

Related News: More jail time for drug offenders hasn’t slowed drug use, but has helped drive explosive growth in the federal prison system—There were 800% more inmates in 2013 than 1980 (pewtrusts.org)

Do Prisoners Deserve Yoga? In this part one of a series on Prison Yoga Project‘s training, the value of bringing restorative vs. retributive justice will be explored along with James Fox‘s philosophy around the “mind, body, heart” connection and how getting prisoners in touch with their feelings is an essential step in the process toward recovery, for both the perpetrator, the victim, and society.

Prison Yoga Project hosted their training and fundraiser, Yoga Meets the Monster Factory, June 18 and 19 at Ashtanga Yoga New York.

Photos by Richard Tapper

“When you did what you did that got you into prison, you forgot who you really are.”

~James Fox, founder, Prison Yoga Project, and a sentiment he shares with his students

Practitioners and service-minded professionals attended Prison Yoga Project’s premiere East Coast training with imminent inquiries and observations, with at least one question triggering a round of passionate responses: “How do I justify wanting to serve the incarcerated when I’m often asked, “‘Of all populations to serve, why prisoners?'”

Watercolor by Prison Yoga student, featured in Prison Yoga Project’s book Yoga: A Path to Healing and Recovery

”I used drugs and alcohol for many years basically to kill the pain of my life. Yoga has helped clear my mind, deal with the pain, move into the present and just love myself and who I am.”

~J.B., Prison Yoga Student

A first step may be to examine the media’s portrayal of crime and criminal offenders, as well as our criminal justice system’s enforcement of a retributive justice system which focuses on punishment vs. rehabilitation. With 7.3 million Americans under correctional supervision in the criminal justice system, 2.25 million are warehoused in prisons. One-third of adults in the United States have a felony record. Twenty-three percent of those incarcerated are serving time for non-violent drug offenses. Eighty percent of incarcerated individuals will be released from prison.

“We’re working with prisoners to help them learn how to build a mind, heart, and body connection. Because they weren’t connected to their hearts when they did whatever it is they did that landed them in prison. Prison is a microcosm and reflection of our society. Is there any one of us who isn’t familiar with anxiety, stress and fear? We are all connected on the most basic human level.” James Fox has been working with prisoners for nearly a decade, refining best practices and developing tools for prisoners to come to terms with what brought them to prison in the first place, to reconcile their feelings and their actions, and to bring a sense of self-awareness into prison society and beyond.

Funded by the Give Back Yoga Foundation, the Prison Yoga Project is responding to more than 5,000 requests for copies of their book, Yoga: A Path for Healing and Recovery, available to prisoners across the country who are hungry for a tool to transform their despair, anxiety, and depression.

“When one of us is hungry, we’re all hungry.”

~Beryl Bender Birch, keynote speaker at Yoga Meets the Monster Factory fundraiser in NYC

Supporters, yoga practitioners and activists gathered at Ashtanga Yoga New York for an informative evening of community building with keynote speaker Beryl Bender Birch, founder of the Give Back Yoga Foundation, joining together a unified voice in honor of service yoga.

James Fox, founder of Prison Yoga Project at Yoga Meets the Monster Factory training in NYC June 18 and 19

Listen to James’s interview along with Rob Schware, board member and co-founder of the Give Back Yoga Foundation, on Where Is My Guru. For more information or to request a training, contact [email protected] or visit www.prisonyoga.com.

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