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By Milica Stamenkovic

 Many prisoners have discovered that yoga and meditation can help overcome stress, anxiety, and the strain of life behind bars. The benefits of this relaxing activity involve mental strength, soul strength, and some physical skills. The reaction is usually a skeptical one when told that yoga has a positive effect on prisoners. This is probably because the public considers prisoners cruel and brutal and can’t imagine them doing yoga. Some prison authorities are starting to come around and understand the benefits of doing yoga and they even offer classes in the hope of fostering positive energy.

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In the UK a charity was founded in 1988 with the purpose of bringing yoga and similar meditation disciplines into prisons. Introducing yoga was not easy, since people did not believe that yoga could do any good for poorly behaved criminals who are sentenced from a few years, to a few decades. Information seminars have been held presenting the good sides of yoga. All of the positive discuss gave prison authorities no other choice but to give this discipline of mind and soul a try.

This charity is called Prison Phoenix Trust and today operates in about 80 prisons either running classes or sending books and CDs. The charity’s director Sam Settle gave some insight on the topic and said, “We’re really responding to a need the prisoners are expressing for something to help them with the tremendous amount of mental strain and mental pressure that they’re under.”

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One of the countries where yoga has become an integral part of the prison system is one of the most developed countries in the world, Sweden. The Swedish prison service employs a national yoga co-coordinator, whose job, among other things, is to train prison guards as yoga teachers. The prison in Ystad, in southern Sweden, occupies a group of low brick buildings surrounded by fences topped with razor wire, on the edge of a town that is unusually well-known for a place with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants – this prison in Ystad is a women’s prison, one of five in Sweden. These women would like anything to kill their anxiety, which is normal, considering they are facing months or years of imprisonment. Yoga has made it easier for the prison staff to motivate the women to change the previous behavior that has brought them to prison in the first place. During some group activities there is often a trouble, but when the prisoners are together practicing yoga, it’s never any problem. “Not once over these years has there been a problem with group yoga sessions,” said one of the Ystad staff members. Maybe yoga does have a calming effect on prisoners after all.

 Images from: http://www.theppt.org.uk