Prison Yoga Project

By Kristina Hall

Tattooed prisoners sit in quiet meditation or Yoga poses while incarcerated in prison. Several studies state that inmates who were taught Yoga while in prison were significantly less likely to become recidivists after release. This seems to be especially true with substance abuse offenders.

A 2002 study at Seattle's North Rehabilitation Facility found that the recidivism rate for inmates who took a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat was 56%, a 25% improvement over recidivism rates for the general inmate population.  Image courtesy

In 2002, James Fox introduced Yoga to the San Quentin Penitentiary with the goal of healing addictions, promoting emotional literacy, facilitating conflict resolution, and preventing violence. Thus was born the Prison Yoga Project. The Project believes in restorative justice, by providing prisoners tools for self-rehabilitation. Yoga practices help prisoners realize self-control and foster accountability.

Most men in prison have become disassociated from their feelings and bodies as a result of neglect or abuse in their backgrounds, violent behavior, and/or alcohol and drug abuse. The Prison Yoga Project helps students to reclaim sensitivity to themselves through a practice of self-awareness and self-control that instills non-reactivity and self-acceptance.

The classes help to free the mind and body from confusion and distress, allowing one to be at peace and receptive to learning new ways of thinking by engaging students in an appealing, yet challenging practice of postures (asanas), conscious breathing (pranayama), and short periods of meditation.

Discipline of the mind and body is emphasized as integral for developing positive behavioral habits and impulse control. The ethical code of conduct and behavior that defines a Yoga practitioner’s way of life is underscored. The Program also promotes non-competitiveness and intentionally fosters community building through cooperative group participation.

The Prison Yoga Project is affiliated with Give Back Yoga Foundation which believes in making Yoga available to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience the powerful transformational benefits of Yoga. The Give Back Yoga Foundation supports funding for certified Yoga instructors interested in teaching at-risk populations in prisons, rehabilitation facilities, and community programs. 

The Prison Yoga Project advises prisons, private entities, and individuals about establishing Yoga programs as part of a rehabilitation program, and provides an already proven, effective curriculum and facilitation protocol.