“The people who know best what tools are needed to serve incarcerated people are those who are incarcerated themselves,” says Program Director Jess Frank. “Not only will it give them incredible tools while they’re incarcerated, it’s also a way for them to have … a part-time job” upon release.
But teaching yoga in prisons requires special skills, and “trauma-informed” teaching is a central philosophy of the program. The curriculum for the day I attended included sessions on the impact of trauma on the brain and included tips for yoga teachers, such as “offer your students choices,” “animate your voice and face” and be aware that “people may not feel safe in their bodies.”
Frank explains that, while not everyone in prison has post-traumatic stress disorder, prison is often a stressful environment, and many incarcerated people have experienced past traumas.
Frank says symptoms of lingering trauma, such as hyper-vigilance, trouble sleeping, short tempers and overblown reactions are common among inmates. And yoga, with its emphasis on meditation and physical and mental integration, can help.
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