Why Are Prisoners Doing Yoga?

When prison inmates do yoga, meditation and Sudarshan Kriya, they experience freedom, are able to forget the past and develop a positive approach to the future.

A discussion on prisoners often evokes a sharp response: "Why should we worry about these people? They are dangerous criminals, rapists and murderers; why complain if they are ill- treated? They deserve it." In the popular mind, prisoners are dangerous criminals and hence deserve no compassion.

But Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of The Art of Living would say otherwise. “Inside every culprit is a victim crying for help. If you heal the victim, you will eliminate crime from the planet.”

To survive when you are not free, away from family and friends, how does a prisoner live through his years in the confinement of his jail? Perhaps with few to console him - guilt, anger, blame, anxiety and frustration becomes his breath. The Art of Living seems to have the answer through yoga and meditation.

Prisoners experience freedom in prison through yoga

Stress Management and Rehabilitation Training (SMART) program was introduced in 1999 in Tihar jail, which is said to harbor India’s most disreputable criminals. Pioneered by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the program puts the prisoners through yoga, a special breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya and meditation.

“Uniting to your Source and being free from struggle and sorrow is yoga,” says Sri Sri. Prisons have prisoners not only to serve sentence but also to improve them to better individuals. Yoga helps provide relief from stress, brings peace in the mind and helps to recover from anxiety, depression, headaches and chronic ailments.

26-year-old Madhav, delighted after the youth Prison SMART program, expressed, “I had decided to go back to my anti-depressants before this (The Art of Living) yoga course, but now I don’t need them. I will practice these techniques every single day for the rest of my life. I only hope other people are lucky enough to take this course. It has given me more help than I could have ever imagined possible. Thank you.” He looks forward to finish his sentence and rejoin mainstream with renewed vision and enthusiasm.

Transforming prisoners, transforming society

A stressed and disturbed mind is the source of all violence. Yoga is restoring the mind to its natural joy and calmness. And violent tendencies give way to understanding and appreciating of life.

The program has witnessed the prisoners get relief from post-traumatic stresses. As a result, their hostility decreases, self-acceptance and social adjustment increases.

“Usually we think that people ruin themselves in jail. But yoga and meditation has given me a new enthusiasm to life. You look inward first so that when you go out you have the power and the confidence within you,” says Mahveer Modi, who wrote the book, Panchva Dham Hai Jail (Fifth abode is Jail) after his miraculous transformation in the Prison SMART course in 2007.

Touched by the transformation of inmates in Sabarmati Jail, C. Thakur additional DG of Police and Inspector General of Prisons, Gujarat State said, “These programs have reduced the stress of prisoners and have developed positive thinking towards their life. Prisoners seem to be more healthy, cheerful and peaceful. In fact, words are inadequate to express my feelings in this regard."

Driven by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s vision for a stress-free, violence-free society, The Art of Living initiatives have touched the lives of over thousands of inmates across India through Prison SMART. As a result, inmates get involved with creative projects in prisons and can join the mainstream with a sense of purpose, after serving their sentence.

If you’re interested in organizing a Prison SMART program near you, write to us at prisoncourses@vvki.net.