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Prisoners do Yoga: New Delhi

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The reformative aspects of Yoga and other meditative practices have been gaining traction in some of the world’s most notorious correctional facilities. In a December 29 article in the Deccan Herald, Indian journalist Shiv Sunny chronicled a recently launched initiative in New Delhi: Yoga instruction for prisoners at the Tihar Prisons. As one of the largest prisons in Southeast Asia, the Tihar prison system is home to approximately 12,000 inmates, though it is only sanctioned to hold 5,200.

Much like other facilities that have pushed for inmates to try the therapeutic practices of meditation and Yoga, the Tihar Jail encourages its inmates to develop vocational skills and self-esteem through work programs and education. One notable program provides the inmates with music therapy and the opportunity for musical concerts. But now jail administrators have turned to an ancient practice that can inspire the same euphoria as the joy of music: meditation.

Started on December 30, over 5,000 inmates have enrolled in an instructional program that provides them with lessons in meditation, Yoga, and breathing exercises. This initiative is part of a four-day lecture series that seeks to train as many inmates as possible in the short period provided by jail officials. By the end of the series, 50 prisoners will be selected to enter an additional six-month training program that will enable them to become teachers of the same practices being provided today. The initiative was organized by the NGO Art of Living.

This program presents yet another step forward for the global incarceration system and its rehabilitative strategies. The treatment of prisoners has long been a challenge for governments everywhere, and many correctional facilities face significant set-backs in their attempts to convert violent or misguided offenders into law-abiding citizens. Meditation is one such practice that does not require extensive resources or policy changes to implement in prison systems everywhere. In the United States, Mexico, and now India, there are an increasing number of advocates for meditative practices as a solution to our planet’s massively over-populated prison systems. Rather than denying these offenders a second chance, we can provide them with the critical thinking skills, emotional stability, and self-esteem they need to operate as happy, healthy people. Each prison program devoted to teaching Yoga and meditation has scores of converts in its wake to testify to the success of mindfulness practices and the hope they can give.

One prisoner from Tihar that participated said: "I have attempted suicide on numerous occasions, but now I feel my life has some meaning. I look forward to my release so I can do something constructive outside." Not every prisoner has such a grim outlook, but for those in dark places, a single ray of hope can be enough for a transformational experience.

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