Yoga Studios are The New RecYard
Posted by nate on October 28, 2008 at 02:00pm
By Ankitha Bharadwaj
Erin: Now inhale, reach the arms up toward the ceiling.
What's the New What?
Erin: And hold for three breaths.
Well, I think yoga studios are the new prison rec yards.
See, our newsroom's been hearing stories of juvenile facilities around the country offering yoga as a form of exercise, and even rehabilitation. So I figured yoga classes might be replacing the recreation yard made infamous in the movies. You know, muscular inmates lifting weights, or playing a hardcore game of tackle football in the prison yard.
(Exhale, left foot back.)
To test out the whole "new rec yard" theory, we went to Alameda County Juvenile Hall in the San Francisco Bay Area, where yoga is offered five days a week. Madeline Nelson is a guidance counselor at the Hall who sees yoga as an expansion of mental health services. In one case, she used yoga practices to help an inmate who was having trouble sleeping.
Nelson: "And so I talk about relaxation techniques, and the breathing and he went, "Oh you mean like in yoga? "Yea like in yoga" "Oh I can do that" And so I think what happens is that it I think it can have a lasting effect in terms of some techniques they can use just to manage their own emotions."
The Baddest: "Now you're gonna bend your forearm over your knee."
This 16-year-old goes by the nickname the Baddest.
The Baddest: "Most likely when you go to rec, someone is going to come at you, someone said this, someone said this."
Unlike rec, where brawls can erupt, the Baddest says yoga class provides an oasis of calm within chaotic juvenile hall.
Alex Briscoe, deputy director for Alameda County's Health Care Services Agency, says he sees the yoga program as a novel approach to therapy for juvenile wards.
I think it's an investment in young people's own power and personal intelligence.
According to Briscoe, it's too early to tell whether yoga has contributed to the recent drop in violence at Alameda County's juvenile hall. One thing's for sure. Briscoe says the yoga classes provide much more than just a physical release.
Briscoe: "Our yoga program, it supports academic instruction, mental service delivery, positive milieu, young people's ability to be responsible, quite frankly we hope it supports a cultural change for the staff at correctional settings."
So the bottom line? The yoga program at Alameda County Juvenile hall is designed to help inmates gain transformative life skills that they can use in and outside juvenile hall. And who knows, juvenile hall yoga might bring a new face to your vinyasa class, like a 15-year-old yogi whose side arm balance beats the yoga pants off yours.
Video by Nate Hadden