Yoga in Prisons

James Fox began teaching yoga to prisoners at San Quentin State Prison in California nine years ago, where he founded the Prison Yoga Project. Recently, he’s been traveling around the country training others how to teach in a prison setting.

We caught up with James before his June 18-19 training in New York City, “Working with Incarcerated Communities,” where he’ll instruct people about how to teach yoga in prisons, addiction recovery facilities, halfway houses, and other rehabilitative facilities.

trikonasana_class.jpgAre your trainings just for yoga teachers?
They are for serious yoga practitioners. They may not necessarily be a certified teacher,  but they want to be of service in some regards.

Why is there so much interest in teaching yoga in prisons?
The yoga community in general is looking at karma yoga as the next step in their personal evolution. They know they are getting a lot out of the practice, and at a certain point, a part of the yoga is tradition is to give it back. I know that’s been my path. I’m always interested in going to populations who haven’t been exposed. There is a whole economic paradigm shift in this country, where it’s becoming more and more obvious that the under served populations aren’t being afforded the same opportunities for health and well-being. And here we are with this incredible practice, and yogis are stepping up.

How did you end up teaching at San Quentin?
I was contacted by the Insight Prison Project to set up their yoga and meditation program. I still teach for the Insight Project. While they focus on rehab and the whole restorative justice movement, I focus on yoga.

What are the benefits for prisoners?
The big focus in on impulse control. How does a yoga practice assist those whose major issues are addiction and violence? It all comes down to impulse control, to learning how to pause, learning how to deal with difficulty. If you are experiencing difficulty in a pose and coming up against your limitations, how do you work it out and work through it?

Anything else they take away?
Another focus is in really understanding yourself as a whole person, [and] yoga really helps support integrating the mental, emotional, and physical. It leads to a greater understanding that we are this whole person, not just thoughts going through our heads, but feelings going through our hearts and sensations going through our bodies. We hear these things in a yoga class, but populations like prisoners need to hear this kind of thing. It’s simple wisdom that they can apply to their lives. To me this really brings it home, to the core of one’s healing.

If you can’t get to the Prison Yoga Project training in New York, look for future trainings in San Francisco. Or pick up Fox’s book:  Yoga: A Path for Healing and Recovery or sign up for the Prison Yoga Project Facebook page.

We want to know: How does yoga help you with impulse control?