For almost ten years, Ananda Marga volunteer Steven Landau has run a weekly yoga program at Wake Correctional Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. The voluntary two hour class includes Ananda Marga instruction on yoga postures, philosophy, kirtan, and meditation. Once a month, the prisoners are even treated to a vegetarian meal. Many participants have responded positively to the classes, reporting less aggression and higher levels of relaxation and physical well being.
In 2008, Landau reported findings in a study published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy correlating regular attendance of prison yoga classes with a much lower rate of re-incarceration. 190 inmates of varying race and religious beliefs attended at least one class, and 54 of those returned several times, attending at least four classes. Of the released men who frequented classes, only four (8%) were subsequently re-incarcerated, compared to the 28 men (25%) of the non-frequenting group who found themselves back in prison within 2-3 years.
Joined by Stephen Ordog (a.k.a. Shiva) and a growing number of volunteers, the program has expanded to six jails and prisons for both men and women across the state of North Carolina, with plans to expand even further and reach inmates at every correctional facility in the state.
These findings suggest that yoga can be taught safely in correctional facilities, and that offenders can use these classes to better themselves physically and seek out a more peaceful and relaxed life. Those who utilize this program lessen their chances of falling victim to what is often a cycle of repeat offending and multiple visits to prison.
In addition, the program has had an incredible impact on an individual level for several who have participated. Rickey More (a.k.a. Rakesh) said “I am one of Doc’s ‘graduates’. I’ve been out for 7 years and can personally attest to his work. Instead of getting bent out of shape when I had to be transported to Central Prison and locked into a holding cell while waiting for medical attention, it merely became another opportunity to do meditation! I had to deal with some young wild 20-somethings once, and by demoing Yoga I put them all out, sleeping like babes, using Yoga Technique. Yes it works! ”