Prison Yoga Project

Welcome to The Prison Yoga Project Scandinavia

Welcome to our online Scandinavian yoga platform created to serve as a support, encouragement and inspiration both on the inside and on the outside in the re-entering process. The program is also aimed at supporting staff and yoga teachers working within the prisons or similar institutions and for all that can hopefully benefit from our programs. Yogobe is happy and proud to share this method with anyone who is in the need of ”freeing the prisoner inside”. The video based programs on this page are in Swedish, although there are videos and material in English as well. Find them via this page or in our video library. For collaborations do not hesitate to connect with us: [email protected]

The Prison Yoga Project was founded in the belief that yoga, taught specifically as a mindfulness based practice can be effective in releasing deeply held unresolved trauma, allowing us to adress co-morbid mental health issues, behavioural issues and to support other therapeutic interventions. Our objective is to provide prisoners both on the inside but most importantly after release with a mindfulness tool to draw on their yoga practice when they’re not practice yoga. If they’re tangled in a confrontation on the yard, or upon release, or tempted to go back to using, they can draw on what they have learned from yoga for practical solutions. They can do it without actually having to do a yoga pose to get the value. That’s the transformational, rehabilitative value of yoga. By using yoga as a mindfulness practice it serves as a tool for reengaging prisoners with their bodies to restore the connection between the mind, the body and their emotions. The Prison Yoga Project is implementing therapeutic yoga to develop the whole person, and to increase the sensitivity toward oneself. When you develop a close relationship with your own sensitivity you are less apt to harm another human being. This is empathy and empathy when encouraged leads to compassion. Gradually the cycle of violence can be broken.

Prison Yoga Project is a digital yoga platform with online courses and guidance for people who are or have been incarcerated. The aim of the Prison Yoga Project is to offer yoga for everyone who wants to increase their physical, mental and emotional health and to support a balanced life without crime. Our programs are developed in collaboration with leading researchers, prisoners and prison personel from Sweden and various parts of the world within the framework of the non-profit, international organization Prison Yoga Project. Yoga and meditation are ancient proven traditions that affect the whole body. Prison Yoga Project's methods are based on Eastern wisdom associated with the latest Western research in trauma and neurobiology that provides evidence for the yoga's therapeutic potential Yoga as a lifestyle-changing concept aimed at the specific needs of correctional settings Our programs can be used for individual purposes, by institutions and authorities who are working with rehabilitation and as a support in the re-entering process. With the Prison Yoga Project platform, both incarcerated released prisoners in Sweden can gain access to yoga and specially adapted inspirational guidance from yoga teachers who have experience of teaching in institutional environments, former prisoners and other experts. Through various combinations of movement, breathing and relaxation methods, in-depth reflection and conversations, guidance is given on how to strengthen the self-esteem and ability to strengthen the true identity in order to progress in life. To systematically work with transformation and support people who have previously committed crimes gain support to be rehabilitated and become a part of society when they have served their punishment. This is beneficial both for the individual individual and society. Those who have gone through this process become important role models and guides to help others stuck in crime and a destructive pattern of life. While a majority of our work is directed toward incarcerated people, through this work we also seek to support the correctional officers, administrators, and healthcare staff working in the criminal justice system. The impact of long-term stress on people working in the criminal justice system, especially the officers, is devastating. It negatively impacts their health, their quality of life, and shortens their lifespans by decades, according to some studies. We work to foster a more peaceful incarceration environment so that they can do their work with greater ease. Through our work with incarcerated people, we are also aiming for a positive impact on families and communities impacted by crime. More than 90% of incarcerated people will be released. We believe that offering them support for healing and self-rehabilitation is essential to the intention of creating safer communities. We want to empower them to become better fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We want to empower them to be better friends and neighbours, and to become integrated, contributing members of their communities. This restorative perspective is what we model when we go into a facility. We’ve seen firsthand how this restorative practice positively impacts the men and women with whom we work. We’ve also seen how modelling this humanizing approach and demonstrating its efficacy enables our partners in the criminal justice system to take a different approach. We are leading a prison reform movement by example, by being the change we want to see in the world.

Our classes

We are teaching a combination of physical yoga practice, pranayama- breathing practices, mediation/centering, philosophy and relaxation methods that has been proven to be beneficial in a prison environment. We teach a trauma informed yoga with mindfulness based instructions.

How do I choose a class?

The classes are adapted to the needs of each individual. Some classes are more energizing for those who are low on energy. Other classes are more dynamic to release restlessness and anxiety. Some are calming to lower the stress level and to support improved sleeping patterns. There is also

  • separate modules with pedagogical instructions with breathing practices and physical postures
  • a separate part for guided relaxation and meditation practices
  • interviews with ex prisoners, James Fox, the Founder of Prison Yoga Project and Professor Nora Kerekes who carried out the Swedish study on the effects of yoga in the Swedish Prison System
  • a special section on movement and dance program
  • general classes creating more balance and resilience towards stress

Who can use the yoga classes?

Everyone can practice the classes and choose whatever module which suit their needs for the day. There are more gentle programs for those whos mobility is limited. You can mix and match programs to meet your needs and also the time you have to your disposal. However, we recommend that you practice the same program for a few weeks in a row for a deeper effect. If you have any serious injuries or diagnoses please ask a health care professional before you start the program. Also, please read the text under the program for additional information.

Practicing yoga with others in a group is an important part of our project. We call it ”Sangha” where we experience community and develop meaningful relationships even in silence. This form of community can improve and develop a positive sense of belonging.

Why yoga in an institutional environment?

Reduced medical costs for the institutions regarding sleep problems, anxiety and depression.

  • Reduced violent behaviour, safer institutional environment (Kerekes 2016).
  • Post-release support and inspiration to reduce relapse into addiction and crime through improved impulse control, higher stress resistance, better ability to handle strong emotions and reactions (Yoga in correctional settings- Kerekes 2016, and new analysis 2018).
  • Can contribute to an increased sense of inner peace - Reduces anxiety through breathing exercises, movements and relaxation
  • Can reduce depression by movements in a group, community in the group and breathing exercises
  • The community fostered by the class can contribute to increased sense of togetherness, meaning and joy
  • Contributes to a increased awareness in the moment, self confidence / strength in one's own body
  • Increases concentration through focus exercises and movement
  • Reduces stress levels in the body
  • Strengthens the autonomic nervous system and increases the resistance to stress

Yoga as a therapeutic support

What differs our method from others?

Our programs contain a specific combination of physical dynamic sequences and positions as well as breathing exercises and relaxation programs that reduce stress effectively.Our instructions are mainly inviting, but sometimes more direct in order to gather the group and establish a group rhythm. The instructions are adapted to the unique psychosocial dynamics we often encounter in an institutional environment.

The following combinations of practices and programs were developed in consultation with yoga therapist Heather Mason at The minded institute in London. The programs can be beneficial and serve as support and relief towards stress management and inner worry. Always consult healthcare professionals in case of severe diagnoses, illness or injury. IMPORTANT: Yoga never substitutes professional help or medicine but can serve as a support to other therapies.

Tips and Advice:

Bipolar Disorder: It is advisable to focus on maintaining a even and calm breath through the yoga classes to balance the nervous system and the mind. Avoid too activating / calming practices. Try to focus towards balance and stability

Depression: It may be good to avoid longer stays in positions especially in forwards folding postures as it can further reduce energy levels but follow your intuition and the needs of the group on that day.

Anxiety: It might be good to avoid too long holds at the beginning of the class and deeper back bends as this may have an activating effect in an already stressed nervous system.

Schizophrenia and psychosis: It might be advisable to avoid longer guided Yoga Nidra as this may have the potential to contribute to higher dopamine levels and serve as a trigger. Avoid to much activating and calming exercises. Try to practice towards balance and stability both with the physical practices and the breath. Caution regarding philosophy, visualizations and messages in played music.

You are welcome to visit and for more information.

Photographer Robert Sturman

Involved teachers and experts

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Eleonora Ramsby Herrera
Eleonora teaches Hatha Yoga, Meditation & Trauma adapted Yoga. She has taught yoga since 2008. She is a Senior Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance Professionals (UK) and registered as an E-RYT 500 through Yoga Alliance.
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Eva Seilitz
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James Fox
James Fox M.A. is the founder and director of the Prison Yoga Project (PYP) and he has been teaching yoga and meditation to prisoners at San Quentin Prison since 2002. He is consulted in prisons and jails in a number of states in USA.
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Josefin Wikström
Josefin Wikström has been bringing yoga and dance into the Swedish prisons since 2008. Josefin is responsible for developing the Prison Yoga Programs for Yogobe, she has been working as a full-time teacher focusing on yoga for trauma-exposed populations since 2003.
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Samir Sabri

A selection of video programs

Det här programmet kan bidra till att öka stabiliteten i kropp och sinne samt öka din motståndskraft.

Ett program som kan hjälpa dig att bygga upp en större energi i kropp och sinne samt öka din motståndskraft mot stress.

Det här programmet kan hjälpa dig att skapa balans i kroppen och sinnet.

Feedback from people who tried

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I started practicing yoga inside the prison. I have been having problems keeping the yoga going on the outside since I don't feel comfortable in groups and I can't afford it. These classes are a blessing as I can now practice on my own at home. It helps me managing my anxiety and I don't feel so lonely.

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Emma Coleman
This platform of classes is a great support for us teaching inside the prisons with all the details on how to teach postures safe and mindfully, special classes towards women and the many mental health issues we see in prisoners.

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Beata Szewczuk
These online classes is a great support for me in my teaching yoga in the Prison and for practicing the classes myself for my own health. It gives me a reminder of both the pedagogics and a good educational section for how to teach the classes and postures with different modifications and instructions. I love all the interviews they give me inspiration for my work!

Extra material: Lectures and classes