By: the Prison Yoga Project team – A Trauma Research Foundation Therapeutic Alliance member
Prison Yoga Project seeks to bring about a cultural shift in addressing crime, addiction, and mental illness. We believe punitive incarceration and criminalization of addiction and mental illness causes more harm than it prevents. The path to a more effective and humane solution lies in a holistic, healing-centered approach that begins with working with the body.
We share the same values of respect, justice, integrity, ecological & social awareness, accessibility, inclusion, healing, and more with the Trauma Research Foundation. Prison Yoga Project is a Therapeutic Alliance Organization with TRF, and we continue to look forward to all the ways our work, research, and impact intersect.
One aspect of our work’s intersection is, of course, trauma. As a community and organization, not only is it essential to do our personal healing so that we can hold space for the healing of others, but we also must understand the causes and conditions of the suffering of the incarcerated populations we serve.
The vast majority of incarcerated people have suffered significant developmental trauma. This trauma includes abuse, neglect, poverty, hunger, homelessness, incarceration of a parent, and discrimination in various forms. The overlap and intersection of multiple traumas are the most significant driver of criminal behavior and addiction that lead to incarceration.
A history of developmental and other traumas is not exclusive to incarcerated people. Many working within the system have similar experiences of trauma, though their life circumstances have led them into the carceral environment through a very different path.
Prison Yoga Project promotes an approach that starts with yoga and mindfulness as one of the most effective tools for healing trauma and developing resilience to resist further traumatization and the impacts of toxic stress. We have built our programs on research by leaders in trauma research, including Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine, Stephen Porges, and Judith Herman.
Over the past two decades, PYP has steadily increased its presence. It offers evidence-based, trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness classes to thousands of incarcerated youth and adults in 11 states, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, Portugal, France, Israel, and Australia. PYP also serves a growing number of correctional facility staff. We are the only organization providing ongoing yoga and mindfulness classes to incarcerated individuals nationally and internationally.
Our Foundational Training for trained yoga teachers and therapists presents an overview of the current system, an understanding of how trauma leads to incarceration, and our approach to using yoga and mindfulness to heal from trauma. Our Foundational Training is appropriate not just for people who wish to work with us as facilitators; it’s suitable for lawyers, social workers, recreational therapists, and other professionals working inside.
The training consists of a guided, self-paced study with curated reading, videos, podcasts, image galleries, and research assignments. Within each section, quizzes support topics to help integrate the content and provide an opportunity for self-reflection. In addition to the self-paced online content, the training offers four 2-hour virtual workshops that explore various topics from an embodied perspective.
Our training provides a solid foundation for understanding the necessity of addressing interpersonal and systemic trauma as a primary underlying force behind incarceration and the rationale for body-based mindfulness practices, such as yoga, to address that trauma.
For those wishing to become trauma-informed yoga facilitators, we also offer a 200-hour yoga teacher training designed to prepare people to provide yoga outside the yoga studio setting. We also host ongoing education and community-building opportunities through webinars, book clubs, podcasts, and other events.
You can read more about our Foundational Training and our organization here: https://community.prisonyoga.org/courses/incarceration-trauma-and-yoga/
Thank you for supporting our organization and our mission,
Photo credit: Flavio Scorsato