yoga classes helping prisoners in South Africa

The BBC News website is running a link today, 15 January 2017, showing how yoga is helping prisoners tackle stress at Pollsmoor, one of the most notorious prisons in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was at one time incarcerated. Yoga brings many benefits to the individual and, under the Prison Freedom project in South Africa, yoga brings significant potential to help with rehabilitation.

Brian Bergman, Freedom Project, says: “We have had tremendous response from inmates, guys coming from different background and different levels of understanding, using the yoga first to help them with problems sleeping, headaches or sore bodies from being locked up for long hours.  The yoga provides them with immediate relief in terms of physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing and emotional balance.”

One of the inmates, David Kleinhans, explains, “Because you are so full of stress, you get arguments with guys in the room, brings up fighting. I had an argument with someone and almost had a fight.  What I done is that I went to the bathroom and sat on the pot and closed the door and do the hum technique.  Your heart starts to vibrate, everything is vibrating inside of you and then it brings calmness over you.”

Classes are outside in locked compounds surrounded by armed prison guards. Jo Cloete, Correctional Officer, says, “It’s good to see offenders rehabilitating in this manner.   The benefits of yoga is that they are sleeping much better, they are more positive in what they are doing.  When they are in a situation where they have conflict, it also helps them to use the techniques.”

Randal, another inmate, says, “I would definitely encourage other inmates to do it because what I have just experienced now is that this is a very stressful place and that builds tension. So a programme like this will do wonders for us.”

David also added, “When I do yoga practising in my own room, I get to sleep more better now. I sleep like a baby.”

Yoga has been proven to reduce incarceration rates. The Prison Freedom project now operates in 15 prisons around South Africa.

Here is yet another example of how yoga can help us in our lives. Of course, you don’t need (and, by choice, wouldn’t want to be in a prison in South Africa or anywhere else), but I think it’s really interesting to see the wider application of yoga (and its success) in environments outside of a normal (whatever you think that is!) yoga class.


© Sarah Swan (15 January 2017)

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