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Across the world prisons are using yoga to reform hardened criminals. Could this be the key to reformation in America’s prisons? This weekend I watched an interesting news report about a movement that is becoming popular in changing inmates into reformed citizens. The key to this is yoga.

The Bhopal central jail in India looks forbidding, almost medieval. However, inside is a world of routine and order. It starts with the morning roll call for some 2000 men, about a third more than the prison is supposed to hold—some of the most notorious convicts in the surrounding region. As in every prison there’s a hierarchy here, a subgroup of elite inmates. But these guys have earned the distinction not for being tough, but for being calm. In the prison’s main hall, some 150 men are led in the deep breathing yoga exercises by one of their own. For much of the morning, they’ll go through the whole cycle of yoga’s asanas, or postures, and breathing exercises that cover the entire body.

A prison inmate convicted of murder  said, “ I feel healthy when I do yoga, and I don’t have any violent thoughts. It helps me have positive thoughts.”

Prison officials say very few inmates who go through the yoga program have resorted to crime after their release. So the key question is: has yoga transformed these men—and how? The most common definitions describe yoga as a system of exercises dating back 3000 years, practiced as a part of the Hindu discipline to promote control of the body and mind. At the prison, inmates also come from Muslim, Christian, and other faiths, so the superintendent says yoga is never presented as an extension of Hinduism. The majority of inmates here are Hindu.

What do you think?

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