Yoga behind bars: Changing the lives of inmates

ARGENTINA • Adho mukha. Chaturanga. Uttanasana. These words are becoming part of the prison lingo in Argentina, thanks to a group of young yoga instructors who created a project called Moksha – yoga in jail.

On a sunny day, you can hear phrases such as “hands to the centre of the heart,” “open up your chests,” “now, cobra” and “exhale as you transition to crescent lunge” in the yard of the 48th Penitentiary Unit of the San Martin state prison in Buenos Aires.

Barefoot inmates try to imitate the poses that instructor Milagros Colombo gently demonstrates.

“During the two-hour class, you forget about your problems,” said Lucas Roldan, a 33-year-old inmate who has been in prison for the last eight years. “You feel free doing yoga, you leave the world.”

Roldan knows that yoga has changed his life. For this reason, he anxiously awaits the weekly lesson each Thursday. Some mornings, he even meets other inmates to practise poses.

“It‘s much more pleasant at that time of day because you can hear the birds. People often think the worst of us for being arrested for theft or for killing a police officer. And maybe they think we should be left in this place to rot. I‘ve achieved profound change here,” he said.

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  • Number of hours of yoga a week for the Moksha class at the 48th Penitentiary Unit of the San Martin state prison in Buenos Aires.

Moksha has been organising yoga lessons since 2015 in two units of the San Martin prison, with the goal of transforming lives now and in the future.

Currently, 20 instructors volunteer for the Moksha project, which aims to acquire non-profit organisation status. For now, it is wholly funded by private donations, with plans to grow.

“We would love to create a training programme for inmates to become instructors and come work with us once they are released, as a form of social reintegration,” said Ms Colombo.