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Prisoners take a nasty turn after yoga trial backfires

The Independent, UK
Aug. 5, 2005
Elizabeth Davies
news.independent.co.uk

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday August 8, 2005

Relax. Breathe deeply. And feel your blood pressure rise. A Norwegian prison has had to abandon yoga classes after finding that, instead of helping inmates contain their anxieties, many became more aggressive and agitated.

The sessions were introduced on a trial basis earlier this year for eight prisoners at the high-security Ringerike prison, home to some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, in a bid to help them keep their anger in check. But instead of calming them down, the specialised breathing and meditation involved in yoga served to wind them up, explained the prison director Sigbjo”rn Hagen.

“The reactions we received from the prisoners who participated in the classes were very varied, ranging from completely positive to completely negative,” he wrote in a letter addressed to the group in charge of the yoga project.

On the negative side, Mr Hagen said, learning the ancient Indian routine – designed to harmonise mind, body and spirit – had provoked “strong reactions: agitation, aggression, irritability, trouble sleeping and mental confusion”.

Staff at Ringerike say the deep-breathing exercises – an integral part of yoga – made some of the prisoners more dangerous by unblocking their psychological barriers and unleashing otherwise repressed emotions, such as anger, irritation or depression.

The prison has decided to stop the pilot scheme altogether, saying it does not have the resources to provide treatment for increasingly troubled inmates.

The yoga group behind the project professed surprise, insisting that the techniques had been tested on about 100,000 prisoners in 15 countries and had been judged a great success.

Relax. Breathe deeply. And feel your blood pressure rise. A Norwegian prison has had to abandon yoga classes after finding that, instead of helping inmates contain their anxieties, many became more aggressive and agitated.

Yoga

Most westerners are naive to the religious origin and nature of yoga. Many practitioners who do, merely presume that the exercises are harmless if they are not practiced with a spiritual intent.

Yoga is a series of exercises and postures (asanas) which are advertised as a way to tone up, reduce stress and experience tranquility.

Yoga though is an intrinsic part of Hinduism. Swami Vishnudevananda, well known authority of Yoga, in his book The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga explains the purpose of Yoga, “It is the duty of each developed man to train his body to the highest degree of perfection so that it may be used to pursue spiritual purposes… the aim of all yoga practice is to achieve truth wherein the individual soul identifies itself with the supreme soul of God.”
- Source: Yoga, a Profile by Watchman Fellowship

The sessions were introduced on a trial basis earlier this year for eight prisoners at the high-security Ringerike prison, home to some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, in a bid to help them keep their anger in check. But instead of calming them down, the specialised breathing and meditation involved in yoga served to wind them up, explained the prison director Sigbjörn Hagen.

“The reactions we received from the prisoners who participated in the classes were very varied, ranging from completely positive to completely negative,” he wrote in a letter addressed to the group in charge of the yoga project.

On the negative side, Mr Hagen said, learning the ancient Indian routine – designed to harmonise mind, body and spirit – had provoked “strong reactions: agitation, aggression, irritability, trouble sleeping and mental confusion”.

Staff at Ringerike say the deep-breathing exercises – an integral part of yoga – made some of the prisoners more dangerous by unblocking their psychological barriers and unleashing otherwise repressed emotions, such as anger, irritation or depression.

The prison has decided to stop the pilot scheme altogether, saying it does not have the resources to provide treatment for increasingly troubled inmates.

The yoga group behind the project professed surprise, insisting that the techniques had been tested on about 100,000 prisoners in 15 countries and had been judged a great success.

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