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22 Mar, 2010 04:48

India introduces yoga in prisons

In the Indian city of Gwalior, authorities have agreed to reduce the sentences of prisoners by 10 percent if they complete yoga courses.

The courses, they say, improve the prisoners' self-control and reduce aggression.

Om Prakash, a convict, says the mind achieves peace while doing yoga.

“When we practice yoga together, it’s a very good feeling and we feel at peace,” Prakash told RT. “For these one-and-a-half hours everyday, we forget the world.”

It also keeps them fit. Girdharilal Sanoop has served 13 years of his life sentence, and feels much lighter and happier with yoga.

“It was very tough to start with, but slowly with the support of everyone here, I’m getting better at yoga, and would like to continue with it,” Sanoop said.

Successful inmates can go on to become yoga instructors. Narendra Sharma is serving a life sentence for murder, and is now a certified instructor. But with only 100 inmates practicing yoga out of the 2,000 in this jail, he has an uphill task attracting more trainees.

"The biggest challenge is that some inmates aren’t interested,” Sharma claimed. “Getting

them to come here to train is difficult, because people have many fears and can be skeptical."

Nevertheless, any strategy to cut tension levels in India’s prisons is overdue. Most jails are overcrowded and under-funded. About two-thirds of the 350,000 inmates across India are awaiting trial for minor crimes.

Harendra Singh, superintendent of the Central Jail in Gwalior, says it’s getting very tough at times.

"The biggest change I’ve seen is that earlier there used to be fights in the jail between inmates, but now that has been reduced a lot,” Singh told RT. “Inmates are happy with yoga, they have found something to focus on, and are keen on showing the outside world when they leave that they have learned something constructive in jail."

Yoga is not just a way of keeping oneself fit, it’s also a means for convicts to reduce their sentence and possibly re-integrate with society. It’s an experiment that could well be implemented in other jails in India – and perhaps elsewhere in the world.