Dec 27, 2008

Lifestyle - Prisoners in South Africa embrace yoga

Andrew Walker

JOHANNESBURG: The prisoners at the Groenpunt Maximum Security prison in the Free State province are among the most violent in South Africa.

They have raped, murdered, smuggled drugs or abused children. Many are HIV-positive and can expect to die in jail.

Inside prison their anger boils over and violence is common.

But a new programme of yoga lessons is helping inmates to discover ways to calm themselves and take a more positive look at their lives, even if they never get out from behind bars.

From the deck of a rusty old boxing ring Ansuya Khoosal takes the prisoners through a series of yoga positions and breathing exercises.

“Breathe in... And let go,” she repeats.

The prisoners have their eyes shut, listening to her soothing voice. They appear at peace with themselves.

“I can’t see any smiles!” Ansuya says, and wide, honest grins appear on their faces.

They stand in their bright orange uniforms, flinging their arms up in a flurry of stretches.

Some inmates take it very seriously, others treat it like a bit of a lark, but it is clear that the lessons are popular.

It is the last day of a seven day programme of lessons, teaching the inmates basic yoga positions, as well as breathing exercises devised by yoga master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The organisation that provides the teaching, Art of Living, say they hope the inmates will take what they have learned and practice in their cells on their own.

The organisation cannot run classes every week, but they have identified enthusiastic inmates to carry on encouraging their cell-mates to continue.

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