Yoga Studios Are The New Prison Rec Yards Juvenile detention centers around the country are offering yoga as a form of rehabilitation for inmates. Youth Radio's Ankitha Bharadwaj reports that yoga is the new recreation yard.
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Yoga Studios Are The New Prison Rec Yards

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Yoga Studios Are The New Prison Rec Yards

Yoga Studios Are The New Prison Rec Yards

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And in juvenile detention centers, they're trying a more tender-hearted approach there, too. Here's the latest in our trend-watching series, What's the New What, from Youth Radio's Ankitha Bharadwaj.

Unidentified Woman: Reach the arms up towards the ceiling. Energize the fingers...

BHARADWAJ: What's the new what? Well, I think yoga studios are the new prison rec yards. See, our newsroom's been hearing stories of juvenile facilities around the country offering yoga as a form of exercise and even rehabilitation. So, I figured yoga classes might be replacing the recreation yard made infamous in the movies, you know, muscular inmates lifting weights or playing a hardcore game of tackle football in the prison yard.

Unidentified Woman: Don't give up. Inhale, notice your reaction to the pose, but don't give into the reaction. Exhale.

BHARADWAJ: To test out the whole new rec yard theory, we went to Alameda County Juvenile Hall in the San Francisco Bay area, where yoga is offered five days a week. Madeline Nelson is a guidance counselor at the Hall, who sees yoga as an expansion of mental health services. In one case, she used yoga practices to help an inmate who was having trouble sleeping.

Ms. MADELINE NELSON (Guidance counselor, Alameda County Juvenile Hall): And so, I talk about relaxation techniques and the breathing, and he went, oh, you mean like in yoga? I say, yeah, like in yoga. Oh, I can do that. I think it can have a lasting effect in terms of some techniques they can use just to manage their own emotions.

Mr. THE BADDEST: Bend your forearm over your knee, and open...

BHARADWAJ: This 16-year-old goes by the nickname the Baddest. Unlike rec, where brawls can erupt, the Baddest says yoga class provides an oasis of calm within chaotic juvenile hall.

Mr. THE BADDEST: Breathe in. Exhale.

BHARADWAJ: Alex Briscoe, deputy director for Alameda County's Health Care Services Agency, says it's too early to tell whether yoga has contributed to the recent drop in violence at Alameda County's juvenile hall. One thing's for sure. Briscoe says the yoga classes provide much more than just a physical release.

Mr. ALEX BRISCOE (Deputy Director, Health Care Services Agency, Alameda County): Our yoga program supports academic instruction. It supports mental health service delivery. It supports a positive milieu. It supports young people's ability to be responsible consumers of mental health services. And, you know, quite frankly, we hope it supports a culture change for the staff in correctional settings.

BHARADWAJ: So, the bottom line? The yoga program at Alameda County Juvenile Hall is designed to help inmates gain transformative life skills that they can use in and outside detention. And who knows, juvenile hall yoga might just bring a new face to your Vinyasa class, like a 15-year-old whose side-arm balance beats the yoga pants off yours.

BRAND: Youth Radio's Ankitha Bharadwaj.


And welcome to the world for the latest participant in Youth Radio, the newborn son of our executive producer, Deb Clark.

BRAND: Welcome, Jack. Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from I'm Madeleine Brand.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick.

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