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Commentary & Conclusions for Halawa Correctional Facility Yoga Class Survey

December 16, 2004

Submitted by HCF Yoga Teacher Louisa DiGrazia, Registered Yoga Teacher
March 10, 2004

Halawa Correctional, Education, and Learning Center provides an integral opportunity for men interested in deepening the meaning of their lives. While interfacing with us teachers, the professional staff are exemplary in their creation of a helpful and supportive environment for everyone. The men have the opportunity of advancing their knowledge of many subjects, including the study and discipline of Yoga. Within this end of semester Yoga Class Survey, I observed promising revelations. For the most part, the men are very eager to learn a discipline which will free them from disharmony and dis-ease. Because of the thoughtful and healing nature of yoga postures--asanaŠin combination with proper breathing, inmates grow and learn a great deal about themselves. As you will see, they became more sensitive to their inner feelings, and have learned that yoga practice can offer an alternative to mental fragmentation, and inner discord, and offers peace as a side-effect. Yoga practice helps men challenged by common, adult attention-deficit, and other learning obstacles. The discipline helps them to improve their ability to focus on what they need to do to overcome these barriers without creating new conflicts.

Through the yoga poses and breath, the men are able to pay attention to emotional, and psychological changes as well as observing their aches and pains. By coming into contact with these deep issues, they open within themselves the possibility of personal healing.

Becoming conscious of physical and psychological issues through the postures serves to put them in touch with their kineseological warning signs, escalation of anxiety and stress which unchecked can lead to inappropriate behaviors. Yoga practice has taught them healthy ways to deal with their emotions. Yoga helps them to mentally and physically focus their attention and nurture their meditative mind. It should be no surprise that it can also be very painful for them on both psychological and physical levels! On average, we need 16 attempts to end a drug and/or other unfortunate addiction. Upon release, if they do return to old, bad habits, and in the subsequent withdrawal, they will remember how good they once felt during their yoga experience, as well as the life affirming thoughts and feelings that allowed them to be whole in those moments. Their exposure to meditation training helps them to cognitively observe their own thinking, and how their actions will affect others. They begin to observe first hand how their attitude and behavior affect their lives. This mindfulness or awakening, will never leave their consciousness, even in the face of setbacks. If they are in a life-threatening situation, or if addictions resurface in them again, yoga discipline will be there, and will allow them to access their true, whole selves once again.

The kinesthetic nature of yoga postures allow the inmate yoga student to be in touch with how emotions trigger reactions in the nervous system and how his tension affects his breath, muscles, skin, hormones, and heart rate. When aware of these inner changes, he can focus his mind, and use his newfound mental stillness to be conscious of his thinking and choice of actions. Yoga, with its broad base of information, history, philosophy, physical, mental, and spiritual growth aspects has a universal appeal to a variety of learning styles. Yoga has a balancing and harmonizing effect on the students, and results can be realized immediately, after only one class. Each succeeding class builds upon this experiential, first hand, and direct experience of unanimity. The result is confidence building, strengthening character as well as body, internal and external balance, flexibility, inner friendship, and camaraderie.

Meditation, the goal of yoga practice, helps students to understand that their role in this life is beyond their petty addictions, and longings. They are able to get in touch with their True Self or True Nature. This is what I hear from them, and their "Survey" responses reflect this awareness.

For the most part, inmates have low esteem, a poor self image, and have trouble expressing themselves. In this representative semester (Sept. -- Dec. 2004) they improved tremendously over time in their cognitive skills. Their physical posture, strength, and flexibility improved. Their ability to be still was enhanced. Their capacity to express their deeper thoughts and feelings in appropriate ways, plus raised levels of cognition, confidence and esteem were refined.

A relatively new addition to the HCF Yoga Classes is the Teacher Training program with interested inmates who are given credit for being present. They are acquiring hours toward an eventual 200 hour Teacher Training Certification from our (pending) Yoga Alliance Registered School. I have observed that these special teacher-trainers are very regular attendees, remain interested, and are eager students. At the end of this semester survey, Dec. 2004, three of the seven men were in the Teacher Training program. This teacher-training responsibility is helping with their personal mental issues, building their confidence, and helping to develop their leadership and teaching skills. They help me to teach beginners who come to the class with no prior yoga experience. The learning curve is tremendously improved with the student-teacher program functioning as a peer group leadership training, as well. They have requested having an extra class devoted to their teacher-training skills and knowledge.

Submitted In Peace, for the highest good. Louisa DiGrazia, RYT, Inc., Director, Yoga School of Kailua, Kailua, Hawai'i. Yoga teacher for Public Safety, Hawai'i; HCF and WCCC. March, 2005

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