A small group of women gather in a circle and practice a yoga vinyasa, a specific style of yoga where the movements flow from one pose to another. They each take a turn leading the class by calling out the poses and encouraging each other to breathe. It’s a scene much like other yoga instructor certification classes; except the class isn’t at a yoga studio, it’s at the Timpanogos Women’s Facility at Utah State Prison.
Prison volunteer Denise Druce, owner of Yoga Assets Teacher Training, uses the ancient practice of Yoga to provide new skills for female inmates to reduce stress while incarcerated and create a career path after their release.
“Yoga can make a difference in stress management, mental focus and in sleep,” said Druce. “These are all things that can make this environment better.”
Inmate Ferosa Bluff, who has been doing yoga for 10 years, says the training course taught her new ways to cope with the difficulties she encounters in a prison environment.
“When you are on your mat and struggling in a difficult position you are taught to stay there in the position and work through it,” said Bluff. “You can apply that to life. It helps you become stronger and work through challenges.”
Ten incarcerated women are enrolled in the 200-hour teacher-training course, which takes 12 hours, four days a week. Because of scheduling conflicts with the prison gym, Druce and her teaching partner Cynthia Wand can only lead the classes in person every six weeks. It will take about a year for the women to complete the required reading lessons and in-person training. The women receive a Yoga Alliance Certification upon completion.
“My hope is they can learn that they are strong, powerful and can make a difference,” said Druce. “They also can learn this skill and use it to get a job on the outside.”
Two of the inmates are serving life sentences and will teach yoga classes to other inmates at the prison following certification. Bluff says she looks forward to helping other incarcerated women see the benefits of yoga.
“It is empowering to be able to teach our peers what we have learned and to help them become stronger and more empowered,” said Bluff. “It teaches us confidence, kindness, and you can see the women just carry themselves differently.”
Several volunteers hold yoga classes at the facilities at Utah State Prison. Druce credits volunteer Jane Wallace, who has been teaching yoga at the women’s prison for about 12 years, for helping bring the instructor training to the facility. This is the first prison yoga class to offer inmates a certification as instructors.
-March 7, 2018