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Yoga Behind Bars

This week’s episode of URBAN YOGIS gives us a rare look at the inside of a youth detention facility, where one dedicated yoga instructor is busy changing the lives of teenagers within its walls. Leslie Booker began her career in the fashion industry and would have never guessed she’d one day exchange the runway for a juvenile detention center in the Bronx. But then again, Leslie certainly wouldn’t be the first to see her life transformed by the practice of yoga.

Leslie teaches yoga and meditation practices to youth in detention facilities in New York City through Lineage Project. Lineage places yoga instructors in prisons, public schools and other community sites where young people can most benefit from the calming and therapeutic techniques of the practice. In their own words, Lineage’s mission is to “use mindfulness practices to break the cycle of poverty, violence and incarceration in New York City.” Their students range from ages ten to 24 and come from some of the economically poorest neighborhoods in New York City. Many are at risk of incarceration, and many, like those at Horizon, are already behind bars.

The young adults at Horizon Juvenile Detention Center have been convicted for a range of offenses, some quite serious and violent. As Leslie points out, though, they are fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old – little more than children – and many of them have grown up in extremely trying circumstances. Before Leslie introduced the teens to the practice of meditation, aggression and withdrawal seemed to be among their only options for managing the insurmountable stress of life both at home and in the detention facility. After all, if no one ever taught you to take a deep breath and practice some self love, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with the techniques on your own.

The identities of the teenagers included in the video are concealed for their protection. But their voices and sentiments paint a remarkable portrait of the work Leslie and her students are doing through the practice of yoga. Yoga alone can’t erase the past, but it can forever impact the future. And Leslie hopes that, equipped with mindfulness techniques, these young adults can return to their homes and communities with the vision of a very different life than they might have imagined for themselves.

For more on Lineage Project, click here.

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and don’t  miss next week’s inspiring episode of URBAN YOGIS.


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2:45AM PDT on May 22, 2013

Fantastic - for over 10 years now they've been doing something similar in some jails in India with very good results, using the Vippassanna technique of meditation! Thanks for sharing, and please continue the good work!

6:48AM PDT on Mar 19, 2013

Exercising it always good

12:32PM PST on Feb 6, 2013

a great idea

9:29AM PST on Nov 22, 2012

Great job

The church I go to, New Hope, sponsors camp Agapie (sp) It's a camp for children who has a parent in prison.

All are blessed who help children

8:12AM PST on Nov 21, 2012

This is a great thing ur guys are doing:)

7:46AM PST on Nov 13, 2012

You might enjoy listening to our podcast, Peace in Prison.

7:44AM PST on Nov 13, 2012

This reminds me of the work we do at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Virginia. I applaud your intent and your efforts.

3:21PM PST on Nov 11, 2012

Thank you Leslue Booker! And thanks for sharing this great program with us.

6:33AM PST on Nov 11, 2012

What a wonderful idea. I have great admiration for this woman!! God Bless Her for all she does. Thx for posting this very interesting article. Nice to read something positive for our young people even if they are in a detention center. We need to help our young as much as possible.

1:13PM PST on Nov 10, 2012

Kudos to Leslie Booker for bringing such a wonderful program to the detention centre. These kids are already fighting a world of problems, personal and social, and yoga allows for expression and release of tension; it teaches control and self-meditation in such a way that can't be duplicated by "pumping iron" though weight training would also be a great addition to their program.

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