Google “benefits of yoga” on the internet, and dozens of studies pop up.  It helps people sleep better.  It is a natural de-stressor.  It calms the body and mind.  These affects hold true, no matter who you are, including a prison inmate.

“We live in a high stress environment and we’re always on the lookout for something,” says Jamie Bachman, an inmate at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility.  “Especially those couple hours a week you do yoga, you’re not in all that stressful environment.”

Bachman still has two years left to serve of her four-year sentence.  She says yoga has already begun to change her.

“I don’t get angry as fast anymore,” says Bachman.  “I just stop and I breathe and I say ‘is this worth it?”

She and fellow inmates can practice at CRCF two days per week, thanks to the volunteers who are part of the Vermont chapter of the Prison Yoga Project (PYPVT).  Jim Dunn brought the national program to Vermont about a year ago. 

“I had gone to the Prison Yoga Project training that they hold out in Boulder, Colorado and I stayed in touch with James Fox who is the founder of this program,” says Dunn.  “It started out in San Quentin about 10 or 15 years ago, and he offered to come train a group of 30 teachers in Vermont.”

Out of that group, CRCF has six instructors.  Northwest Correctional in St. Albans has three, though Dunn hopes to expand there. 

“I started my prison teaching in 2012 at Northwest with men, on my own,” Dunn adds.

He began instructing at Chittenden Regional about two years ago, where he started co-teaching with  Melissa King.  The two founded PYPVT together.

“There are two and a quarter billion people incarcerated in the nation and the statistics show after three years, 70% of them are back in jail,” says King.  “So, what we’re doing isn’t working and programs like yoga, research shows, facilitate a person’s ability to be more self regulated and more mindful.”

King and Dunn plan to bring yoga to all six Vermont prisons, through the Prison Yoga Project.  Vermont’s chapter is run entirely on donations. 

“People in these facilities generally have suffered significant trauma,” says Dunn.  “We try to teach a very mindfulness based practice here that reaches into that level of trauma, but there are discipline changes you would bring here, such as we don’t do a lot of touching or hands-on assists.”

King recalls conversations she has had with people, who are unhappy with their taxpayer dollars funding yoga programs in state correctional facilities.  Her response is always the same.

“I appeal to their economic sense, because each time someone goes back in, that funding from taxpayer dollars kicks in again,” King says.  “It is a benefit to strengthen these individuals who have made mistakes, some of them pretty grave, so that when they come out, they’re more functional.”

For inmate Jamie Bachman, it’s a small step towards a better future, outside prison walls.

“I have been practicing a year and a half and it’s wonderful,” says Bachman.  “It has changed a lot of things in my life.

King and Dunn hope to fundraise to offset costs for future teacher trainings, and offer volunteers an incentive, if they travel long distances to teach.

“The people who are teaching in St. Albans, it’s a 40-mile one way trip from Burlington,” Dunn explains.

PYPVT has also been in touch with the state about becoming involved in some pilot programs.

“There’s one at the new prison in Newport and we’re in talks about incorporating our yoga program into the wellness program that’s part of that curriculum,” says Dunn.

If you’d like to donate to PYPVT, click the first link in this story and go to “create fundraiser.”