Prison Yoga Workshop

James leading a class at the San Quentin Prison
This weekend was the Prison Yoga Teacher Training hosted by Community Yoga and the Amala Foundation, two outstanding charitable organizations here in Austin.  The training was led by James Fox, prison yoga pioneer and veteran volunteer.  James has been teaching yoga at the San Quentin Prison for 8 years running and is the man behind the Prison Yoga Project, a ground-breaking organization that promotes awareness of the benefits of yoga and raises funds to bring the practice to people on the inside.  He is also the author of Yoga: A Path for Healing and Recovery, a guide to the practice geared toward the incarcerated population, which he distributes to prisoners all over the country.

James is an inspired and inspiring person.  The experience this weekend connecting with him and the rest of the group -- all of us looking to reach out to a population so greatly in need of empowerment, searching for a way to improve their lives -- was incredible.  The quality that strikes me so deeply about James is his groundedness.  He is so well rooted that his teachings emerge as intuitive truth rather than new information.  He emphasizes that we already know what we need to know -- teachers, students, prisoners, whoever.  We just need to move the obstacles out of the way in order to access this essential knowledge.

James teaches from a background in classical yoga and his presentation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is obviously a reflection of personal study and application of the practice in his own life, not simply recitation.  He speaks of the importance of one's personal practice and the need for we, as teachers, to be living examples of integrity.  He is a yogi after my own heart.

I am so excited to put everything I've learned from James over the weekend into action, not only in my coming work with the incarcerated population here in Texas, but also with my regular students.  We are all oppressed by the violent, relentless nature of our minds, and we are all in search of liberation.  The teachings of yoga speak to the human condition.  None are precluded from it's benefits and if we can recognize that suffering is universal, we can honor and lift up the good in all.  We can come together in a way that boosts the resilience of humanity.  Yoga is a path of higher evolution.  Through the practice, we elevate consciousness.  What better place to start than at the bottom, with those whose goodness has been so completely smothered and whose awareness has been cruelly reduced, not only by their own actions but by circumstance?

I'm still processing, still absorbing the weekend, but I know that I feel more steadfast in my motivations and values as a teacher.  I feel I've encountered a shining example in James, at a time when I am very much in need of one, of a teacher and guide who leads from the heart, who respects his students unwaveringly and supports them in their work while remaining detached from the results.  I am so grateful to him for bringing this work to Austin and for sharing his beautiful interpretation of the practice.

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.  More than one in 100 adults is currently behind bars (source).  Please visit the Prison Yoga Project and consider purchasing James' book.  For $10, you receive a copy of this unique and practical guide to developing a personal yoga practice, featuring asana sequences and yoga philosophy, as well as effective meditation and pranayama techniques.  With your purchase, one copy goes to a prisoner in need.  If you don't want the book but you want to support James and his work, please donate what you can to the cause.

Don't think prisoners need or want yoga?  Read the testimonials.


  1. It makes me so happy to hear of the great work that James is doing. More so too, that he is teaching from "the right place". I love this quote of yours especially: The teachings of yoga speak to the human condition. None are precluded from it's benefits and if we can recognize that suffering is universal, we can honor and lift up the good in all.

    Amen to that. Have you read his book? What do you think about it? Are you going to help in prisons?

  2. Hi Domestic - My impression of James after spending the weekend together is that he is one of the most earnestly devoted yogis I've ever met.

    I have read his book (we received a copy with the training). I think it's great and it serves its purpose well. It's brief, but contains everything someone new to yoga would need to lay the foundations for a meaningful personal practice.

    I will indeed be putting this training to use in the near future as Community Yoga Austin expands its prison yoga program. Just waiting for the new class times to be arranged.

  3. I would love to be able to do a training with James. Great blog post - if interested, some photos and interviews with prisoners in James' classes at San Quentin: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/05/do-prisoners-deserve-compassion/

  4. Awesome! Thanks for the link, Lauren! And I highly recommend training with James. I use the knowledge I gained during his training in my classes every day.

  5. Hi, Megan. I hope you had a chance to see http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/05/do-prisoners-deserve-compassion/

    Enjoy your writing. I invite you to submit a guest article to Elephant Yoga.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  6. Hi Bob - I did see it. Great article. And wow! Thank you for the invitation! I'll certainly consider it.