Sentenced to Yoga? Stretching the Muscles of Juvenile Justice

It’s been fascinating to watch not only my own journey into new ideas of wellness, but also the greater journey of our culture. There has been a huge shift in health care, mental wellness, personal responsibility for our own lives and even the way our systems are taking care of business.

As individuals, people are flocking to new ways of creating their own destinies- through yoga, law of attraction, EFT, Thought Shifting and a host of other techniques, routines and practices. It’s so exciting to see so many people actively taking steps to live the lives they have always wanted to have.

In San Mateo County, CA, the juvenile justice system has been incorporating wellness principles into a program for young females who are incarcerated since 2003.

Now, don’t get me wrong, here. I am not a fan of a soft criminal justice system at all. I believe when someone is sentenced to jail or prison, the experience needs to be miserable or it fails to serve its purpose. Air conditioning, cable TV, work out rooms and ping-pong tables seem to me like strange measures of consequence when someone has committed a crime.

However, when it comes to juvenile justice, my feelings are very different. When kids are making outrageous choices like breaking the law, there’s usually a deep-seated reason behind it. If we can reach these kids before they get in too deep, we can help change their lives for the better. In turn, we begin to change the world.

The Margaret J. Kemp Camp for Girls is a juvenile justice facility in San Mateo, CA. seems to thing so too. According to Deborah Budesa, a teacher at the camp, approximately 90 percent of the girls in the juvenile justice system have been sexually abused. There is no doubt in my mind their traumas and their records are directly and completely connected. Healing from sexual abuse is one of the most difficult processes anyone can ever face. What’s worse, it absolutely must happen for the abused to move forward and live a full and complete life. Of course, many abuse survivors never turn to crime as a means of lashing out, but many juveniles do turn to crime as a backlash of their damaged psyches.

Enter wellness – and the beginnings of some true rehabilitation for some girls in California.

Some of the girls who are serving their sentences here have been able to participate in a program called "The Art of Yoga Project." Four days a week, a small group of teens at the camp meets with the yoga instructors and learns the art of self-connection.

I’d be willing to bet the first few days of class could be a little tricky as a dozen or so girls who have big, thick walls surrounding their emotions try to believe that stretching their bodies into strange poses is going to have any effect other than embarrassment. As time goes on, though, many of the students in the class start breaking through their own resistance.

Through regular participation in yoga, the girls are learning to respect their bodies and listen to their minds and hearts. Yoga is meditative and as you breathe into the poses and master control of your body, you connect deeply to your inner self.

To continue their journey into an entire lifetime of change and wellness, the founder of the program, Mary Lynn Fitton, is working on a mentoring program to match the students with yoga instructors in their own community so theycan continue their practice after being released from the camp.

The benefits these girls are receiving from their yoga practice are profound. Nothing will change a life more dramatically than inner peace- which is the goal and the result of an ongoing yoga practice.

Whenever we can find ways to connect with a traumatized soul and help release the bondage of pain, we are a part of birthing a brand new life. I commend the San Mateo Juvenile Justice system for being a very real part of the labor pains.

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