Yoga Behind Bars: Teaching Mindfulness in a Juvenile Detention Center

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.

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