Yoga program helping prisoners practice mindfulness

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Watch Ali Gorman's report from Action News at 11 p.m. on May 3, 2017. (WPVI)

A practice popular among fitness enthusiasts and those craving more mindfulness is now helping men and women who are incarcerated.

It's not what you would expect to see inside a prison in North Philadelphia, and several inmates admit that they never thought they'd be practicing yoga.

"No, actually I thought it was just for females, I thought it was a girlie thing," said Braheem Sanders.

But through the Transformation Yoga Project they're learning yoga is for everyone, and the benefits are far-reaching.

Mike Huggins started the program. It brings yoga into several detentions centers for men and women in and around Philadelphia.

He knows firsthand how helpful it can be. Huggins was a top executive of a medical device company. In 2011, he was sentenced to nine months in prison when the company illegally bypassed FDA regulations. The first five weeks he was in federal detention.

"It was a difficult place, I have to say," said Huggins.

He says yoga helped keep him calm. A recent study also shows it can help inmates cope with stress and past trauma, and reduce anger and aggression.

That's the goal of the Transformation Yoga Project - reduce stress while serving time, and help inmates stay out of trouble and out of jail once released.

"To help provide some simple, basic tools that are accessible to everybody that just help them to live their life with a little more ease," said Huggins.

"The hope is that they will take their lessons from this class and use them once they leave here and go into society," said Nancy Giannetta, warden at the Cambria Community Center.

Christopher Aviles says it's helped him to pause and be more mindful.

"Take a second back, breath, think about what you're about to do and how you react to a situation," said Aviles.

The program is funded through several grants, including one from Independence Blue Cross Foundation.

"So, this was an opportunity for us to help a different community in a different way," said Lorina Marshall-Blake of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation.

"Makes you think, gives you a better open perspective of a lot of things," said Braheem Sanders.

And this doesn't just help the inmates. It can also affect their families and communities.

Many say they plan on continuing to practice yoga when they're released from prison.

For more information on the Transformation Yoga Project, visit: Transformationyogaproject.org
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