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Yoga Helps NC Detention Facility Breathe Easier

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Inmates at the Buncombe County Detention Facility practice yoga in a pilot program. Credit: Buncombe County Detention Facility
Inmates at the Buncombe County Detention Facility practice yoga in a pilot program. Credit: Buncombe County Detention Facility
December 2, 2015

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - A dozen or more people sitting on mats and practicing deep breathing exercises is not what you'd expect to see at a detention facility, but it's happening in at least one in North Carolina - with positive results.

The Buncombe County Detention Facility has embarked on a pilot program to bring volunteer yoga instructors to inmates at their facility in hopes it will give them coping mechanisms both inside and outside the facility. The program is the brainchild of Val Lamberti, the facility's inmate volunteer coordinator.

"They feel less anxiety and they're better able to tolerate the isolation of being in detention," said Lamberti. "They can relate how important it is to know that they are somewhat in control of their body."

Lamberti said the yoga program is an effort to accommodate inmates now housed up to two years, because of a change in state policy for all local detention facilities. A University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill study of inmates participating in yoga at a Raleigh facility found that they had a significantly lower rate of reincarceration upon release.

Paige Gilchrist of the Asheville Yoga Center, who has been instructing the classes since the program began, said the skills learned in yoga could help participants cope with the outside world once they are released.

"We gave them free passes, hoping that when they're back out in the world that this is something that they will continue and they'll have an immediate support system to link into," she said. "It feels like the right thing to do if our goal is really to help these people reintegrate into society."

Lamberti said the detention center already is seeing results.

"Being able to see that and see their smiles. I've seen several of them who have come back for the second program," she said. "They're in a totally different place."

The Buncombe County facility now is in the second session of its pilot program. At the end of each session, participants receive a book to continue their studies and a completion certificate from the Asheville Yoga Center. There is a similar program at the Craggy Correctional Center.

The UNC study is online at prisonyoga.org.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC