Five years ago, Ginny Kuhn was asked on her graduate school application to the University of Santa Monica, “How do you plan to use your master’s degree in service of the world?” With 22 years of yoga experience, the Santa Barbara resident wanted to spread the practice’s healing ways to the incarcerated population, so Prison Yoga Project Santa Barbara (PYPSB) was her response.
Today, Kuhn instructs yoga at Santa Barbara County Jail and Los Prietos Boys Camp with fellow volunteer Mike Lewis. They are affiliated with the Prison Yoga Project, which was started 15 years ago by yogi James Fox at California’s San Quentin State Prison, and teach free, 90-minute yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices to interested inmates. Kuhn is careful to clarify that she’s not trying to “help” or “fix” the inmates but rather is motivated to “serve” them as they cultivate a yoga and meditation practice and find inner calm.
In early December, Kuhn and Lewis brought Fox and other speakers to town for a community event called “Working Freedom from the Inside,” which presented an in-depth look at how the work is changing incarcerated individuals both in Santa Barbara and around the world. The following day, Fox hosted a teacher training at Yoga Soup, where 40 participants learned how to use yoga to address violence and addiction among inmates. “A challenging yoga class involves self-control and self-discipline and learning how important the breath is to calm the mind and calm the body,” said Fox, explaining that the practice has been empirically shown to help with impulse control and to decrease anxiety, stress, depression, hostility, and PTSD, all of which have higher-than-average incidence rates in the incarcerated population.
While working to make PYPSB financially self-sustainable, Kuhn is also seeking to add more classes and is on the lookout for more instructors. To learn more, see prisonyogasb.org.