Volunteer teaches yoga to Pakistani female prison inmates

Thu Aug 18, 2011 5:58am EDT
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By Sahar Ahmed

KARACHI (Reuters) - Behind the high walls and gates of the only prison for women in Pakistan's commercial hub, inmates such as Sadaf escape from prison every day -- even if it's only in her mind.

Small and thin, with friendly eyes set in a weathered face, Sadaf has been an inmate since 1998 after being convicted of kidnapping. But she says she's much calmer and hopeful thanks to an innovative yoga program for the prison's inhabitants.

"Though my surroundings haven't changed, my life has and I have yoga to be thankful for," she said in an interview with Reuters in the prison courtyard.

Sadaf, along with other inmates, has been taking yoga classes from volunteer instructor Aisha Chapra for almost a year and a half as a way to cope with the rough life of prison.

Pakistan's prisons have a reputation as brutal holding pens, but wardens and jail administrators praise the program for calming the inmates and preparing them for eventual release.

"I have seen a great change in the girls since they started doing yoga," said Sheeba Shah, a police official and administrator of the prison. "They have become less stressful and you can see a more positive attitude."

Chapra partly took her inspiration from the Bhopal Central Jail in India, which holds some of India's most notorious convicts. Since yoga classes have started there, incidents of violence have dropped and inmates report a greater control over anger.

The Indian government gives prisoners an incentive to do yoga: for every three months they remain in the program, their jail sentences are reduced by 15 days.   Continued...