Some people say county jails are “pressure cookers,” where tensions can escalate quickly and dangerously.
But some female inmates at the Montgomery County Jail are finding that yoga can be a healthy way to manage stress, deal with trauma and avoid getting bent out of shape.
The Day Yoga Community Outreach Program hosts a weekly yoga class at the jail.
The nonprofit wants to expand its free classes to male inmates and possibly to ex-inmates when they are released from jail back into the community.
Yoga “can be a very healing experience for people,” said Devon Schmidt, owner of Day Yoga Studio and president of the Day Yoga Community Program.
Day Yoga Studio has a location on Brown Street by the University of Dayton and another in Vandalia. The business started about seven years ago.
Schmidt created the Day Yoga Community Outreach Program, which became an official nonprofit around January 2016. Classes at the jail began two months later.
The outreach program seeks to make yoga accessible to everyone in the community. Instructors host free classes in some local schools, as well as at a women’s shelter.
The nonprofit is funded through donations. Its major fundraiser, the Happy Haunt 5k run and walk, took place Saturday.
Once a week, Day Yoga instructor Leona Banks makes a trip to the county jail in downtown Dayton to host a yoga class.
Classes are voluntary. Typically, they have about eight to 12 participants.
“It’s pretty popular in there — they all really like it — and there’s been a really good response,” Banks said.
Banks said she tailors the 50-minute sessions specifically to the inmate population.
The movements, positions and chants offer stress and anxiety relief and address back pain and other discomfort, she said. People usually sleep better after the classes.
Yoga increases body awareness and physical flexibility, which helps with pain relief, and yoga practices can help with mental health, relaxing the mind and strengthening the mind-body connection, Banks said.
Yoga, through controlled breathing and other practices, lets people tune inward and focus on the body and the self, and women have broken into sobs while engaging in self reflection on their yoga mats, according to Banks and Schmidt.
Yoga tends to include physical poses, controlled breathing and meditation.
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Banks said she knows what it’s like to be held at the jail and she wants participants to feel connected and valued.
At the jail, yoga participants have included women arrested for drug abuse, prostitution and theft.
The female population at the jail has been growing, and jail administration is constantly looking for new recreational opportunities, said Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Rob Streck.
“Yoga has shown to have many benefits and it can be performed in different areas of the jail, such as pods and dorm housing,” Streck said.
This flexibility allows the jail to schedule other recreation in the gym, maximizing the number of inmates receiving recreation and exercise, he said.
“The sheriff’s office and the females participating are pleased with the program so we are beginning to inquire if there is an interest in yoga for the male population,” Streck said.
The Day Yoga Community Outreach Program would like to expand classes to male inmates because hopefully they give participants tools to help them cope with stress and anxiety that they can use in their jail cells and when they return home after release, said Schmidt.
Expanding the classes will depend on funding. Schmidt said she would also like to host free classes for people recently released from jail so they can stay with it.
She said getting the full benefits of yoga requires doing it fairly consistently.