Ananda Marga of South America is bringing a program of  yoga and cultural activities to prisoners in Brazil

Yoga, is giving prisoners of the José Maria Almim Penitentiary in Riberão das Neves a different routine once a week when yogic monk Dada Maheshvarananda and volunteers of Ananda Marga meet with the prisoners to teach techniques of relaxation and encouragement.

"This came from our work in Carandiru Prison in Sao Paulo for two years. We realized these prisoners suffer from loneliness. With yoga, we want to strengthen them and contribute to their development," said Dada.

The first experience of Ananda Marga with prisoners was with AIDS victims in Carandiru Prison in Sao Paulo. There Dada did, for the first time, a project that is already being done in countries like the United States and England.

"In England, for example, there is an ecumenical movement with Catholic monks and religious leaders of different faiths. They teach yoga and meditation in half of the English prisons," he said.

In Brazil volunteers also worked for one year in the Carandiru Womens Prison in Sao Paulo. The work, accompanied by yoga instructor Marina Araujo Sousa Fonseca, brought several changes to those women. "This project is very gratifying, because we see great improvements in those that practice yoga regularly. They develop emotional control, become more calm and help other prisoners," she said.

The prison directors also think the effort is valuable. "We have had a good result. In the beginning, the classes were only observed by the inmates, but later they started to change their attitude and participate in the exercises," Marina said.

Participation is voluntary and there are normally 15 inmates present.

"Today I feel very good. When I meditate, I seem to leave my body briefly. In this way I become more calm and gain better self-control," said Marcelo B. S., 44 years old, who practices yoga and has been a prisoner for the last 24 years.

A cultural program, entitled "Liberation for the Mind" was also organized in the prison. The teachers and prisoners organized a musical concert, art exhibition and demonstration of yoga postures. It was supported by professional musicians who performed without charge.

Ananda Marga is an international socio-spiritual organization. Its goal combines the inner search with social service. "We do this with a universal perspective, with the vision of creating a healthy and progressive society," said Dada.