Lots of people enjoy the calming and relaxing benefits of yoga, but in Laramie a group is trying to use yoga to help those in the drug court program. And the early returns are good. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more.
BOB BECK: It’s Friday night at Laramie’s Hot Power Yoga. The lights are down and the room is lit with candles. Nine people connected with the Albany County Drug Court program are here holding various poses in an effort to relax and focus.
The class is part of an experiment by the drug court which is now known as the Court Supervised Treatment Program. The program coordinator Tina Mansfield says those assigned to the drug court have issues.
TINA MANSFIELD: Someone who has had many legal problems that are strictly and completely due to addiction.
BECK: Mansfield says people in the program can relapse over and over again, but she adds that that those who run the program learn a lot from relapse. One thing they have learned is that participants need is a way to reduce stress and focus on something positive. That’s where yoga comes in.
MANSFIELD: Yoga is a gift. Yoga is an opportunity for a participant to be there for themselves and not have any demands on themselves for an hour.
BECK: A drug court participant named Jen Banks recently discovered the benefits of yoga on her own. Banks was no casual participant in the system, Mansfield calls her experience as grizzly as anyone’s. Banks says she was hooked on the benefits of yoga almost immediately.
JENNIFER BANKS: What happened is that I came in the first day and I cried. And I said…oh, my gosh this is like life changing. And so through yoga I found a different type of structure, because the poses are specific and they hold you in a certain way. And through that structure I could sort of work through all this stuff I held like bodily trauma. And I quit smoking cigarettes. I never thought that would happen in a million years.
BECK: Banks has become an instructor and brought the idea of leading a class designed for the drug court participants to Mansfield, who embraced the idea. Since she knows what they are going through, Banks is focused on trying to health their wounds.
BANKS: Once again no judgment’s, but maybe try and soften those spots and soften your heart and mellow it. Aint nobody gonna come in the studio and harass you for those two hours. It’s sacred space, it’s your time for your body.
BECK: Another instructor with the program Alyssa Yackley says there is no question that yoga helps those in the program.
ALYSSA YACKLEY: The idea is that you are kind of life practicing. You’re practicing putting yourself in relaxing places and less than relaxing postures and then figuring out how to be relaxed. It really starts to work on your nervous system from the outside in.
BECK: Now admittedly this new age talk might make cynical people roll their eyes. But the participants say it’s working. Tyler Wall is shocked by the benefits. After a busy and stressful week he’d normally spend his Friday night’s drinking to excess instead of in a yoga class.
TYLER WALL: Clears your mind. Puts a lot of things in perspective. You don’t feel the need to go drink because you are a lot happier after doing something like this…just overall boosts your mood.
BECK: Kathy Johnson has been doing yoga since the spring and raves about how it’s helped her.
KATHY JOHNSON: It gives you that meditation feeling and I can actually focus into a world of no pain, no frustration, no anger, you know it’s complete silence almost.
BECK: Will this continue to work? It’s anybody’s guess. They now call the program Wyoming Mobile Yoga and have plans to take it around the state and into the Corrections system. The Drug Courts Tina Mansfield is excited about the possibilities and says even if it helps just a few people, it is worth it.
YACKLEY: If closing the eyes brings any fear or anxiety into your mind or your body, see if you can imagine that they are actually open, seeing just the backs of your eyelids.
For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.