Silence behind bars: Retreat helps Homestead inmates defuse anger

Miami Herald : November 03, 2016


About 20 women sit in a circle on blue legless chairs placed over yoga mats in a white-walled classroom. In one corner, artsy cutouts of the words “joy,” “compassion” and “courage” are taped on the wall, while an overflowing arrangement of yellow and purple flowers decorates the opposite end of the room.

The shoeless women know each other well and laugh at each other’s jokes. If it weren’t for the corrections officer looking out the door, this room could be a yoga studio in any hip neighborhood.

The women are inmates at the Homestead Correctional Institution, an all-women’s prison, and for three days they were immersed in a silent, meditative retreat. After the silence was declared over, the women couldn’t stop talking.

“There’s a lot I can’t control in prison, but this class gave me control,” said Catherine Lafleur, who is serving a life sentence for killing her husband in 1999. “Taking just one moment for breathing, it makes such a difference. It has made my life better.”

The retreat is part two of a breathing and meditation course called Prison S.M.A.R.T., or “Stress Management and Rehabilitation Training.” The International Association for Human Values, which organized the program, seeks to teach people in penal institutions a breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya. The technique, created by Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is aimed at delivering relief from accumulated stress. (Shankar is not to be confused with the musician, Ravi Shankar, who gained fame through George Harrison.)

“I worked so hard on myself to find the courage to heal,” said Deidre Hunt, who was on death row for eight years and is serving a life sentence for murder.

Hunt said she was in solitary confinement for most of those eight years and wished she had known about the breathing technique at the time. It would have made it easier and quicker to heal, she said.

“If I do this every single day, it changes you,’’ she said. “After, you don’t recognize yourself. You think, ‘Why didn’t that upset me?”’

Meera Khan, who is in prison for welfare fraud, said she wants to open a yoga studio when she gets out. She said the practice could benefit not only people in prison, but those on the outside.

“This could discourage people from committing crimes,” she said. “Society needs S.M.A.R.T.”

During the retreat, the women silently did yoga and underwent guided meditation, stopping only for meals. There were no distractions. No TV, no radio, no reading. At night, the women slept in their cells. Some wore small signs on their shirts alerting others not to speak to them until Monday.

After the retreat was over, the women took turns recounting their experience and the impact meditation had on their lives: “Transformed.” “Peaceful.” “Calm.”

One inmate called her prison term a “blessing” because she discovered meditation there.

Whatever their background or their crimes, the participants agreed the meditation and silent retreat led them to discard and defuse their anger.

Gabriella Savelli is program director and an avid practitioner of meditation. “People have their hearts and minds shift,” she said, her voice breaking. “To see people feel love again in a way that they want to contribute to the world — it’s real, they’re not faking it.”

The program has been running at the Homestead prison since 2013, with more than 130 women going through Level One.

Savelli, who lives in Washington, often leads the classes. When she’s not there, local volunteers guide meditations and visit to motivate the inmates.

Prison warden Marie Boan said in a written statement she instituted the program because she believed it would help the inmates reduce their stress.

“The program has been wonderfully beneficial to those who participate, allowing them to learn the value of patience and alternate means, instead of lashing out toward each other when stress rises,” she wrote.

Since 1992, Prison S.M.A.R.T has taught meditative practices to more than 10,000 inmates, correctional officers, law enforcement staff and crime victims. Twenty three prisons around the country have instituted the program’s Level One, which introduces the practice in two- to three-hour courses several times a week. Homestead Correctional is only the second prison in the country to have completed the silent retreat.

Savelli said the silent retreat offers greater benefits than Level One, and she hopes more prisons will adopt the program.

“The amount of release and clarity you get with the intensity of a weekend like this is a lot faster than waiting for things to dawn on you,” she said.

“When you’re in state of non-agitation, you have a certain clarity and a state of calmness that allows you to see what’s not working for you,” she said. “It’s not to say you get done with this and you levitate to the clouds, but you just have an ability to shift that comes over time when you cultivate wisdom.”

Ecuador Trauma Relief

On April 16, 2016 a powerful earthquake shook Ecuador with a moment magnitude of 7.8 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of VIII (Severe). More than 500 people were killed and thousands became homeless. The most affected regions were Manta, Pedernales and Portoviejo.

After the immediate response with the provision of material aid, such as water and medicine, several volunteers of Art of Living Foundation from different Latin American countries (Argentina, Paraguay and Panamá) traveled to provide support to the local team in Ecuador.

The Trauma Relief Programs were offered in the city of Portoviejo, (Manabí Province, western Ecuador) providing relief to hundreds of people, and involved:

  • 15 volunteers from 4 countries: Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay and Panama
  • 4 days in the affected area
  • 5 shelters assisted
  • 600 people benefited with Yoga, Meditation and BWS Trauma Relief courses
  • 1150 people reached through the volunteers’ activities

In order to provide a sustainable support to the affected areas, during this visit many volunteers of the Art of Living Foundation were trained to teach trauma relief courses involving breathing techniques, meditation, yoga and playful activities.

The next steps will include: empowering local leaders, training youth with leadership skills (YLTP) and developing regional service programs to help the long-term rehabilitation of the community.

The International Association for Human Values (IAHV), in partnership with the Art of Living Foundation (AOLF) has established a disaster relief fund to provide trauma relief program. Your contributions will be used for mobilization of volunteers (air travel and ground transport), accommodation , organizing trauma relief workshops and supplies for the workshops.

IAHV is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All contributions are fully tax-deductible.

Please mail checks to: IAHV, 2401 15th Street NW, Washington DC 20009

Or donate online by clicking here.

Handing Over Ceremony of Palar River Rejuvenation

December 03, 2015

“The Whole world is struggling for water and it is said that if a third world war happens it would be because of water.”, said IAHV & Art of Living Founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, bringing the attention of the citizens of Kaiwara (dist Chikkaballapur) to a possible solution for their water problems.

Volunteers begun work for Palar’s rejuvenation, the removal of silt and reviving the small streams which flowed to the river after the rains. Initial work has commenced in Phase-1 on 10km streams, covering 35 villages. Until now, 40 recharge wells, 2 recharge borewells, 2 boulder checks and 1 water pool has been constructed. Narayanavana, a grove of medicinal plants with 30 different varieties has been created.

Along with the farmers, we have started planting trees. 3000 trees were planted within one month. This will continue and 10000 saplings will be planted in the next few months.

A Narayana Vana has been created at Kaiwara, as part of the rejuvenation project. There are 32 species of rare and endangered plants, like, Sita Ashoka (helpful in relieving stress and addressing gynecological problems), “Kadambi” (traps dust) and Atti tree (other organisms and birds nest in this tree). In total, there are around 200 trees and 2,000 herbs and shrubs in this Vana.

Palar Then and Now
40 years ago: The majestic Palar river flowed through the 3 states of Karnataka, Andhra and Tamil Nadu, with lush natural vegetation decorating its banks. Flowing even in time of drought, the river fed and replenished numerous wells and streams, ultimately merging into the Bay of Bengal.

Present Day: Today, the soil has corroded, basin is filled with silt and the wells and streams are a thing of the past.


September 28, 2015

Our Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Ji handed over recharge structures of Palar River Rejuvenation to Gram Panchayat and inaugurated Narayana vana at Kaiwara, Karnataka on 19th Sep 2015.





New Study Shows Anti-Anxiety and Anti-Depression Effects of SKY Meditation

WASHINGTON, DC : Nov 5, 2015, The Art of Living Foundation and International Association for Human Values announced today that studies conducted by doctors and researchers at the Fatebenefratelli e Oftalmico Hospital of Milan, Italy, found that SKY, a yoga based breathing technique program, significantly reduces levels of anxiety and depression. This suggests a promising new low-cost adjunct therapy for improving mental health and well-being without side effects.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in ages 18 and older, or 18% of the population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The positive outcomes of reduced cortisol levels with the SKY breathing technique in patients suffering from both anxiety and depression brings into focus an alternative, low-cost treatment for one of the most widespread health issues of our time. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recently reported nearly 90 percent of Americans value mental health and physical health equally, yet about one-third find mental health care inaccessible, and more than four in 10 see cost as a barrier to treatment.
Sudarshan Kriya Yoga as an effective anti-anxiety and anti-depression treatment

In the Italian studies, Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY), a comprehensive yoga breathing based program, demonstrated significant improvements in patients suffering from depression and anxiety. The researchers found SKY to be effective in relieving both clinical and non-clinical anxiety and depression. Interestingly, patients who were not on medication achieved the same impressive results as patients who were on medication. And results persisted at six months, showing it could not be a placebo effect.

These observed psychological improvements are corroborated by physiological changes documented in other depression and anxiety studies, such as reduced biomarkers of stress including cortisol (the stress hormone), increased levels of prolactin (a wellbeing hormone), and the return to normal of specific brain wave patterns that are often abnormal in depressed patients.
According to the researchers who conducted the study, there is sufficient evidence to consider SKY as a beneficial, low-risk, low-cost adjunct to standard psychotherapy and/or pharmacotherapy used in the treatment of stress, anxiety and depression.

“We chose SKY because the protocol is based on simple breathing techniques that the patients can easily practice at home. This allows them to see concrete results day after day and recognize that they can take charge of improvement of their condition. This is very important because it further leads to some essential and desired side benefits: empowerment, improvement of self-esteem, and a positive change in patient’s perception of their disorder,” said Dr. Stefania Doria, psychiatrist and lead author of the scientific paper published from this research.

About the study
The study was conducted in the Neurosciences Department of Fatebenefratelli e Oftalmico hospital in Milan with 69 adults (25-64 years) with a primary diagnosis of anxiety disorders. Participants were divided into two groups: one underwent SKY treatment only, and the other had SKY treatment in addition to the standard pharmacological antidepressant and/or anxiolytic treatment. An important finding was that SKY was uniformly effective in providing remission from the clinical conditions in both patients who were on medication, as well as those who were unable or unwilling to take medication. The study results demonstrated that the implementation of SKY therapy in a scientifically controlled, medical environment significantly reduced the levels of anxiety and depression in patients suffering from these disorders. For more, click here.

Sudarshan Kriya Yoga:
Sudarshan Kriya™ and its accompanying breathing practices (SKY) are derived from the 5,000 year old Yogic Science of Breath. Taught by certified instructors of the Art of Living Foundation & IAHV, SKY incorporates specific natural rhythms of the breath to harmonize the body, mind and emotions.

About the Art of Living Foundation (AOLF) and International Association for Human Values (IAHV)
Founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, AOLF is an international humanitarian organization that offers educational and self-development programs to manage stress, foster inner peace and improve well-being. IAHV is a global organization that offers programs to reduce stress and develop leaders so that human values can flourish in people and communities. Both the non-profit organizations hold a consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Nepal Earthquake Relief

April 26, 2015

On April 25, 2015, a devastating earthquake has occurred in Nepal. More than 8,000 people died, 16,000 people injured, 5,00,000 houses & buildings destroyed and 2,70,000 houses & buildings partially damaged. (Reference:

Pursuant to the natural tragedy, the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) in partnership with the Art of Living Foundation (AOLF) established a Disaster Relief Fund to provide humanitarian assistance for the victims of the Earthquake. More than 8000 volunteers are working in ground zero in 12 out of 13 major impacted districts of Nepal covering 103 Municipality/VDC of Nepal to provide Immediate Relief and Trauma Relief. These districts are Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktpur, Dolkha, Shindupalchwok, Ramechhap, Okheldhunga, Gorkha, Kavre, Dhading, Lamjung and Nuwakot.

Our Immediate Response (Within a month):

  • Distributed Relief Materials (Food, Medicine, Tents, Blankets, etc) to 1,50,000 victims worth INR 4Cr.
  • Conducted more than 225 Trauma Relief Workshop benefited 30,000 victims worth INR 3Cr.
  • More than 8000 volunteers worked in ground zero in 12 out of 13 major impacted districts of Nepal worth INR 16Cr.

Mid/Short Term Rehabilitation Plan:

  • Build 13 Earthquake and Flood Proof Communities Living centers in 13 most impacted districts of Nepal and use them for shelters for needy and to impart vocational skills.
  • Build 300 temporary shelters for needy in selected village.
  • Train 1000 Youth of the region to select 300 Employed Youth Leaders who would support infrastructure building and conduct Trauma Relief workshops.
  • Conduct 5000 Trauma Relief Workshop covering 1.5 million impacted populations.

Local AOLF and IAHV volunteers are starting Mid/Short Term Rehabilitation Program. Our Trauma Relief Workshops and long-term survivor rehabilitation programs will continue to supplement all relief efforts.

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