Crime has been a problem throughout the ages but during the last few decades we have seen it soar to alarming heights. Recently, we received the following letter from a retired Superintendent of Police inquiring about the possibility of yoga being the solution to this problem.
"Crime is a very interesting subject. It can be investigated, detected and prevented, but can it ever be eradicated? How can A, B and C class criminals be inspired to correct their attitude and improve their character? Dacoits and their gangs are living in prison camps at the cost of the tax payers in order to correct their criminal instincts, but will this reform them? From my own experience with the Indian Police over the last forty years, I know for a fact that laws and punishments have not been able to correct criminal attitudes and behaviour in any country. If yoga is the solution or can at least improve matters, please show us the way."
People used to think that yoga was only for meditation and gyana, but now we know it has other practical applications. In prisons, for example, yogic methods were found to succeed where all other methods have failed. Criminal tendencies, being mainly due to excessive energy with no positive outlet, bad environmental conditions and associations, past karmas or inherited mental patterns, sometimes psychic or neuro-endocrinological imbalances, and alcohol and drug addictions are all amenable to yoga therapy.
Many criminals are actually extraordinary people whose mental energies are misused. We must remember here that the ambitious mind, full of desires and materialistic thoughts, falls into criminal ways because it cannot control itself. Criminals are psychic and intelligent; they can tell by your eyes or feeling your hands how much money you have. They are also highly organized. Such criminals are too clever to be reformed by the present system, but they can be influenced by good associations and satsang. If given yoga training along with a positive direction and motivation for their life, they can be transformed into most useful members of society. To know that this is true, we need only consider the story of Valmiki the robber who was influenced by Narada Muni to give up his plundering and murdering and take up japa yoga. Eventually he became a great saint and the author of the Valmiki Ramayana. Some criminals can be corrected by prison life, but most need inspiration, new references and an interesting occupation. There is no simple rule for everyone, but all corrective measures should be carried out with a higher objective in mind. Yoga training is the basis of real reformation for those who are receptive and ready to admit that they have done something wrong.
In Bombay, the Ghantali Mitra Mandal has undertaken a unique experiment along these lines in the Thane Central Prison. in January 1976 they trained eighty prisoners in yogasanas After sustained regular practice, it was found that yogasanas had improved their physical health, increased their mental tranquility and brought about a fundamental improvement in their character, conduct and composure. Due to such positive response from the prisoners and cooperation of the Government the Ghantali Mitra Mandal decided to give a teachers training course to those prisoners who were practicing regularly and undergoing long term sentences. The motivating idea behind this decision was that prisoners becoming yoga teachers, besides bringing about more basic transformation in the trainees themselves, would have a beneficial effect on other inmates leading to a chain reaction. This would not only help to propagate yoga in the prison, but would also convert the prison from a house of punishment to a reformatory in the true sense of the term, transforming criminals into useful human beings.
This revolutionary project began in November 1976 with thirteen prisoners who volunteered to appear for the Yoga Teachers Examination. Their ages ranged from twenty four to fifty years, and the majority were undergoing life imprisonment for murder. The Ghantali Mitra Mandal took up the entire responsibility for teaching the prescribed course inclusive of all expenses to be incurred for the same. After completion of the training, the prisoners were given written, oral and practical tests. All thirteen passed the examination, eight of them securing first grade. Out of a possible score of 300 marks, their scores ranged from 261 to 127; the average mean score was 190 which is 63%. Yoga brought about a total change in the personalities of all thirteen prisoner trainees. They are now well equipped to teach yoga and will try to raise the consciousness of other prisoners changing them from criminals to human beings, at peace with themselves and with the world outside.
Such reports are a positive proof that yoga has the power to speed up the rehabilitation process and to totally change the whole personality structure. In this way those offenders of the law can become useful, creative and integrated members of society rather than destructive and chaotic elements. Yoga offers them a direction, purpose and goal to not only help themselves but also to help others. Disciples of Swami Satyananda Saraswati from Satyananda Ashram, Australia; Scandinavian School of Yoga, and Bogotá School of Yoga, Colombia, have also been teaching yoga in prisons for several years now. They all have found that many prisoners art eager to learn yoga and vast improvements are brought about with practice. What is important to note here is that the changes art permanent because they begin at the centre of being and work out. The prisoner is reformed from within because he has come to enjoy his new perception of the world and his place in it.