50 Reasons to Love Toronto: No.47, Freeing the Human Spirit teaches yoga in prisons
Sister Elaine MacInnes is an 87-year-old Roman Catholic nun who is also a practising Zen master. While working in the Philippines during the Marcos regime, she led meditation sessions in jails, helping political prisoners endure the trauma of incarceration and torture. When she returned to Toronto, she decided to try it here. Her non-profit group, Freeing the Human Spirit, has since taught thousands of inmates to meditate and practise yoga, and currently offers regular classes taught by volunteers in 23 correctional facilities across the country.
At the Don Jail, inmates perform sun salutations between tables bolted to the floor in a common room. Classes are often interrupted or cancelled during lockdowns—not ideal conditions for finding your inner peace—but guards report lower rates of agitation, anxiety and violent behaviour after the sessions.
2 thoughts on “50 Reasons to Love Toronto: No.47, Freeing the Human Spirit teaches yoga in prisons”
I am a former FTHS yoga & meditation volunteer teacher and I am grateful to Sister Elaine for continuing her work here in Canada. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the inmates (and corrections officers). We heard from both sides of the bars (it’s glass these days) how calm the inmates were after class and how it made the officers’ work easier. You could definitely see the change in inmates from week to week.
I currently teach yoga and meditation at Grand Valley Institute for Women, Kitchener ON, as a volunteer with Freeing the Human Spirit. The ladies are keen participants in the program and are very grateful for having the benefits of yoga and meditation taught to them. They have told us that they feel calmer, more involved in the other programs they are taking towards their rehabiiltation and have a sense of community with the other students in the class. One of the women who received a certificate from Freeing the Human Spirit for her participation in the program for over a year said it was the first time she had ever received recognition for anything in her life and was quite emotional with her accomplishment. I enjoy their enthusiasm and dedication to the program.
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