Human Studies

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 77–100 | Cite as

Yoga in Penitentiary Settings: Transcendence, Spirituality, and Self-Improvement

  • Mar Griera
Empirical Study/Analysis


Yoga, together with other so-called holistic spiritual practices such as reiki or meditation, is one of the most popular spiritual disciplines in our contemporary society. The success of yoga crosses the boundaries between health, sport, religion, and popular culture. However, from a sociological point of view, this is a largely under-researched field. Aiming to fill this gap, this article analyzes the impact, meaning, and implications of the practice of yoga by taking prisons as the institutional context of the study. The growth of yoga in penitentiary settings is a recent trend in many countries and raises new questions concerning its potential to foster well-being and self-transformation. The research presented here applies Schutz’s concepts of “finite province of meaning” and “stock of knowledge” to understand yoga’s role in inmates’ lives. The main argument of the article is that yoga is a body technique that affords inmates the possibility to enter into a “finite province of meaning” and transcend their everyday prison lives. However, the impact of yoga upon inmates’ lives is not limited just to its physical effects as learning yoga also involves the acquisition of a “spiritual stock of knowledge” made up of Eastern philosophy, holistic concepts, and self-help therapeutic narratives. Indeed, physical movements and spiritual accounts constitute one another in the practice of yoga, thus opening up a pathway into a different reality; movement and spiritual discourse inform one another—and it is precisely in this reflexivity that “transcendent experiences” are created and yoga is made meaningful and important in the improvement-setting of the prison. This article is based on ethnographic fieldwork developed carried out in two different penitentiary institutions.


Spirituality Religion Schutz Yoga Penitentiary institutions Transcendence experiences 



This work received a grant from the Centre d’Estudis Jurídics [Centre for Legal Studies - Government of Catalonia]—Generalitat de Catalunya. The research project was conducted together with the sociologist Anna Clot-Garrell and the criminologist and yoga instructor Marta Puig. I am deeply grateful for their insightful comments. I am also indebted to the two anonymous reviewers for their relevant and inspiring comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ISOR, Departament de SociologiaUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterra, Barcelona (Catalonia)Spain

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