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Ex-convict teaches yoga to help calm violence in Mexico's prisons

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Lauren Villagran

(Read caption) Yoga instructor – and ex-convict – Fredy Díaz Arista helps youths in prison by teaching the techniques of yoga meditation.

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Teenage boys shuffle into a cramped room. Wearing the same navy blue sweatpants and white undershirts, they sit cross-legged on yoga mats laid out on the floor. Thick scars on forearms and biceps are apparent as they stretch their hands to their knees and shut their eyes.

Yoga instructor – and ex-convict – Fredy Díaz Arista begins guiding a meditation aimed at relaxing the group of 10 young offenders. Among them and their peers, about 300 youth in this Mexico City jail, the crimes range from drug abuse to robbery, assault, and murder.

“How long can you stand yourselves with your eyes closed?” Mr. Díaz asks, and then he reminds the boys to breathe. “Inhale. Exhale.”

Díaz spent six years and seven months in a prison known as Atlacholoaya in the state of Morelos, just south of Mexico’s capital city. He was picked up for trafficking marijuana and sentenced to 10 years.

In jail, he discovered yoga, and his life changed radically. He was released in 2009.

“I feel compelled to give back what was given to me,” Díaz says. “Yoga was the key that opened my heart.”

The yoga program in Atlacholoaya was founded in 2003 by Ann Moxey, a yoga instructor and psychologist specializing in addictions. Mexican prisons are rife with drugs, making rehabilitation especially hard. Ms. Moxey’s yoga classes helped Díaz break the cycle.

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