When Mike Huggins began his 9-month prison sentence in 2011, he never expected that his time at Lewisburg Federal Prison Camp would be the beginning of a lifelong dedication to mediation and yoga. After pleading guilty to a misdemeanor, Huggins turned to yoga and mindfulness practices during his incarceration. Following his release in 2012, Huggins decided to share his newfound passion with other incarcerated people, founding the Transformation Yoga Project (TYP) in 2013.
(Transformation Yoga Project conducts a staff class at a local youth center. Photo courtesy of Transformation Yoga Project)
Seven years later, the Philadelphia-based organization is only growing. “Transformation Yoga Project offers trauma sensitive and mindfulness-based yoga for anyone impacted by trauma, incarceration and addiction,” says Brianne Murphy, TYP’s Director of Justice and Reentry Services. Much of Transformation Yoga Project’s current work in Justice focuses on trauma-sensitive training for currently incarcerated people in state correctional facilities.
Reflecting on the Project’s mission, Murphy notes that accessibility and inclusivity is key, explaining, “As a team, we strive to make yoga and mindfulness accessible and inclusive to the leadership that exists within the institutions. We center our inside trainers as a critical part of our team.”
TYP’s wide-reaching presence accomplishes this goal on a daily basis, conducting sessions in Pennsylvania routinely. They are currently completing their third full 200-hour training within the PA Department of Corrections at State Correctional Institute (SCI) Phoenix. In addition, TYP hosted a 50-hour yoga teacher training at SCI Muncy, a facility in Muncy, PA in 2017 at the institution’s Trauma Informed House of Hope.
Transformation Yoga Project is also active in county-run facilities and outside the carceral system. In addition to conducting classes for the recently-released, “TYP also runs weekly classes because of the transitory nature of the county system,” says Murphy.
Most importantly, Transformation Yoga Project extends far beyond prison walls. According to Murphy, Transformation Yoga strives to function largely as a community resource. In addition to established partnerships throughout the community and with other reentry-focused organizations, such as the Institute for Community Justice, TYP focuses on collaborating with members of their community even after their time in a Transformation training is complete. Murphy says there’s an increasing number of graduates who, over time, go on to teach yoga or facilitate other sessions within the institutions, and since the project began, four Transformation Yoga Project students have been released from the state system.
For Murphy, “this work has taken shape around the axis of dismantling unjust systems and beliefs, community, and radical self-love.” As Transformation Yoga Project continues to grow in the coming years, it will surely impact hundreds of currently and formerly incarcerated members of the community.