Youth Yoga

The ancient art of yoga is a hot trend. Many people do it for better posture, health and mental well-being. But did you know prisons are now turning to yoga to help set criminals on a straight path? A program for young offenders in San Mateo County, Calif., is giving it a try.

The students in this yoga class are not paying hundreds of dollars, wearing fancy workout clothes, or striving for the perfect body -- they are learning self-awareness.

Camp Glenwood in La Honda is a live-in therapeutic program for kids between 13 and 18 years old who have committed crimes ranging from stealing to fighting.

Back in his San Francisco neighborhood, Manuel, 17, said that in his troublemaking days he enjoyed macho sports like basketball or weightlifting. But after three months, he's a believer in the meditative powers of yoga.

"It's helped me release stress," he said.

Each class begins with breathing, stretching, feeling the body and its surroundings. Then meditation -- turning the focus inward, blocking out the outside world -- which for many of these kids, was destructive.

"Either close your eyes, or find a spot on the ground you can look at, so you can just relax," said instructor Jonathan Weinstock.

It's all about mindfulness, he said.

"Being present to one's situation, one's surroundings, what's happening in the moment, and with that, awareness to make better choices," he said.

Seventeen-year-old Jordan, of East Palo Alto, Calif., said the techniques he's learned are already helping him now.

"It keeps me from doing negative things, negative behaviors that got me into this predicament. It makes me think twice before acting," he said.

The staff, in a questionairre, noted there was more positive behavior from the residents who took yoga, and the kids themselves showed higher self-esteem.

But not all correctional facilities trying yoga therapy are finding success.

A prison in Norway stopped holding yoga classes after it found they were making some more aggressive and irritable. The warden said the exercises could make inmates more dangerous by unlocking their psychological barriers.

"It can tap into some things that may be more difficult, so that makes sense to me," the warden said.

But Weinstock said with the right support, becoming aware of one's inner feelings can be beneficial.

One Camp Glenwood graduate agrees. Omar Turcios, of Daly City, Calif., credits yoga for turning a hot-tempered teen into a level-headed construction worker.

"I was an angry person. Anger management never worked. This class for some reason I felt relaxed, at ease," Turcios said.

And in control -- which is what many of these students say they've never felt, until now.

Manuel said when he finishes the program he will continue stretching his body, mind, and potential.

"Now that I'm here working to improve, hopefully have a successful life when I get out."

ABC News affiliate KGO-TV in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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