Former inmate credits mindfulness, yoga for helping turn his life around

Hadas Kuznits
August 18, 2019 - 4:00 am

Hadas Kuznits/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — An unconventional instructor led a yoga and meditation class on the grounds of Eastern State Penitentiary this weekend.  

Matt Engler says he first learned to meditate at Graterford Prison, now SCI Phoenix, where he was serving 20 years for home invasion robbery.

"There was a book. The book was, Bo Lozoff “We're All Doing Time” and this book seemed to kind of just keep reappearing in my life," he said.

Eventually, Engler says he started teaching meditation to his fellow prison inmates and when Transformation Yoga Project offered yoga trainings.

"A staff member actually asked well, would you want to teach a class?  So I started doing that and then the Transformation Yoga Project they were coming in, we were doing the asana yoga, which is like regular yoga and then they offered the teacher training," he said.

Engler became a certified yoga instructor and that's where he met Brianne Murphy, the director of justice and reentry services at Transformation Yoga Project.

Hadas Kuznits/KYW Newsradio

"He really led the charge of breaking down stereotypes of practicing yoga as a man in a correctional institution."

She says this year, Engler co-facilitated their largest teacher training class to date.

"Transformative justice is a lens that we look at all of our programming through,” she said. "We try to consider what types of opportunity to healing modalities people could benefit from.”

Engler says he was able to change his outlook on life by shifting his mindset.

"There's a part in prison where it can be monk-like. You eat communally, you bathe communally, I trained, read, slept, ate, you don't have possessions, there are no relations -- well, there weren't for me -- relationships with women, so I began to see it kind of like as a monastery," he explained.

Now Engler, who was just released in July, says he wants to build his new life outside of prison around teaching yoga and meditation.