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From competitive athletes to overworked parents, everyone can stand to benefit from a little down dog. But for the women in Cook County Jail, yoga isn’t just a form of exercise or a break from the stresses of every day life. It’s a form of therapy.

“I’ve been through a million and one horrible things,” Kristy, an inmate, says. “I used to prostitute … I’ve been sexually abused … that’s something that stays on my mind every day of my life.”

Like most women at Cook County Jail, this isn’t Kristy’s first stay. According to a survey done by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, most of the women have been detained two to five times thus far. But that’s not all these women have in common. According the survey, the women at Cook County Jail are most likely survivors of childhood abuse and adult violence. They might have a substance abuse history or an emotional problem, as well. Combined, these traumas can wreak havoc on the mind and body.

“A lot of victims of traumatic experience have a fight or flight response and it can be difficult to learn ways to handle stress,” Heather Ross says. Ross is an instructor for the Yoga for Recovery program here in Chicago.

Yoga for Recovery brings trauma-sensitive yoga to the women in Cook County Jail. This form of yoga aims to reset the nervous system and help traumatized people feel more comfortable, relaxed, and at peace in their own minds and bodies.

“Part of the yoga experience is also helping with the physical manifestations of trauma,” Ross says. “Doing a yoga practice and incorporating breath can help transform some of that tension and stress into an easier way to live.”

Kristy practices yoga on her own time as well and says the techniques she learns in class help her in the outside world.

“When you do yoga, you relax your mind and when you relax your mind, you relax your body,” she says. “So everything that’s stressing you out, you’re at ease with it.”

For more information on Yoga for Recovery, please visit their website: