When you think of prison, thoughts of listless inmates wasting away in cells come to mind. However, wellness is alive in the most unusual place, San Quentin State Prison. According to an informal survey, 75 percent of prisoners in the prison’s West Block participated in some form of wellness activity.
The survey revealed that 37 percent walked three miles or more per week. Thirty-five percent of the participant did pushups, 30 percent meditated and 25 percent did bar work. Eleven people did yoga at least once a week, and four participated in Qi Gong and Tai Chi.
Wellness is defined as a person’s overall well-being. It is a balance of mind, body and spirit. Retroflection, which is also known as meditation, is the observation of the self, a technique Daoists use to accomplish balance. It is called “returning the light.” Daoists turn the light of their awareness back upon themselves, watching their own watching and observing their observations. Once viewed from within, Daoists can separate themselves from their issues simply by letting go of them. “Daoists calm the mind in meditation through deliberate forgetting and relaxation,” says Daoist teacher He Feng Dao Shi.
Qi Gong and Tai Chi are meditation and relaxation techniques used by the Chinese as traditional medicine for at least 4,000 years.
Like Qi Gong, other ancient Chinese internal healing techniques can be “described as a way for working with life energy. It may be practiced daily with the aim of health maintenance and disease prevention,” says Harry Croft, M.D.
Internal healing techniques are intended to be harmonious with the natural rhythms of time and season. They are based on the concept of Ying and Yang, which involves meditating, cleaning, strengthening/recharging, circulating and dispersing Qi.
According to Ryan Abbott, M.D., evidence from randomized controlled trials suggests that Tai Chi and Qi Gong improve physical and mental well-being. Studies show:
Severe knee osteoarthritis pain was reduced and mood and physical functioning improved more than with standard stretching exercises.
Quality of life and the functioning capacity of women with breast cancer improved, while it declined in control groups that only received supportive therapy.
Parkinson’s disease and stroke patients showed an improvement in balance and ability to walk. Blood level of B-type natriuretic protein, an indicator of heart failure, also improved.
Duration and quality of sleep significantly improved.
Brain volume increased, memory and thinking scores improved.
“Daoists calm the mind in meditation through deliberate forgetting and relaxation”
According to the San Quentin Medical Department, there has been an increase in problems with high blood pressure, chronic pain and obesity. If used consistently, Qi Gong and Tai Chi could answer and improve the physical and mental health of many prisoners.
According to Abbott, “Mind-body practices tend to be less costly and cause fewer side effects, and they can enhance the effectiveness of prescription drugs to reduce the necessary doses.”