Ayla Benjamin, Boundless Freedom, Yoga

Racism, Incarceration, and Yoga with Ayla Benjamin

Episode 7

Racism, Incarceration, and Yoga with Ayla Benjamin

Racism is deeply embedded in the histories of yoga even as yoga offers visions and practices of liberation. From delimiting caste systems in ancient-to-modern societies to contemporary racist ideologies and social and cultural forces, race matters, is a source of profound harm predicated upon fundamental lies about the nature of human beings. It is also highly correlated with incarceration, especially in the United States, which leads the world in imprisoning people, with one-fifth of the world's incarcerated population.

Ayla Benjamin, executive director of Boundless Freedom, is a dynamic activist and social movement leader working to end mass incarceration while brining  yoga, meditation, and other practices of liberation and empowerment into prisons. 

In this episode, Mark Stephens and Ayla Benjamin discuss racism in yoga and society, and what many people are doing about it.

Highlights of the conversation include:

  • Ayla Benjamin's activist path from her roots in Minneapolis to her initial work in bringing yoga into California prisons.
  • The experience of teaching yoga in prisons and insights into how one might best prepare for that service.
  • How yoga yoga teachers can best develop the cultural competence for making yoga more accessible and meaningful in diverse communities.
  • How Ayla's experience living near the location of George Floyd's murder and their involvement in related peaceful protests impacted her views about the work to be done.
  • The work of Boundless Freedom.


Ayla Benjamin, Yoga, Boundless Freedom

Ayla Benjamin, an abolitionist, creative, yoga teacher, and meditation evangelist, is Executive Director for Boundless Freedom project, a California-based non-profit organization serving individuals who are impacted by incarceration by sharing mindfulness, ethics, and compassion practices. She has directly served the prison population in California as a yoga and meditation teacher, and as a violence prevention and emotional intelligence program facilitator.

Ayla previously co-founded an organization to bring yoga to underserved communities, including those experiencing homelessness, in recovery for substance abuse disorders, living in jails/prisons, schools, senior centers, and more. Passionate about disrupting systems of oppression by cultivating our collective human potential, she lives in Minneapolis where she spends free time with her family, makes art, and is a social justice activist. Ayla completed 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training with Mark Stephens.