Hula dancing might not seem like the most obvious pastime for grizzled male prisoners, but it is apparently shaping up to be an unlikely method of reform for California inmates.

The infamous San Quinten State Prison of northern California has been hosting hula classes for the male inmates twice a week – and many of them say that it has become an invaluable source of emotional relief and inspiration.

“Pre-hula, I was a really dark person,” one inmate told Circa. “But hula really spring-boarded it for me. I think, had I not found myself spiritually, I still would be searching.”

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Though there are not many studies that have precisely quantified the benefits of hula dancing, experts say that the traditional art form has a tremendous impact on the physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing of both Native Hawaiians and non-Natives. This study even says that it helps non-Hawaiian dancers to become more culturally aware and appreciative of other lifestyles.

Similarly, this West Virginia nonprofit has found transformational success in teaching yoga classes at local prisons and correctional facilities.

“The need for healing within the prison environment is profound,” the nonprofit’s co-founder told Good News Network. “They’re using these tools to get in touch with what they care about. What kind of person do they want to be while they’re in prison—and how to find that freedom on the inside while they’re incarcerated. It’s really very powerful.”

(WATCH the video below) – Photo by Patrick Makuakane

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