Prison officers in western India have come up with a novel way for convicts to secure early release — master some yoga poses and pass an exam, an official said Wednesday.

Inmates at Yerwada Central Jail in Maharashtra state can cut their sentences by up to three months if they impress wardens in the ancient Indian practice, said the prison chief responsible for the programme.

“There’s a written and physical exam and those who excel will be given remission with respect to their performance,” Bhushankumar Upadhyay, additional director general of the Maharashtra prison department told AFP.

“We have started the written tests and the practical examination will commence in January. We are going to hold two exams a year and prisoners can get a maximum of three months early release,” he added.

Upadhyay said the programme was aimed at improving their mental and physical wellbeing.

Prisoners have to answer questions such as “What is Yoga?” and “How does it help you?” as well as perform a series of complex moves.

“Yoga has been found to be very positive in harmonising our mental and physical energy. It has played a great role in the formation of the soul,” added Upadhyay, giving away one of the answers.

The initiative at the prison in Pune, near Mumbai, is the latest in a long line of yogic programmes to have started since India’s yoga-loving leader Narendra Modi was elected prime minister in May last year.

He has set up a ministry dedicated to promoting yoga and other traditional Indian treatments, and also started free yoga classes for his government’s three million bureaucrats and their families.

Indian scholars believe yoga dates back 5,000 years, based on archaeological evidence of poses found inscribed on stones and references to Yogic teachings in the ancient Hindu scriptures of the Vedas.

Its popularity worldwide is at an all-time high and in June millions marked the first International Yoga Day.