One of the greatest benefits of yoga practice is that it trains us to stay calm when emotions and physical sensations get intense. This type of training not only allows our negative emotions to pass more quickly, but it encourages us not to impulsively act out from a place of anger, fear, or hostility. So, could this aspect of yoga practice be helpful to those who are incarcerated? A new study says yes.
In a recent 10-week study funded by the Prison Phoenix Trust, an Oxford, England, based charity that offers yoga classes in prisons, psychologists assessed the benefits of yoga for prisoners. Study leaders Dr. Amy Bilderbeck and Dr. Miguel Farias, who are Oxford University researchers in the Department of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry, found that prisoners who took one 90-minute yoga class each week improved in mood, had a decrease in stress, and were able to curb impulsivity. This last finding indicates that yoga may not only be a way of helping inmates deal with the stress of incarceration, but that offenders may have a better shot of resisting the temptation to commit crime again once they are back out in the world.
“Almost half of adult prisoners return to prison within a year, having created more victims of crime,” Sam Settle, director of the Prison Phoenix Trust, says in an article posted on the India Educational Diary website. “So finding ways to offset the damaging effects of prison life is essential for us as a society. This research confirms what prisoners have been consistently telling the Prison Phoenix Trust for 25 years: yoga and meditation help them feel better, make better decisions, and develop the capacity to think before acting–all essential in leading positive, crime-free lives once back in the community.”
Before and after the yoga course, all the prisoners completed questionnaires measuring mood, stress, impulsivity, and mental wellbeing. The results of the study were printed in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
“We’re not saying that organizing a weekly yoga session in a prison is going to suddenly turn prisons into calm and serene places, stop all aggression and reduce reoffending rates,” said Bilderbeck, who is also a yoga practitioner. “But what we do see are indications that this relatively cheap, simple option might have multiple benefits for prisoners’ wellbeing and possibly aid in managing the burden of mental health problems in prisons.”
Read more YJ coverage about prison-yoga programs: