Prisoners doing yoga may see psychological benefits

Prisoners doing yoga may see psychological benefits

Yoga - the ancient Indian meditative practice - can improve mood and mental wellbeing among prisoners and affect their impulsive behaviour, a new Oxford study suggests.

The researchers found that prisoners after a 10-week yoga course reported improved mood, reduced stress and were better at a task related to behaviour control than those who continued in their normal prison routine.

"We found that the group that did the yoga course showed an improvement in positive mood, a decrease in stress and greater accuracy in a computer test of impulsivity and attention," said Dr Amy Bilderbeck and Dr Miguel Farias, who led the study at the Oxford University.

"Offering yoga sessions in prisons is cheap – much cheaper than other mental health interventions. If yoga has any effect on addressing mental health problems in prisons, it could save significant amounts of public money," Bilderbeck said.

Prisons see rates of mental health problems that are many times higher than the general population, and high levels are often recorded of personal distress, aggression, antisocial behaviour and drug and alcohol abuse among prisoners.

Inmates of a range of ages were recruited from five category B and C prisons, a women's prison and a young offender institution, all in the West Midlands, and were randomly assigned to either a course of 10 weekly yoga sessions of 90 minutes, or to a control group.

In sessions with the researchers before and after the yoga course, all the prisoners completed standard psychology questionnaires measuring mood, stress, impulsivity and mental wellbeing.

A computer test to measure attention and the participant's ability to control their responses to an on-screen cue was also used after the yoga course.

If yoga is associated with improving behaviour control, as suggested by the results of
the computer test, there may be implications for managing aggression, antisocial or problem behaviour in prisons and on return to society, the researchers note - though this is not measured in this initial study.

"We're not saying that organising a weekly yoga session in a prison is going to suddenly turn prisons into calm and serene places, stop all aggression and reduce re-offending rates," Bilderbeck cautioned.

"We're not saying that yoga will replace standard treatment of mental health conditions in prison. 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," she said.
The study was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

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