New Research Shows Mental Health Boost From Prison Yoga

Prisoners who took part in regular yoga classes at HMP Dovegate in Staffordshire experienced measurable improvements in their mental health, according to research just published by health care provider Practice Plus Group, (formerly Care UK).

Some 67 prisoners completed a questionnaire before starting yoga and again after three months of classes. They were also encouraged to write thoughts in a notebook after each session.

They reported improved mood, better sleep, less aggression, less anxiety and agitation, and increased ability to relax and manage stressful situations.

Yoga teacher Fiona, who taught four one-hour classes twice a month for different groups of prisoners, said, “Some of the differences in prisoners’ notebook comments from the start to the finish were incredible.”

“Very relaxed, full of energy for the day ahead. Thanks.”
“Feel good no anger, I’d like to thank you. Respect.”
“This yoga really helps my aching muscles and brightens up my day, giving me some release from my sentence. Thank you.”
“I think this class is great and I am taking a lot from it. Would like to have more classes more frequently. I always feel relaxed and refreshed after.”

Prisoner feedback from the course

Questionnaire answers were quantified on a scale of 14–70 and showed an average increase in score of 8.1, with 52 of 67 the prisoners experiencing a score improvement considered to be ‘meaningful’ by psychologists.

Before practising yoga, 19 of the prisoners’ questionnaire scores put them in the bottom 15 per cent of the UK population for mental health. After three months, the scores of 13 these prisoners had risen to more average levels.

Fiona said, “I know the power of yoga from my teaching and other research I have done in sport and in prisons, but to see it quantified is wonderful. It’s amazing to see that empirical scientific studies show that it works and in so many different ways.”

Prison healthcare provider Practice Plus Group, which carried out the research, now plans three further pilot projects in Midlands prisons and Young Offenders Institutions, with a view to rolling out nationally in the future. These projects will assess the impact of regular yoga on sleep, pain relief, and the management of long-term health conditions.

The project at HMP Dovegate took place over a 12-month period, with a rolling programme of fortnightly yoga classes for prisoners. Priority was given to men suffering poor mental health, addiction, and other difficulties.