Yoga comes to the aid of women’s mental health in prisons

In-cell yoga handouts support wellbeing alongside yoga classes

The Prison Phoenix Trust has developed a set of 12 guided practices to support good mental health  in response to concerns about the impact of lockdown restrictions on women prisoners. 

It follows reports that the lack of family visits and increased isolation of lockdown regimes has had a particularly severe impact on women (1).

“Women in prison can be particularly vulnerable,” said Prison Phoenix Trust director Selina Sasse. “The loss of family visits and increased isolation is having a toll on mental health. We know from the letters we receive from prisoners every day how much yoga and meditation can help during especially challenging times. These illustrated handouts contain simple practices anyone can do at any time, to help settle anxious minds.”

The new in-cell handouts include “Yoga for worrying”, “Yoga for sleep”, “Yoga for steady strength” and “Cell-bed yoga”. They are among nearly 30 sessions produced by the Prison Phoenix Trust during the pandemic to help prison staff support the men and women in their care.

As well producing the handouts, the charity has responded to requests from a number of prisons for face-to-face yoga, when visiting restrictions in prisons lift.

One example is health provider Practice Plus Group, which is piloting ‘social prescribing’ in three prisons across the Midlands. As part of this project, from July yoga can be ‘prescribed’ to help prisoners manage pain, sleep issues, depression and anxiety. As well as an individual activity to support prisoners’ health, yoga as a group activity can help prisoners improve their social connections, seen as vital of mental health and wellbeing, says the project’s co-ordinator.  

During lockdown, the Prison Phoenix Trust experienced a huge surge in interest in its printed resources, sending unprecedented quantities of yoga books and CDs to those behind bars (2). It continues to support prisoners’ wellbeing and rehabilitation through personal correspondence and newsletters and as lockdown restrictions lift, yoga teachers are beginning to resume teaching their groups in prison.

Jo Farrar, chief executive of HM Prison and Probation Service told the Public Accounts Committee in January a taskforce was being set up to look at the additional problems faced by women prisoners,

She said: “We have been particularly concerned about women during this period. Women have really struggled, I think, through the COVID period, so we have had a taskforce looking specifically at women in custody during this period, and a number of things to help them.”

Prison staff can call 01865 512521  or contact us here for the password to download handouts from the website.



  1. A survey of 2000 prisoners in 19 prisons found the mental health of women and young people has fared worst during the pandemic: and The Guardian reported in February a mental health crisis worsening.
  2. The Prison Phoenix Trust is the UK and Ireland’s biggest and most experienced provider of expertise in yoga and meditation in prisons. In 2020 it supported yoga and meditation with classes or in-cell resources in 77% of prisons in the UK and Ireland. It experienced an 88% increase in direct requests from prisoners for yoga resources and support in April 2020, at the start of the pandemic.