Mindful yoga boosts mental wellbeing of women in prison

Latest impact data from The Prison Phoenix Trust finds 82% of women who took part in Mindful Yoga courses in prison experienced an improvement in mental wellbeing considered ‘meaningful’ by psychologists.

Women arriving for their first Mindfulness session at a prison in the South of England were unsure what to expect. “I want to keep my mind and body fit,” said one. “I want to be able to relax,” said another.

With age ranges from 20s to 60s, they brought with them a variety of aches and injuries, and also life experiences. A high proportion of imprisoned women have histories of trauma and abuse.

Mindfulness and Yoga are being offered as an accessible way for people in prison to learn practical ways to manage stress and anxiety, build emotional resilience and to strengthen overall physical and mental wellbeing, essential for rehabilitation and reducing reoffending.

A women’s yoga class run by The Prison Phoenix Trust

The Prison Phoenix Trust has run 5 Mindfulness courses in 2 prisons over the last 7 months and used the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental WellBeing Scale (WEMWBS) to measure changes in participants’ mental wellbeing at the start and end of their courses.

The scale, uses a series of 7 or 14 questions to gauge mental wellbeing and is widely used nationally and internationally for monitoring and evaluating projects and programmes.

“I feel calmer, happier, healthier and I sleep loads better than ever before and throughout the night.”

Participants are asked to answer None of the time, Rarely, Some of the Time, Often, or All of the Time to statements such as “I’ve been feeling useful”, “I’ve been thinking clearly”, and “I’ve been dealing with problems well”.

Their anonymised responses are fed into an algorithm that produces a score in the range of 0 (low) to 35 (high) for their mental wellbeing relative to the general population.  The interim results of the first 5 of 12 Mindfulness courses we are running in 2 women’s prisons have been impressive.

 “Beginning to be able to get back to being able to divorce my immediate ‘concerns’ from my ‘now’ and taking a step back emotionally. Giving my ‘self’ time to calm.”

  • Low mental wellbeing decreased from 73% to 5% of participants
  • High mental wellbeing increased from 0% to 27% of participants
  • Moderate mental wellbeing increased from 27% to 68% of participants
  • 82% experienced an increase in mental wellbeing considered ‘meaningful’ by psychologists.
  • The average score of the all participants increased from 19.8 (low) to 25.8 (moderate).
  • Average increase in mental was wellbeing 6.8

The women also complete feedback forms at the end about their experiences of the courses. Comments so far have included:

“I sleep better, feel more confident, helped with my anxiety”

“My sleep, mood and wellbeing all benefited.”

“I’ve become more aware of the importance of practising on the day to day basic. It makes such a difference on the way you face life that is definitely worthy. Life improving 100%”

“I am generally feeling more hopeful and positive about how things are and trying to hope for change even though every time I believe things will improve I tend to get knocked back… c’est la vie!”

“My reactions to situations are calmer. I’m calmer and my sleep quality has improved.”

The Prison Phoenix Trust is licensed to administer the WEMWBS scale and we will publish further results when all 12 courses have completed later this year. Yoga teachers wishing to use the WEMWBS questionnaires with their prison classes, please get in touch.  


4 Mindfulness courses ran for 8 weeks; 1 course ran for 4 weeks

A total of 29 women were surveyed at the start and 22 and the end of their courses. 7 women did not complete their course. Reasons included moving to another prison, clashes with work commitments and an individual dispute between prisoners.