Some see prison solely as a form of punishment. Others view it as a place for rehabilitation. To inmates, prison can mean a lot of different things—but most would agree that it’s a stressful place to live. Living in a prison setting heightens inmates’ psychological distress levels, ultimately impeding their rehabilitation.
Yoga is one way of combating the stressors of the prison setting. According to a recent study, by participating in yoga programming, prison inmates can find relief from symptoms like paranoia and achieve better psychological health overall.
The prison yoga study lasted for 10 weeks and had 152 participants—mostly male. Participants were split into two groups: one which took a weekly 90-minute yoga class for the duration of the study, and another which did the same but swapping out the yoga class for 90 minutes of any physical activity. Participants recorded their feelings and symptoms throughout the 10 weeks.
Adding physical activity—yoga or not—to the participating inmates’ routines “significantly reduced [their] levels of psychological distress.” However, adding yoga, specifically, to their routines, had additional benefits. Yoga reduced symptoms of paranoia, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and somatization.
In the study’s analysis, yoga was highlighted as an effective way to aid with the inmate’s reintegration into society after being released. Because of the psychological benefits it provides, adopting a regular yoga practice may also lessen inmates’ likelihood of becoming addicted to drugs upon release and reduce recidivism.
It’s worth noting that this study was conducted in Sweden, and Scandinavian prison systems have a reputation for being some of the world’s most humane and progressive. While the benefits of yoga on the emotional and physical well-being of those in distress have been well researched and documented, external factors could still have skewed the study’s results.
Nonetheless, this study offers important insight into how powerful a yoga practice can be. It can not only improve the well-being of those in psychological distress but also improve society at large, helping to rehabilitate inmates and make it easier for them to reintegrate.
If you’re interested in helping to make yoga programming more common in prison systems, consider supporting one of the following organizations by volunteering or making a financial donation: