HEALTHY LIVING
07/15/2013 08:21 am ET

Yoga Could Boost Prisoners' Mental Health

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Yoga: the secret to less-stressed, better-behaved prisoners?

A new study by researchers from Oxford University, King's College London, the University of Surrey and Radboud University Nijmegen may suggest so.

The findings, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, show that prisoners who completed a 10-week course in yoga had less stress and better moods, and also performed better on a behavior-control task compared with their non-yoga-doing peers.

"We're not saying that organizing a weekly yoga session in a prison is going to suddenly turn prisons into calm and serene places, stop all aggression and reduce reoffending rates," study researcher Dr. Amy Bilderbeck, of Oxford University, said in a statement. "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."

For the study, researchers had prisoners from a range of institutions, including a women's prison, an institution for young offenders and five category B and C prisons (in the UK, these prisons are considered "closed" prisons, but the most serious criminals are not housed here). Researchers had some of the prisoners recruited for the study do 90-minute yoga sessions for 10 weeks, while the other prisoners constituted the control group and didn't do any yoga. Before and after the 10 weeks, all the prisoners completed questionnaires to analyze their well-being, mood and stress levels. They also did a computer test to measure their behavior control.

Researchers found that the prisoners who did yoga had improvements in their mental health measures as well as better scores on the behavior control test, though more research is needed to see if the results on the behavior control test translate to better behavior while in prison and beyond.

Of course, it's not entirely surprising that yoga can have these kinds of mental health benefits. A wealth of past research has looked at how exactly yoga seems to have these effects on the mind, with one recent review of 124 studies from Duke University researchers confirming that yoga benefits people with depression, sleep problems, ADHD and schizophrenia (alongside drug therapy).

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