New research at the University of Leicester is examining the potential of yoga to benefit prisoners and staff -- by helping them get in touch with their spiritual side.
Former probation officer Rose Parkes is assessing the role of yoga in prisons as part of her PhD at the University of Leicester Department of Criminology. She will make a presentation about her research on December 8.
In her research Rose, who is a British Wheel of Yoga teacher, discusses the way in which spiritual activities can empower and motivate prisoners to survive their incarceration.
Rose is investigating whether yoga enables individuals to adjust to the prison environment and post-prison life. She comments: "I believe that prisoners can benefit from yoga because it is a practice which helps to foster understanding, self-acceptance, peace and wellbeing."
In addition, the study aims to discover whether prisoner yoga practices can help prisons achieve the HMIP 'healthy prison' criteria set out by the Government in 2008 after concerns about prison conditions. These criteria are particularly concerned with eliminating suicide, self-harm and violence in prisons.
Whilst working as a part-time Probation Officer, Rose witnessed the effectiveness of the technique at forming positive relationships with other offenders, prompting the study to ascertain whether yoga can help people cope with incarceration.
She added: "Prisons are highly stressful environments and yoga may offer prisoners a much needed physical and mental release of the tension of prison life, paradoxically turning prison cells into places of retreat, where prisoners can develop self-discipline and concentration skills.
"If prisoners are better equipped to deal with their emotions, particularly fear and anger, then, I believe, they are less likely to harm themselves or others. This can only be of long-term benefit to society."
Through participant observation, in-depth interviews and documentary analysis she hopes to demonstrate yoga's ability to improve prisoner wellbeing. She realises the potential for yoga to connect prisoners in a non-threatening manner, declaring: "The ability of yoga to build 'social capital' is, I believe, another great benefit arising from the practice."
The current political drive to reduce prison populations and to revitalise rehabilitation agendas, reflects the timeliness of this research.
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