AN OXFORD University study suggests that yoga can be beneficial
to prisoners, and may have an effect on impulsive behaviour.
The study, "Participation in a 10-week course of yoga improves
behavioural control and decreases psychological distress in a
prison population", was published in the Journal of Psychiatric
Research last month. The study found that, after undertaking a
ten-week course of yoga run by the Prison Phoenix Trust charity,
prisoners reported less psychological stress, improved mood, and
The Director of the Trust, Sam Settle, speaking at a recent
seminar on the spiritual dimension of justice, said that the study
validated years of anecdotal evidence. Prisoners, he said, felt
measurable benefits from a spiritual practice that helped to
address attitudes, thinking, and behaviour - the pathway to reduce
re-offending identified by the National Offender Management
The two-day seminar, organised by Meditatio - an outreach pro-
gramme of the World Community for Christian Meditation - brought
together judges, lawyers, lawmakers, and prison workers. It was
chaired by Fr Laurence Freeman, a Bene-dictine monk and director of
the World Community for Christian Meditation.
The keynote address was given by the President of the Howard
League for Penal Reform, Lord Myners. Prisoners were victims of
society before they became prisoners, he said. Social deprivation
and chaotic home lives were the norm for many. When the prison
population was one of the highest in Europe, and half of released
prisoners reoffended within a year, they needed to rethink a
dysfunctional system, he said.
Baroness Kennedy QC said that children struggled to define
justice, but they knew instinctively what was "fair". When an MP
improved a second home at taxpayers' expense, and later sold it at
a profit, what was "legal" was not necessarily "ethical", she said.
What was the responsibility of those who had enriched themselves at
another's expense, she asked.
The founder of the Citizenship Foundation, Lord Phillips, said
that the disjunction between the law and ethical values had
increased. They commonly asked not if something was right, but was
it legal? There was £1-trillion tax evasion in Europe, but little
was done about it, Lord Phillips said. He asked: if the Fair Trade
movement could work, why not introduce a Fair Tax movement? A just
society, he said, needed to be a "connected" society.
The Director of the Legal Department at the International
Monetary Fund, Sean Hagan, suggested that the human values of
fairness, honesty, courtesy, and compassion should direct
institutions. His thinking is rooted in a daily practice of
meditation - a spiritual practice that, he said, helped him to
think more clearly and act with better judgement and less ego.
In ex-prisoner, James Bishop, spoke of his recovery from
alcoholism and obsessive-compulsive disorder when he discovered
Christian meditation in prison. Many prisoners began to feel good
about themselves, perhaps for the first time in their lives, he
said, when they connected with an inner self that is free from what
is going on outside.
Meditation gave ground for optimism, Mr Hagan said, because it
helped people to control and attend to what happened on the inside.
A spiritual discipline could help them to live by shared values
that led to human flourishing: fairness, honesty, kindness,
forgiveness, and compassion.