So proud and honored to share research from our amazing teacher and doctoral candidate Rena (Irene) Hauzinger on the impact of a yoga practice on incarcerated women. So many powerful quotes and other highlights from Rena’s qualitative research with our students at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, but we’d like to share our student’s answers to question 9, below. The study is due for publication later this year, stay tuned!

Question 9: Please take a few moments to journal any thoughts, observations, or any other information you would like to share with us about your yoga experience.  (For example, changes you have noticed over times, reflections, etc.)

Question 9 afforded the students the opportunity to journal freely their thoughts, experiences, and overall comments in an unspecified manner. This question yielded the most data rich information and lengthier responses, consisting of nine distinct categories of responses.

Positive, general. Students reported general positive outcomes and remarks regarding how they feel, the effect of the class on their life and their commitment to continue yoga “until the day I die”. One of the responses detailed that “life is better than it was yesterday” and that although challenging, the benefits come with consistency.
Gratitude. One of the most significant category of responses was the tremendous outpouring of gratitude for Yoga Behind Bars, instructors, and an appreciation of the volunteer time commitment.  Students acknowledged the nature of volunteer work and instructor time. Students noted the meaning of having people “on the outside” care about inmates and how that time directly influences their transformation from the inside out. Students stated feeling “blessed” and “thankful” for the opportunity to attend classes and expressed a desire to learn more.
Mind body connection. Student replies described the mind body connection that comes from a yoga practice and its practical application to their daily lives including the ability to recognize and “breathe away” tension. Students noted that, “The mind/ body connection in yoga is very real and powerfully impactful” and described that coming to prison has led to a “disconnection with myself” that the mind body awareness has remedied.  Responses detailed how mind body awareness was beneficial to their work and school, reporting feeling “more grounded” and being “more at peace in my own mind and body”.
Class/instructor comment. This group of responses ranged from comments about the individual instructor, to the individual’s taste in music, preference of physical exertion, and appreciation for adjustments, posture modification, and posture demonstration.
Connection to daily life. Students brought the benefits of their practice to their daily lives, making the connection between the practice and everyday applicability. A student noted that the survey after class allowed her to see how the practice affected her posture and mindfulness while preforming a routine task, allowing her to “notice where tension is in my body and relax it”. Replies ranged from specific examples to a more generalized feeling of being “at ease” and “I am not the same if I miss for any reason”.
Coping with prison environment. Students specifically noted when their practice helped them cope with their living environment, “This is just a positive thing for me and takes the prison out of my head for at least a couple hours”. Common responses were the personal significance of the yoga practice, “This practices saves me every week”.  Students reported that practicing yoga directly impacted their ability to experience the environment, “it’s making my stay in prison easier”, in comparison to time spent incarcerated without the practice of yoga, “I felt more confident this time than my experiences prior to jail”.  Students also expressed feeling more in control of their responses and reactions rather than reacting to the “dysfunctional personalities”.
Improved emotional responses/emotions. Similar to the responses for Question 7, students reported an improvement in their emotional wellbeing, specifically in the ways that they perceive and speak to themselves. Students utilized words such as “enhanced” and “improve” their relationship with self and others. Reports of feeling safe enough to experience “an emotional release” were common.
Improved physical. Student replies directly discussed the physical impact of their yoga including methods of working with their pain, injuries, being able to modify, and how to handle chronic conditions within their bodies safely. Feeling “limber, happier and younger” were often noted as well as older students reporting that they felt younger than they did twenty years prior.  The feeling of youthfulness both emotionally and physically were noted.
Student recommendations. Students were aware that the results of the study would be made available to the public and used their platform as an opportunity to recommend yoga to “everyone and anyone” Several students expressed a wish to share yoga with their children, parents and families upon release. Students shared words of encouragement such as, “If I can do it, then you can do it to”, and recommendations for specific postures to try such as plank pose.

Thank you Rena!! Watch out for the release of her full report, which should be up on our website this winter.

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