New research shows the meditative exercise improves mental health, reduces stress and can prevent reoffending

Locked up in a tiny cell in Wayland prison, in Norfolk, detoxing from heroin and methadone, Mike Smith found that bending and breathing his way through a yoga meditation could give him up to three hours without any withdrawal symptoms – even with other inmates hammering on the door yelling “You’re mental” at him.

The 46-year-old charity worker has been clean of drugs for seven years after breaking his two-decade cycle of addiction, reoffending and imprisonment. He now has a full-time job with the Karuna Trust, a charity working in India and Nepal, and he’s been out of prison for more than five years. He puts this down to the self-control he gained during his daily sessions of yoga and meditation while “inside”.

Related: Doing a stretch: how yoga is cutting stress in South African prisons

One man told me that the yoga class was the first time he had ever relaxed in his life

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Mental health is a level of psychological well-being, or an absence of a mental disorder; it is the "psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment".

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18 February 2019