Mindful Awareness: our methodology

Mindfulness, also known as mindful meditation or mindful awareness has scientific support as a means for reducing stress, improving attention, boosting the immune system and promoting a general sense of health and psychological well being. Case studies at both the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center have shown that mindful awareness holds great promise for working with both adolescents and adults with attention deficit disorders, depression and anxiety. Furthermore, recent research conducted by the Boston University School of Medicine suggests Hatha Yoga can significantly relieve symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see PTSD one-sheet under “workshop documents”).

Our work with prisoners supports these findings and is at the core of the Prison Yoga Project’s rehabilitative methodology. Mindful awareness can be practiced in seated meditation and while engaging in Hatha Yoga. It is designed to promote a general mind/body consciousness that can strengthen the capacity for self-reflection, self-acceptance and change. The practical application of Yoga for developing self-discipline, emotional intelligence and impulse control is another important benchmark of our work, particularly as it applies to addiction recovery and violence prevention (numerous studies confirm the effectiveness of Hatha Yoga in supporting addiction recovery). Our methodology helps people shift unconscious behavioral patterns of reacting into conscious ways of responding by teaching them the skill of clearly witnessing their moment-to-moment experience. Learning this fundamental behavioral shift can make the difference between a person committing a crime, going back to using or getting tangled in confrontation. 

The main components that constitute the mindfulness practice are:

  • Learning to shift into a state of awareness by observing the present moment without the mind interpreting the experience.
  • Focusing on breathing through the nose while feeling accompanying sensations in the body.

The most often reported benefits from students having taken classes are:

  • Reduction of stress
  • “More able to focus on the positive rather than the negative”
  • Support in addiction recovery
  • Greater mental clarity
  • Pain relief
  • Improved sleep
  • “Better able to deal with the mental and emotional strain of prison”
  • Greater access to inner peace
We found that the group that did the yoga course showed an improvement in positive mood, a decrease in stress, and greater accuracy in a computer test of impulsivity and attention.”  —Dr. Amy Bilderbeck and Dr. Miguel Farias, “The Effects of Yoga and Meditation in a Prison Population,” University of Oxford, 2012
“Our systematic review finds emerging scientific evidence to support a role for yoga in treating depression, sleep complaints, and having adjunctive value in schizophrenia and ADHD.”  —“Yoga on Our Minds: A Systemic Review of Yoga for Neuropsychiatric Disorders,” Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, 2013