Yoga as complementary care for patients in forensic psychiatry 

Patients in forensic psychiatry have severe psychiatric diagnoses often combined with aggressive behavior and drug-related problems. They are sentenced to compulsory long-term care (on average, about six years per patient), causing significant health and economic consequences. To improve the rehabilitation of these patients and offer tools for self-care that may result in shortened inpatient treatment time, new and complementary efforts are needed while maintaining the most significant importance that this care is of high quality and safety and is designed according to current research-based knowledge.

Evidence proves that regular yoga practice has positive effects on people with mental illness and incarcerated people with antisocial behavior. However, the impact of yoga has not yet been tested for patients with coexisting mental illness and aggressive antisocial behavior.

In this project, we evaluate the psychobiological effects of yoga practice on men and women sentenced to forensic psychiatric care in Sweden. The changes in aggression, pain, substance craving, and psychological distress are measured with previously validated psychological instruments. In addition, participants' heart rate variability is monitored as a biological marker for the strength and flexibility of their autonomic nervous system. From patients’ journals, changes in their medication are extracted. Besides these three types of quantitative information, qualitative information about patients’ and clinical personals’ experiences with forensic psychiatric care integrated - yoga is assessed.

We hypothesize that the integration of yoga in inpatient care will reduce the degree of aggressive and antisocial behavior, pain, craving, and negative emotional states and lead to increased self-control in patients. As a result of increased well-being, yoga will enhance the success of other ongoing treatments, contribute to increased safety of the clinical- and work environment, and offer a no pharmacological tool for sustainable positive coping strategy in patients.