WENATCHEE, Wash. – Yoga is an ancient practice that recognizes the connection between the human body and mind. Yoga increases physical well-being, creates emotional and mental balance and now, through a WSU program, helps men become better fathers.
In 2009, WSU Extension educator Jennifer Crawford began Fit Fathers, Successful Families, Inside and Out (FFSFIO), an educational program designed for fathers involved in the Chelan and Douglas County justice systems. Through discussions and guided yoga sessions, FFSFIO helps educate participants to deal with stress and improve their emotional well-being, which in turn helps prevent child abuse and neglect. 
“The goal of the program is to prevent child abuse and to interrupt negative intergenerational cycles of neglect, abuse and incarceration,” Crawford said.
Building Resilience
In her research, Crawford identifies parental resilience as a key factor in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Parental resilience is a person’s ability to respond effectively in the parental role, the ability to manage to personal short and long term needs and the ability to address a child’s needs in the moment.
This resilience, this ability to tend to oneself and to the child, is affected by an individual’s mindfulness, which is a person’s moment-to-moment, non judgmental awareness, Crawford said.
“Mindfulness often allows a person to pay attention to what’s going on,” Crawford said. “By doing this, a person often relaxes and has more time to respond from a more aware state and to make more conscious and informed decisions.”
The Benefits of Yoga
Prior to working at WSU, Crawford worked as a yoga instructor and became very familiar with the philosophy behind yoga. Her research into the benefits of yoga continues today, and she recognizes the practice as an effective way to increase mindfulness.
“In a nutshell, yoga is the practice of physical postures in a manner that cultivates awareness of one’s breath, which is good for the body and spirit,” Crawford said. “Practicing the postures in and of itself is good for the body, but in my opinion the benefits are greatly enhance when breath awareness occurs too.”
In additional to improving mindfulness and emotional well-being, yoga also increases in the ability to empathize, which is another factor in parental resilience.
“Yoga classes can address the whole person, acknowledge the interconnection between mind, body and spirit and address all three simultaneously in a positive learning environment.”
Receiving the Grant
In July 2010, Crawford received her first grant for the program from the Council for Children and Families.
On July 1, 2011, Crawford received her second year of funding and is working to expand the program outside of the Chelan County Regional Justice Center to reach fathers and their families in their daily lives.
And Crawford is seeing subtle signs that the program is having an impact at the Chelan County Regional Justice Center.
“The noise level from the halls is frequently quieter than when we initially started,” she said. “I’d say that this is a sign of acceptance and a changing culture in the jail.”