Back in September of last year, Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, pledged to launch an initiative to improve staff health and cut the growing amount of sick leave. As part of this initiative, NHS staff are to be offered health checks, Zumba, and yoga classes whilst at work as part of a major drive to improve the wellbeing of the country’s biggest workforce. At his organisation’s annual conference in Manchester, Stevens explained, “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order”.
A growing body of research suggests rising levels of stress in nurses, doctors and other medical professionals. In one study, the number of sick days taken by a group of 125 nurses correlated significantly with scores on the stress and burnout scale (Kennedy, 2005) whilst in another study of 301 nurses, more than half scored so highly on the burnout inventory scale so as to indicate considerable emotional exhaustion (Hannigan, Edwards, Coyle, Fothergill &, Burnard, 2000). One study of more than 10,000 nurses from five different countries found an incidence of burnout that ranged from 32% in Scotland to 54% in the USA (Aiken, Clarke &, Sloane, 2002). Medical professionals’ response to stress naturally varies though has been found to include depression, emotional depletion, tension, fatigue, decreased overall health, headaches and stomach problems to name just a few (Edward &, Hercelinskyj; Vishwanath, Galperin &, Lituchy, 1999).
The proposal to make yoga classes available to all NHS staff was greeted with eager anticipation by the yoga community, who have long understood the numerous and far-reaching health and psycho-social benefits of yoga, which can be particularly beneficial for those under considerable amounts of stress. Yoga interventions, in fact, are already offered to hospital staff as a matter of course in many healthcare institutions in other countries with the USA, Canada, Sweden and Australia appearing to lead the way in such initiatives.
The practice of yoga has been found to reduce serum cortisol levels (Gopal, Mondal, Gandhi, Arora &, Bhattacharjee, 2011), reduce stress and anxiety (Michalsen, Jeitler, Brunnhuber et al. 2012) and improve confidence in dealing with stressful situations (Harfiel, Havenhand, Khalsa, Clarke &, Krayer, 2011). A regular yoga practice has been associated with increased positive mood (Berger &, Owen, 1992) and has been shown to increase dopamine levels with a subsequent impact on the brain’s pleasure and reward systems (Kaier, Bertelsen, Piccini, Brooks, Alving &, Lou, 2002). Research on yoga has also revealed that it increases GABA levels in the brain (Streeter, 2007 & 2010), increases brain-derived-neurotropic factor (Naveen, Thirthalli, Rao, Varambally, Christopher &, Gangadhar, 2013) and enhances emotional regulation (Arch &, Craske, 2006). Of particular note to medical professionals whose jobs require intensive physical work, yoga has been found to be efficacious in the alleviation of chronic lower back pain (Sherman, Cherkin, Erro et al., 2005).
In a study which offered tai chi and yoga to nurses, heightened sensations of calm, enhanced problem-solving abilities and an increased ability to focus on patients’ needs were just some of the benefits highlighted by participants (Raingruber &, Robinson, 2007). One nurse explained;
“My colleagues tell me I’m calmer. I know I’m more motivated at work and at home. I’m watching TV less and being more active. My yoga time brings me back to my centre. It’s a place where I find clarity about my feelings and decisions. I really enjoy the class”.
The Minded Institute is closely affiliated with the Yoga4theNHS steering group, which aims to lobby, raise awareness and provide support for yoga’s infusion into the NHS. To find out more visit #yoga4theNHS on Twitter or our Facebook page at; https://www.facebook.com/Yoga4NHS-1683386525269475/
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