Yoga is a practice that can help to alleviate stress, increase wellbeing and reduce lower back pain in nurses and their patients. With this in mind, we warmly invite all nurses to the inaugural Yoga in Healthcare Alliance Conference, February 2019 (London). We will explore how yoga could improve nurse’s working lives, while also improving the health of the people they look after. Furthermore, health professionals can earn CPD points by attending the conference – to book your ticket, please find out more here

Back in September of 2015, 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 were to be offered health checks 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 in 2016, 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 et al., 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 et al., 2002). Nurses’ 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 et al., 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 psychosocial benefits of yoga, thus, particularly beneficial for those under considerable amounts of stress. Yoga interventions, in fact, are already offered to nurses and other 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 et al., 2011), reduce stress and anxiety (Michalsen et al. 2012) and improve confidence in dealing with stressful situations (Harfiel et al., 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 et al., 2002).

Research on yoga has also revealed that it increases GABA levels in the brain thereby reducing anxiety levels (Streeter, 2007; 2010), increases brain-derived-neurotropic factor thereby enhancing brain and central nervous system function (Naveen et al., 2013), and enhances emotional regulation (Arch &, Craske, 2006). Of particular note to nurses whose jobs require intensive physical work, yoga has been found to be efficacious in the alleviation of chronic lower back pain (Sherman 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 Yoga in Healthcare Alliance (YiHA) is a social enterprise that is supporting and enabling the National Health Service to both train healthcare professionals in therapeutic yoga techniques and make yoga available to them directly. It also aims to lobby, raise awareness and provide support for yoga’s infusion into the NHS. In February 2019 (15th-17th) the first Yoga in Healthcare Alliance Conference will take place at Westminster University in London.

The aim is to discuss how we can collaboratively incorporate yoga into healthcare, share success stories, raise the profile of yoga in healthcare, and effectively move towards a future where yoga is offered on prescription. Specific benefits of yoga to nurses will be extensively explored including keynotes and workshops from specialists in yoga for lower back pain and yoga for stress and related conditions.

There will be opportunities at the Conference for nurses to learn a range of therapeutic yoga techniques for supporting their patients, alongside extensive content on yoga’s benefits and applications for specific patient populations including palliative care and chronic pain. Heather Mason Founder of YIHA and The Minded Institute, who has been teaching yoga to nurses in the NHS, explained, “We know and understand the enormous pressures nursing staff are under in the UK. Our role is to support them with the evidence-based mind-body application of yoga which has been shown to alleviate stress, reduce anxiety and increase a sense of wellness”.

She adds, “We’ve seen resounding successes from the nurses we have taught thus far. Some were sceptical at first and felt they didn’t have enough time for a class. After attending just a few yoga sessions, however, these same nurses shared that the yoga made them feel lighter, more peaceful and less time-constrained. Some nurses, who were experiencing burn-out, described feeling more connected to the original reason they came into the profession after a number of classes. It was beautiful to watch the transition and to note that many nurses started to share the benefits of yoga with their patients.”

Places for the Yoga in Healthcare Alliance Conference 2019 are filling up fast. To find out more and to claim one of the remaining tickets, visit the Conference page at


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Nicole Schnackenberg

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