Yoga in the NHS

At a time when the NHS is facing challenges from increasing levels of chronic illness, a lack of funding and an often over-stretched workforce, yoga provides a non-invasive, cost-effective, easy to use solution that can help address these important issues.

Numerous studies have consistently demonstrated the preventative and curative benefits of yoga on a variety of mental health and physical conditions, helping to improve the lives and wellbeing of people of all ages, and from all walks of life.

However, considering the challenges of funding a public health system, yoga not only has to demonstrate its efficacy as form of treatment, but it also has to be an economically viable solution.

Over recent years, scientific research has started to validate how yoga can help reduce the economic cost for treating a variety of conditions. In 2017, 151 NHS employees were placed on an 8-week yoga in the workplace program in order to evaluate staff absence as a result of musculoskeletal conditions.

Over a period of 6 months, NHS staff participating in the yoga program missed 2 days of work due to musculoskeletal conditions, compared with 43 days from the control group. The study highlights that not only can yoga improve the quality of life for NHS staff, but also provides cost savings to their employers.

Similar studies have examined the impact of yoga on non-specific low back pain, and how mind body interventions can substantially reduce patient visits throughout the healthcare delivery system.

The role yoga can play in addressing the growing healthcare crisis is overwhelmingly positive, both practically and economically. The time is right for the UK to set an international example and become the first nation to fully embed yoga into the national healthcare system. While there’s still work to do, we’ve made some excellent progress.

Recent developments

Social prescribing

Social prescribing is the simple idea that people who lead active social lives, enjoy better health and wellbeing than those faced with the challenges of social isolation and solitude.

Regular social interaction not only helps to reduce stress and depression, but can improve blood pressure, cognitive function, and depending on the activity, physical fitness.

Recognising the importance of these social networks, the Yoga In Healthcare Alliance has created the Yoga4Health program, a 10-week social prescribing yoga course commissioned by the West London Clinical Commissioning Group.

Designed for patients registered at a GP in West London, the program supports individuals in a non-judgemental atmosphere who need:

  • To lose weight
  • To improve their heart health
  • Lower their risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • To simply feel well, healthy and supported
  • Suffer from stress, anxiety or mild depression

As part of a yoga community, the program not only provides a platform for social interaction, but also offers an environment where compassion, health and healing are at the centre of its focus.

Yoga In Healthcare Alliance (YIHA)

In the Autumn of 2016, founder of Minded Heather Mason, brought together a variety of leaders in the fields of yoga and healthcare to create the Yoga in Healthcare Alliance (YIHA) – a policy group focusing on the necessary steps required in order to integrate yoga into healthcare systems throughout the world.

Set up as a social enterprise, YIHA communicates the growing evidence of yoga to both the medical profession and wider public, in order to increase the adoption of yoga throughout the NHS.

By demonstrating positive health outcomes in the general population, combined with cost savings to the NHS, YIHA aims to establish an effective model that can be used by a variety of healthcare providers throughout the world.

All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)

Following comprehensive work by Heather Mason, parliamentarians and the yoga community, an All-Party Parliamentary Group was formed on 22nd March 2018.

The overarching objective of the APPG is to bring together parliamentarians, parliamentary staff and the yoga community, in order to improve the health and wellbeing of the UK population.

By bringing yoga into healthcare, education, the criminal justice system and the workplace, the hope is that we can all work together towards a common goal, heralding positive changes throughout various sectors of society.

The NHS well-being initiative

Recognising that absenteeism was having a tangible impact on the health of NHS staff, the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, implemented a wellbeing initiative in 2015 that included yoga as part of a major drive to improve the wellbeing of NHS staff.

Public Health England estimate that £1 out of every £40 channelled into the NHS is spent on employee absenteeism arising from stress, poor diet, limited exercise and self-care – the total cost to the NHS is £2.5bn a year.

With regards to the initiative, Simon Stevens said: “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.”

Against this backdrop, hospitals and NHS providers had access to £450 million of funding during 2016/17, providing they offered staff access to workplace physio, mental health support and health workplace options. As part of this initiative, Stevens explicitly mentioned the importance of funding yoga classes for NHS staff.

Why is Yoga Important for NHS Staff?

It has been well-documented that NHS staff, the UK’s largest work force, are experiencing increasing levels of stress, musculoskeletal problems and mental health issues that are negatively affecting their overall health.

  • Just over a quarter (26%) don’t take a break while at work. (Guardian survey).
  • 96% of NHS staff work beyond their contracted hours, doing an average of five extra hours per week.
  • Absenteeism costs the NHS £2.4bn per year.
  • Mental health and musculoskeletal problems are the two biggest causes of sickness absence across the NHS.
  • The amount of ‘stress leave’ recorded by the NHS has risen by 37 per cent in three years. (Freedom of Data).

The inclusion of yoga is an important and tangible solution that can help address these statistics, while improving the lives and wellbeing of hard pressed staff.  Copious research expresses yoga’s efficacy in reducing lower back pain, depression, and metabolic disorders-all of which are chief health problems facing NHS staff.  Yoga practice is also associated with greater efficiency at work, improved energy levels, and greater compassion towards patients; all of which are vital to delivering high level care.

How yoga can help patients

In England over 15.4 million people suffer from long-term chronic conditions and they use a significant proportion of health care services. They account for:

  • 50% of all GP appointments.
  • 70% of days spent in hospital beds
  • 70% of hospital and primary care budgets in England are absorbed through the treatment of chronic disease.

While the strain this puts upon the NHS is an important concern, these chronic conditions undoubtedly have a severe impact on the quality of life for a significant proportion of the country, and it needn’t be like this.

There is a wealth of research that reveals the effect of yoga on these conditions, reducing and sometimes even curing an array of chronic complaints.  Common findings include genuine physiological effects such as lowering blood pressure in hypertension, reducing resting glucose levels in diabetes, and increasing certain neurochemicals, which are targeted by anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication.

Over recent years it’s become clear that yoga is incredibly good for us and we stand on the verge of a truly groundbreaking moment. Through our collective energy, dedication and passion, and with your support, we can help the NHS, its staff and the people of this country to live fuller, happier and healthier lives by bringing yoga into the health care system.