Why should yoga be 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.

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 over recent months.

Recent developments

The NHS well-being initiative

Simon Stevens, Head of NHS England, recently designed a well-being initiative that included yoga as part of a major drive to improve the wellbeing of NHS staff.

Public Health England estimates that £1 out of every £40 channeled into the NHS is spent on employee absenteeism arising from stress, poor diet, and limited exercise and self-care. Against this backrop, £450 million has been set-aside for health trusts to support the wellbeing of NHS staff, ultimately improving both staff wellbeing and patient care.  Within this initiative Stevens explicitly mentioned the importance of funding for staff yoga classes.

Following this initiative, Heather Mason – founder of The Minded Institute – met with yoga researchers, community leaders, leading health professionals and key yoga professionals to create a working group called Yoga4Health with the sole intention of working towards the inclusion of yoga within the NHS.

In 2016 Heather Mason met with Amarjeet-Sing Bhamra (Lead Secretariat) and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Traditional Indian Sciences to discuss how they can work together towards this vision.

In early June 2016, Heather and Amarjeet Bhamra, Secretariat of the APPG on Traditional Indian Sciences drafted an Early Day Motion (a formal motion with the intention to debate in the House of Commons) expressing the need for yoga’s inclusion in healthcare. One week after the motion was passed, 10 percent of all MPS were contacted by their constituents.

The motion reads as follows:

“That this House celebrates the 2nd International Day of Yoga, on 21 June 2016, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015; recognises that yoga is a multi-dimensional approach to encouraging well-being, which appreciates the link between physical and psychological health and lifestyle; appreciates that yoga is a reflective and non-invasive practice, which is appropriate in all stages of life; recommends yoga to be included as part of mindfulness and well-being initiatives for NHS staff and for yoga to be integrated within treatment for patients; and urges the Department for Education to introduce yoga in the school physical education curriculum.”


International Yoga Day, 2016

On the evening of June 27, 2016, politicians, leaders in healthcare and yoga community leaders, and yoga researchers met at the House of Commons in London to celebrate yoga’s contribution to humanity and to discuss the importance of and practical steps necessary for yoga’s inclusion into the National Health Service (NHS).  Notably,  researcher Ned Hartfield presented research revealing that yoga’s inclusion into the NHS within three sites in Wales, led to significant cost savings!

This historic event was co-organized by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Traditional Indian Sciences and Heather Mason.

The meeting was successful in not only raising awareness of the motion, but discussed the practical measures of succesfully implemeting yoga into the NHS, an exciting and important step to realising our shared vision.

Yoga in Healthcare Alliance

In the Autumn of 2016 Heather Mason brought together leaders in various fields to create the the Yoga in Healthcare Alliance – a policy group that was set up to focus on necessary steps to bring yoga into healthcare. The group is making significant progress and meets at the House of Lords under the auspices of Lord Andrew Stone of Blackheath.

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.