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 Yoga4NHS with the sole intention of working towards the inclusion of yoga within the NHS.

Collaboration with The All Part Parliamentary Group

Heather Mason has also collaborated with The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Traditional Indian Sciences  towards this vision.

In early June, 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 passed10 percent of all MPS were contacted 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.”

If you support this action, please kindly write to your local MP requesting that he/she sign this motion.

Further details and current signatures can also be found at Parliament UK.

The UK has a realistic opportunity to become the first country to fully integrate yoga into healthcare, but we still need your help to encourage as many MPs as possible to support the EDM.

Meeting Held at the House of Commons in London

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 of yoga 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.  It was attended by:

  • Lead Secretariat Amarjeet-Singh Bhamra
  • Heather Mason, founder and director of The Minded Institute,
  • Bob Blackman (MP-Harrow East and chair of the metting).
  • The Indian High Commissioner to the UK, His Excellency, Navtej Sarna
  • Members of parliament; H.R. Nagendra, PhD (Prime Minister Modi’s guru)
  • Göran Boll of MediYoga Institutet
  • Tina Cartwright, PhD (responsible for organising a national UK yoga survey)
  • The director of The Advanced Center for Yoga at the National Institute of Mental Health and NeuroScience in India, B.N. Gangadhar, MD.
  • Fiona Butler, MD, a pioneering British health commissioner
  • Satish Sharma, head of the National Council of Hindu Temples (UK)

There was also written support from Queen Elizabeth II and from the Indian Ministry of for Yoga, AYUSH.

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.

Please click here to read the full transcipt of Heather Mason’s speech.

The Meeting ended with all members ratifying the following resolution:

“To create fraternity, a sangha, of yoga experts and leaders encompassing all schools of yoga who unify towards under the umbrella of this traditional practice. This group will collectively work within and embody the ethos of yoga. This group will pool their wisdom and possess a communal platform to share ideas and promote the practice of yoga in the UK towards the highest good. This group will collectively act as advisor to the country on how to bring yoga to the public in healthcare, education, and the workplace to enhance public well-being. This group will liaise and development networks with India, other nations, and the World Health Organisation.”


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.