There is drive within part of the yoga community to incorporate yoga into the NHS. In February 2019, the Yoga in Healthcare Alliance held a conference aiming to raise the profile of yoga in healthcare and move towards a future where yoga is offered on prescription.
Although yoga has been practiced for thousands of years and practitioners know the benefits from experiential knowledge, personal experience does not provide a convincing case for yoga in healthcare. In my previous roles within the NHS, evidence for an approach or modality was a pre-requisite as were clear outcomes that could be measured.
The good news is that there is a growing evidence-base for yoga for prevention and various health conditions and outcomes are measurable. In my own work, I recently measured outcomes for a yoga class I ran focusing on reducing stress; after four sessions, participants reported a reduction in stress levels of almost 40%. Of course, these results are from small scale data, but the approach can easily be scaled up and data compared with that from a similarly matched control group.
Katuri et al (2016) for example, studied a group of 70 subjects aged between 35 and 60. The conclusion was that individuals practicing yoga had low cortisol levels (high cortisol levels are associated with stress and anxiety). A randomized comparative trial by Smith et al (2007) found that after a 10-week yoga programme, stress and anxiety reduced. Javnbakht et all (2009) reported that participation in a yoga class for 2 months “can lead to significant reduction in perceived levels of anxiety in women who suffer from anxiety disorders.”
Another study focused on subjects who had practiced yoga for at least 5 years. “From the study it was observed that significant reduction in the pulse rate occurs in subjects practicing yoga. The difference in the mean values of systolic and diastolic blood pressure between study group and control group was also statistically significant” (Bharshankar et al, 2003).
Many people don’t consider trying yoga as they think it isn’t for them. Many images on social media are of super flexible people in impossible looking poses. Most yoga classes are not like this. Yoga is for everyone; there is a continuum of practices from energetic yoga to gentle and chair yoga, use of the breath and meditation.
Yoga is a complete system for mental, physical and spiritual health and wellbeing. Many people are initially attracted to yoga for its mental and physical benefits; it can also teach balance, moderation and finding a middle way ‘off the mat’. Behaviour modification is not unusual. Changes often follow such as improving diet or stopping smoking. In a world where we frequently push ourselves up to and over the edge, yoga can teach us to pull back and take responsibility for our health and wellbeing.
There is significant potential to reduce morbidity, distress and the financial burden on the NHS through yoga and social prescribing. Although further research is needed on the effectiveness of social prescribing, it is notable that a study by the University of Westminster concluded that social prescribing was associated with a 28% reduction in GP appointments, Bower, 2018).
Bharshankar, JR. Barshankar, RN. Deshpande VN. Kaore, SB and Gosavi, GB. ‘Effect of yoga on cardiovascular system in subjects above 40 years, Indian Journal Physiol Pharmacol’, 2003, April 47 (2), 202-6.
Bower, E. 2018, ‘How social prescribing can help GPs’, GP online, https://gponline.com/social-prescribing-help-gps/article/1463957
Javnbakht, M. Hejazi Kenari, R. and Ghasemi, M. ‘Effects on depression and anxiety of women’. 2009, May 15(2), 102-4.
Kishore Kumar Katuri, Ankineedu Babu Dasari, Sruthi Kurapati, Narayana Rao Vinnakota, Appaiah Chowary Bollepalli and Ravindranath Dhuipulla, ‘Association of yoga practice and serum cortisol levels in chronic periodontitis patients with stress-related anxiety and depression’. Journal of International Society of Preventative and Community Dentistry, 2016, Jan-Feb 6 (1), 7-14.
Smith, C. Hancock, H. Blake-Mortimer, J. and Eckert, K. ‘A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety’. Complement Ther Med, 2007, June 15 (2), 77-78.