Yoga in Healthcare Conference Feb 2019

Transforming healthcare through yoga.

Thanks to the sponsorship of the Yasodhara Yoga European Network, I was able to attend the Yoga in Healthcare Conference at the University of Westminster on Feb 15th – 17th. The conference was organised by Heather Mason of the Minded Institute. It was well attended by yoga teachers, yoga therapists and health professionals, and there was positive and upbeat and feeling from the participants from the start. This was the first national conference on yoga and health to take place in the United Kingdom.

As a yoga therapist, who taught in the Marylebone Health Centre between 2004 and 2008, I was particularly interested to see how the possibilities of incorporating yoga into the health system have developed since then. The practice I taught in was at that time one of a very few which offered yoga.

Duncan Selbie CEO of Public Health England spoke on the Friday evening. He told us that earlier this year, for the first time in the NHS, the minister of health put forward the idea of self-responsibility. For those in the world of yoga this opens up an exciting opportunity. Yoga Teachers and Therapists have been working to get yoga into GP Practices for years. Since the minister’s statement, a new plan has been circulated to various bodies.  Yoga is not specifically on the plan, but under the umbrella of social prescribing, Duncan Selbie feels yoga definitely could have a place. The latest long term plan with funding is coming in within a year. “This is your time” was how he put it.

Most GPs now acknowledge that personal responsibility must play a bigger part in treatment outcomes for patients. People need to stay longer in good health, and work for longer. The NHS is in crisis, but from that may come potential for a more integrated approach, putting into place opportunities for all to benefit from practices such as yoga, and making it available to a wider number of people. There is now plenty of research to show that practising yoga and other forms of exercise can help people stay out of hospital longer. During the 1990s and since, much research has taken place (including randomised trials with control groups).  Outcomes for groups practising yoga have proved both positive and cost effective.

Yoga Research and the Indian Ministry of AYUSH.  We watched a video from Dr Nagendra, President of Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samathana (VYASA). He talked about Adhi – which he defined as an uncontrolled speed of mind. We can call this survival mode, or stress mode which creates a disturbance at the pranic level, which over time will manifest as changes in organs and body functions. Yoga Therapy uses an integrated approach to counteract this tendency. Yoga practice has been shown to change brain activity, structures and biochemistry even after one class. The changes are as affective as drugs and surgery. Through meditation practices we also develop the ability to self-regulate, and control the stress response. We have less risk of developing mood disorders. Because we are genetically programmed to put survival at the front of our attention, we are hard wired to thinking negatively. So positivity is something that has to be practised. Frequency of practice is key. The research shows that those who practised more got better results. Even 10 min a day was enough to make a difference.  

Social Prescribing and Yoga: Michael Dixon: Chair at the College of Medicine.  At his practice, yoga has been offered for some time and it has proved to be cost effective. Dr Dixon talked more about social prescribing. By the end of this year there will be social prescribing in every GP Practice. The doctors now believe that long term diseases are better treated with a combination of medication and activities such as yoga, according to the patient’s choice.  Pilot schemes have shown positive results.

 Yoga in the NHS – a CCG Journey: Dr Fiona Butler, a GP from West Kensington and the clinical lead and drive behind the Yoga4Health Programme. As part of a pilot scheme to model social prescribing, her practice in West Kensington ran a ten week course of two hour yoga sessions. These sessions incorporated postured, mindfulness, relaxation and discussion. The results were also very positive.

Jamie Bristow – mindfulness

In 2013 Jamie Bristow taught Mindfulness to a group of MPs.  Now 220 have attended courses, and they have silent practice days on Sundays. ”If yoga and mindfulness were taught in every school and institution, we could change the world.”

There were many other speakers who offered inspiring talks and workshops – The message I took from the conference was that now, or within the next six months would be a good time to make contact with my local GP and see whether I could offer yoga classes there. The benefits of yoga practice are now well documented through solid research, and it is beginning to be taken seriously by many health professionals.