FHT’s President, Jennifer Wayte, joined honoured guests, MPs and ministers at the Houses of Parliament last month, as the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Indian Traditional Sciences celebrated the 2nd International Day of Yoga.
The APPG on Indian Traditional Sciences was set up in March 2015 ‘to promote and facilitate informed discussion on issues concerning all Indian traditional sciences practised in the UK within Parliament, by providing a forum for cross-party parliamentarians, senior policy makers, academics, leading community figures and other stakeholders.’ These traditional sciences include ayurveda, jyotish, Indian classical music, siddha, unani, vastu and yoga.
Recognising the greater need for yoga within the health care and school curriculums, Bob Blackman MP, Chair of the APPG on Indian Traditional Sciences, tabled an early day motion 215:
‘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.’
The evening’s programme was hosted by Bob Blackman MP, who was joined by fellow parliamentarians, Matthew Offord MP and Virendra Sharma MP.
The High Commissioner of India and Chief Guest, His Excellency Mr Navtej Sarna, elaborated on the origins and significance of the United Nations International Day of Yoga. This vision was encapsulated by United Nations General Secretary, Ban Ki Moon: ‘By proclaiming 21 June as the International Day of Yoga, the General Assembly has recognized the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations.’
The programme was conducted by Amarjeet Bhamra, Secretary of the APPG on Indian Traditional Sciences, who introduced the speakers and welcomed guests, saying ‘It is an absolute privilege for us to have the presence of His Excellency The High Commissioner of India, Mr Sarna, along with the members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Indian Traditional Sciences to move forward our agenda of yoga into the NHS. The efforts and support received from Bob Blackman MP and his Office, in this very important initiative has been incredible. I welcome Matthew Offord MP and Virendra Sharma MP for having joined in and supporting the APPG in its efforts.’
Founder of The Minded Institute, Heather Mason MA, co-conducted the programme along with Amarjeet and gave an overview on the need for integration of yoga into the NHS. She said, ‘Yoga practice is correlated with positive health outcomes and its integration into the health services would reduce the economic burden associated with non-communicable diseases. There is a large and strong corpus of research evidence supporting yoga’s efficacy in the management of chronic conditions.’
A number of invited speakers shared their personal journey to health recovery using yoga and meditation, and discussed standards and integrity in yoga practitioners. Others gave examples of how yoga is already being used in health care systems – both in the UK and other countries – to benefit staff and patients.
Representing the medical fraternity, Dr Matt Joslin, a GP from Manchester said ‘My own personal practice of yoga has led me to introduce yoga as an option for patients to add to their toolkits to help manage their illnesses and maintain physical and psychological well-being. This option is met with enthusiasm when introduced in a patient-centred way, with a collaborative approach. All members of the team in our primary care organisation, from reception staff through to visiting locum doctors, are invited to attend a yoga class with me. This broadens the base of ‘yoga prescribers’ and creates a culture where yoga is seen as part of ‘usual care’. An endorsement of yoga by a healthcare professional under the banner of the NHS is a powerful message to patients.’
Goran Boll, who presented to guests via Skype, talked about the success of Yoga in Swedish Hospitals. He said, ‘Yoga has already been implemented into the Swedish NHS. From 2010 to 2016 more than 150 hospitals, primary care and specialist clinics have started using yoga on their patients. The projection for 2020 is 500 to 600 NHS units, and we see a similar development all over Scandinavia. Yoga is used on heart patients, for pain management, eating disorders, cancer rehabilitation, in psychiatry, treatment for the elderly, and in palliative care. The yoga instructors in the Swedish NHS are mostly physical therapists, nurses and doctors, having taken up to two years of yoga training. The basis for this development in Sweden is scientific research on yoga, since 1998.’
Dr Gangadhar, from the Department of Psychiatry, NIMHANS Bangalore, presented via Skype, and talked about the present state of affairs for yoga and healthcare in India. He said, ‘Practising yoga lifestyle not only promotes better mental health but also reduces illnesses and related symptoms. Substantial evidence is available to objectively demonstrate the benefits of yoga and these are well documented in scientific research. Being non-invasive, it has best potential for integration with other treatments and such integration has already happened at NIMHANS for mental and neurological disorders.’
Dr Tina Cartwright, a Senior Lecturer at University of Westminster, told guests ‘Surveys in the US and Australia have shown that around a fifth of yoga practitioners report using yoga for specific health conditions, with the majority perceiving yoga as helpful in improving or managing their health.’ She added, ‘Yoga is most commonly used for musculoskeletal problems, mental health conditions and stress management.’
Dr Fiona Butler, representing the Yoga for Underserved Population, from NHS West London Clinical Commissioning Group, shared that ‘the College of Medicine is pleased to be part of the collaboration looking at the cost-effectiveness of bringing more therapeutic yoga to the UK and NHS, researching its beneficial impact on emotional and physical health and on chronic conditions such as back pain, depression, stress and obesity.’ She highlighted the need for prevention and self-care as key to ensuring sustainability of NHS. ‘We need to reduce the number of people at risk of lifestyle related, long-term conditions and return people to a state of wellness. This means thinking outside the box, being open minded and embracing new ideas for healing that are cost-effective and have evidence base.’ Speaking about the Yoga for Underserved Population, she said, ‘We particularly want to reach underserved communities and help health inequalities, and the College of Medicine is committed to researching the benefits of therapeutic yoga in areas of social deprivation where lifestyle factors such as poor diet and stress, and social isolation have an adverse effect on health and people are least likely to access holistic care.’
Dr Ned Hartfield discussed the cost benefits of yoga for the NHS, telling guests ‘Each year the NHS loses over five million sickness absence days due to back pain and musculoskeletal conditions, costing the NHS more than £600 million. Recent research shows that yoga programmes – involving specific movements, breathing techniques and relaxation methods – are highly effective for reducing back pain and musculoskeletal conditions. A recent randomised controlled trial involving 151 NHS employees in North Wales showed that a yoga programme was not only effective in reducing back pain, but also cost-effective in decreasing the number of sickness absence days due to back pain and musculoskeletal conditions. In this study, yoga participants missed only two days due to back pain and musculoskeletal conditions over a six-month trial period, compared to 43 missed days in the control group.’
Jo Manuel, speaking about the role of yoga in the education system, said ‘A study conducted by NASUWT [the largest teachers’ union in the UK] in 2016 surveyed more than 5,000 teachers and found that over three quarters (79%) had reported experiencing work-related anxiousness; almost half (47%) of teachers have seen a doctor in the last 12 months as a result of work-related physical or mental health problems; 14% have undergone counselling and 5% have been admitted to hospital. Ten per cent of teachers say they have been prescribed antidepressants to help them cope and, shockingly, 2% of teachers say they have self-harmed as a result of work-related pressures.’
Jo went on to explain that the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group in Havering commissioned a mindfulness programme from the Special Yoga Foundation. This involved 6 hours of training, and a daily yoga and mindfulness practise delivered with audio and visual materials. In six weeks, this generated an increase in ‘high well-being’ from 8 to 20% and a drop in low well-being, from 14 to 4 %.
To end the evening, Venerable Dr H R Nagendra, yoga consultant to Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, spoke to guests via Skype about the importance of yoga. Lakshmi Kaul, from Bob Blackman MP’s Office, then extended a vote of thanks to everyone who attended the day and read out the following resolution, which was ratified by all:
‘Create fraternity, a sangha, of yoga experts and leaders encompassing all schools of yoga who unify under the umbrella of this traditional practice. This group will collectively work within and embody the ethos of yoga. That 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 develop networks with India, other nations, and the World Health Organisation.’