An Open letter to the NHS part 2 by Dr Matt Joslin

The concept of offering yoga as a prescription by health care professionals has really begun to draw some attention. The Manchester Evening News has followed up on the original article and helped us to gauge public opinion. Literally thousands of you have shared the message across social media. I am heartened and enthused by your responses and motivated to move this idea forward.

So I thought that you all out there would like an update of the feedback so far. Well it is no surprise that the yoga community is very excited about the idea of forging closer links with mainstream healthcare services to help people suffering with a variety of health conditions. The challenge is how to convince the population out there who may have never experienced yoga. So many of you have shared your experiences and how yoga has played a key role in recovery from a panoply of illnesses. You have given personal examples of your own healing and described what you have witnessed when observing yoga helping others. Yoga teachers and therapists have been in contact and shared their expertise and resources.

You have also aired your frustrations. Many have already tried to bring to the attention of health care commissioners the potential of yoga as a therapeutic intervention, but with very limited success. We need health care executive decision makers to have some vision and creativity in how they shape services. Some freethinking wouldn’t go amiss. So let’s capitalize on what we have already and up the ante to convince the NHS that the health of the nation would be all the better for supporting and endorsing access to yoga.

Of course there have been some constructive concerns raised about the idea of a yoga prescription. I am not suggesting that yoga should replace mainstream NHS services. The argument that people should take responsibility for their own actions and lifestyle choices is also sound. So I am not recommending that the NHS pay for everyone’s yoga classes. But some well targeted initiatives under the banner of the NHS could pay dividends. The economic concerns about how much it would cost to roll out such programs is an expected knee jerk response. However when examined closely this argument can easily be dispelled. Public health services spend a great deal of energy crunching actuarial reports about days lost from work due to back pain and depression. Consider the impact of this on productivity for the nation. Well Harvard University is wise to this and has commissioned research demonstrating that companies who invested in health and wellbeing programs for their employees, have reduced levels of stress, less absenteeism and increased productivity. Let’s invest in ourselves, i.e. UK plc to have a less stressed and more productive nation.

The burden of weight gain, diabetes and their complications continue to rise alarmingly. The cost to the taxpayer for one such individual suffering with these conditions over a lifetime would make your eyes water. Imagine how much money could be saved if the endorsement of yoga by the NHS helped just a few people make sustained positive life choices such that they never became ill in the first place.

Separate to the public health benefits of yoga is the consideration of specific yoga therapy for individuals suffering from particular conditions. As a yoga community we need to ensure that teachers are appropriately trained to deal with these conditions and that the evidence base for the interventions being offered is in place. Well guess what. This work is already well under way. Agreed, more research will always be needed to refine medical interventions, but good quality evidence is already published in peer reviewed journals. Since not all yoga is the same, and not all people are the same, some consideration does need to be taken by health care workers when signposting to yoga classes. Having an awareness of how strong a yoga class is, what modifications to postures will be offered and what approach is taken to the more reflective aspects of practice, should ensure a good match of student to yoga style. To achieve this, some work needs to be done amongst medical professionals to raise awareness of the different styles of yoga.

So I feel that our argument to have the NHS endorse yoga is robust and gathering momentum. Here in Manchester we have put in place the first steps of a modest but achievable action plan. Now that I am a trainer of GPs I have an opportunity to expose doctors to yoga, who are still open-minded about how health care may be provided. Any #Prescribeyoga trainee GP, medical student or nurse coming in to our practice will have the offer of coming along to a yoga class with me to experience the benefits first hand. They will also get some information about the different styles of yoga to help them match the needs of their patient with an appropriate teacher and style. My hope is they will carry this experience all through their own personal and working lives, driving up awareness of the benefits of yoga in the medical profession.

Since so many of my consultations stimulate the idea “Have you thought of yoga to help with that?”, our practice, meaning all of the GPs and the nurses, can now offer a first class free voucher to patients. Thanks to the support and generosity of Yoga Manchester and Yoga Express, any patient registered with us at The Docs can now experience the benefits of yoga free of charge and endorsed by their GP. This is how I can #prescribeyoga for my patients in central Manchester.

What are you going to do where you are? #Prescribeyoga