Dr Matt Joslin’s open letter calling upon the NHS to put yoga on prescription had me banging my fist on the table and saying, “Yes, yes yes!” Not because I see yoga as the panacea to treat all health ailments or because I want more students (although that’s always nice). Rather, I know first hand how empowering the practice of yoga is and the transformation that occurs physically and mentally. Let’s look around our current situation. Obesity is sky rocketing and resulting illnesses such as diabetes, heart problems, cancers are following suit. On the other side of the spectrum, eating disorders such as anorexia amongst teenagers and young adults are increasing with the mental effect of such illnesses diminishing vitality and health both now and in later life. Depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia - most of us have been afflicted by at least one of these states at some point in our lives and we have to face up to the fact that in large part, these have occurred through the life choices we’ve made. My partner, Christoph Seiland, who is a yoga teacher and doctor recalled his year in vascular surgery. Involving the amputation of feet, hands, and limbs, he said that nearly all patients lying on the operating table was there because of the choices they had made. It may seem like an extreme example, but the snowball effect of one single choice can result in chronic poor health. As I write this now, overworked junior doctors have gone one strike for the first time in 40 years against a proposed contract that will see them working longer and harder. It’s easy to blame the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for imposing such a contract, and sure most of the blame lies at his Whitehall Door, however, what about us? What can we do? Let’s start by looking after ourselves, treating our wonderful bodies with the full respect they deserve. And this is where yoga comes in. In yoga, we have a mat and a body. We listen intimately to the signals of the body conveyed through muscles or the breath, and we learn to see the discrepancy between what the mind tells us is and isn’t possible and what we are actually able to do. No machines required, the mat can be rolled out at any time, simply manipulating the body to create leverage, weight bearing, and cardiovascular elements. Slowly we cotton on to how bloody brilliant the body is, regular practice takes our hands closer to our toes, and we realise that our volition pays dividends as vitality from within and not an outside substance leaves us feeling lighter, more alert, and most importantly, empowered to make more beneficial choices. It is this empowerment to make the right choices that cuts through the snowball effect of choices that lead to bad health, and ultimately a strain on NHS services. Whilst living and teaching in Berlin, I noticed a huge contrast to the UK: people are generally leaner and are willing to invest in their health regardless of their income. Recognising the health and mental benefits of yoga, the German health insurance companies (private and state run) reimburse almost 80 percent of the yoga class fee every year or two years. For them, the reimbursement acts as a preventative measure and helps to reduces the costs of hospital stays and treatments - this is probably a huge factor in why so many people in Berlin practised or taught yoga! I truly believe that optimum health starts from within, and whilst yoga certainly does not make us immune to ill health, it does make us more empowered to be aware of what we are saying yes and no to, and provides a space in which to offer ourselves respect, love, and vitality. We have one body and one life, it is up to us how we choose to live it. #PrescribeYoga    
Dear NHS, When I write to the National Health Service, really I am appealing to you as its users. But you users are also the care providers, administrators, managers and policy shapers. In this country our health service is part of the lifeblood of society. I am proud to be part of that despite the current challenges facing us. So many of the news stories about the NHS currently sadden me. Services are cut back, patients are let down by the system, individual health care workers are overwhelmed and stretched to breaking point. The health of the nation raises cause for concern and we reflect on the trend of living longer but with doubt over the quality of that life in our more senior years. There are many ways that we as a society and providers of health care could address these problems and I want to bring Yoga to the table as an intervention on an individual and public health level that offers positive and sustainable improvements to health across the board. Before scepticism prevents you from reading further, please consider the following. On a personal level I came across yoga 15 years ago to help me with back pain. My terrible posture and lack of exercise due to most of my week being spent sat at a desk was taking its toll. Subsequent to this I suffered a bout of depression, which nearly resulted in my leaving the medical profession. Unexpectedly, I found that rather than the well-pushed interventions of talking therapies and medication, it was my yoga practice that sustained me and helped me get back on track. As time goes by the many facets of yoga practice become more apparent to me. It is so much more than just exercise and now, with confidence from personal experience I recommend yoga to my patients. Every day in my job as a GP I think of the potential of Yoga. Yoga could have a positive impact on almost every health related situation that comes into my consulting room. It comes up in discussions about weight loss, anxiety, back pain and depression, pregnancy, cancer, cardiovascular health and ageing. I could go on. The more I consider the role yoga has for an individual person coping with a particular health concern, the more I see the potential for Yoga to become a public health intervention that society could opt for to bolster the health of the nation. From a public health perspective, if a Think Tank was trying to devise an intervention that had potential to improve physical and mental health parameters across all age ranges with great accessibility and appeal, with little outlay for the individual in set up costs, I challenge you to find a better intervention than Yoga. I want to see whether there is a way to marry the amazing healing sustaining practice that is Yoga with the services offered by the NHS. The NHS already sends people to the gym and to swimming pools. Find me a physiotherapist who doesn’t think yoga is a good idea. It is time yoga became the default option to get people moving, improve strength, flexibility and posture and while you’re at it, to bring a helping of mindfulness to promote mental health. This idea has credibility is gaining momentum. Just last autumn The Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group reported on the evidence and best practice of mindfulness. It plans to develop policy recommendations for Government with respect to applications in health, education, the workplace and the criminal justice system. Mindfulness is an integral part of Yoga, which has the potential to offer yet more benefits in those domains than just mindfulness alone. Yoga is not new to the UK. Manchester in particular has very strong links to the yoga tradition with international expertise. The yoga infrastructure here grows year on year. Should the users of the NHS wish it, we can capitalise on this base of expertise and offer it as tool to improve health care. Essentially I am asking you to consider offering Yoga on prescription. GPs have been put centre stage in the process of commissioning services. What strikes me is that in this process we should be representing the needs and wishes of the community when commissioning a service. This is a unique opportunity for you, as consumers of the NHS to have a voice and help shape a service if you want to. Share this letter via any medium you choose. Open up the debate. Do you see a role for yoga in your health care? Do you have questions or reservations? If you show your interest and get a conversation going, we can encourage the NHS to drive this forward. I truly believe in this idea. I hope you see its potential too. Yours Sincerely Dr Matt Joslin GP Manchester