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Discussing Yoga in Healthcare with Heather Mason


Heather Mason is founder of The Minded Institute and the founder and a director of the Yoga in Healthcare Alliance, an organisation which aims to promote health and wellbeing by supporting yoga’s inclusion into health care. She’s actively involved in bringing collaboration to the UK yoga community, including organising national conferences and community events, lecturing on the science of yoga in the UK and beyond and is the secretariat of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Yoga in Society. Anyone who’s encountered Heather Mason will know how super busy she is, so we were delighted that she found time to talk with Yogamatters about the vision of the Yoga in Healthcare Alliance and the upcoming Yoga in Healthcare Conference from 15-17 February 2019 at the University of Westminster, London.

Originally from the United States, Heather was teaching about the benefits of yoga to student doctors in a Medical School in 2011, before moving back to the UK full-time (having been in the UK on and off since 2003), where she further developed her interest and research into yoga and healthcare. When she returned in 2014, she was invited to speak at a parliamentary meeting about her passion regarding yoga in healthcare, continuing to draw together influential individuals from the worlds of yoga and healthcare, alongside those at a high level in parliament, to solidify a vision for yoga in healthcare. For Heather, bringing collaboration to the UK yoga community and bridging the world of yoga and medicine go hand in hand. ‘There’s a wonderful diversity of strong ideas and practice out there in the yoga community in the UK,’ Heather explains, ‘and we have to find ways to come together and collaborate to communicate compelling evidence about the benefits of yoga to the medical community. Of course, embodied experience is the best way by far. Healthcare professionals are under such incredible pressure and if they are able to experience the benefits of breathing and yoga for themselves, they are more likely to promote yoga as part of the solution.’

Healthcare is changing. The growing health crisis we’re experiencing in the UK and worldwide calls for a new approach for a new world.

Noncommunicable diseases (also known as chronic diseases) are now the greatest threat to our health and wellbeing. They’re responsible for 70% of all global deaths, killing 40 million people every single year. While the sheer scale of the problem paints a bleak picture for society as a whole, the ray of hope is that they’re largely preventable, caused by four shared behavioural risk factors that include tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diets and alcohol. YIHA

In response to this crisis, Heather believes that we need a major cultural shift, to consider health and wellbeing practices as vital to our daily routine as brushing our teeth! She elaborates – ”There’s no doubt this is a long process and will involve national campaigns to raise awareness. When it comes to their health, many people feel disempowered: sometimes they don’t know how to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, and sometimes they lack necessary information.’ Delivering simple breathwork sessions in social care and NHS settings across West London has given rise to great feedback. After only 10 to 15 minutes of breathing exercises, many participants reported feeling surprised at what a difference it had made to their stress levels. Continued feedback revealed that these people were still using the techniques to reduce stress in the workplace.

When individuals take on more responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, this increases the individual’s capacity for self-care, self-regulation and self-healing. And this is where social prescribing comes in. Social prescribing, based on the idea that social isolation reduces positive health behaviours, while social connection supports wellness and inspires people to engage in self-care, seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way, incorporating activities such as befriending, group learning, gardening, volunteering, arts activities, cookery, healthy eating advice and yoga.

For yoga to be effectively offered on social prescription, yoga sessions have to be appropriate and accessible and the yoga teacher has to be fully trained for delivering yoga in a healthcare setting. Where public money is being spent, it is likely specific protocols will need to be followed and outcomes evaluated. Heather Mason personally believes that these requirements will lead to the necessity for approved programmes rolling out across the UK.

Heather’s enthusiasm about integrating yoga into healthcare is infectious. Just talking with her makes you believe it’s possible – and possible within five years in the UK! She passionately believes that the UK is at the forefront of this integration, that the UK is in a strong position to be the first country in the world to shine that light. She sees the first steps as yoga becoming available on social prescription and individual referrals to yoga therapists – ‘There is no model to follow for this. We’re exploring new territory and drawing the map as we go along.’

So how can yoga teachers and yoga therapists across the whole of the UK get behind this vision and become involved in this movement?

The best way to find out more is to attend the Yoga in Healthcare Conference from 15-17 February 2019 at the University of Westminster, London. This ground-breaking conference is aimed at health professionals and yoga professionals, with presentations from key opinion leaders and pioneers in yoga, health care, yoga research, health policy, and government. Public Health England Chief Executive Duncan Selbie will be presenting the first keynote address at this ‘collective thinktank’, as Heather describes it. She sees this conference as an important springboard and impetus for integrating yoga into healthcare in the UK.

If you’re interested in further training around yoga in healthcare, then there are trainings that take place in London entitled Learn to Teach the 10-week Yoga4Health Programme, that train you to deliver the 10-week yoga course commissioned by the West London Clinical Commissioning Group in your own region.

Heather believes that there is still much to do in changing the perception of yoga in the UK. Yoga is still perceived by many as solely for ‘well-off yummy mummies achieving impossible poses in trendy yoga wear’. She urges yoga teachers and practitioners across the UK to be speaking out about the benefits of yoga to those in the medical community, undoing the perception and changing the narrative around yoga. She’d love to hear your stories about the work you may already be doing in a healthcare setting, to develop a wider picture of what is already taking place across the country. Simply send an email to contact@yogainhealthcarealliance.com.

Let’s leave the final word in this interview to Heather Mason – ‘I want to encourage all yoga teachers and practitioners in the UK to strongly educate yourselves. Study the Physical Activity Guidelines, read yoga research, understand the value of yoga in health and support the medical community in bringing yoga to more patients. Most importantly, reflect on how you see yourself as part of this adventure!’


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