Blog: Yoga health for all

Published: 16 Apr 2020

Author: Lorraine Close
Blog: Yoga health for all

Health inequality in Scotland is a significant issue. The number of people living in poverty who experience poor mental and physical health outcomes is high. There are complex challenges around how best to manage this, and there is a clear need for alternative strategies that promote health and wellbeing for all, regardless of social background.

"The therapeutic benefits of yoga for mental and physical health are well established. However, the demographic of people who practice yoga can be limited, due to the typically high cost and to common perceptions that it requires physical strength and flexibility."

The most effective method of sustainable programme delivery to those who experience health inequality and poverty is through not-for-profit organisations. In the USA this is relatively well-established, however in the UK, particularly in Scotland, not-for-profit yoga is only recently emerging.

I am one of the directors of Edinburgh Community Yoga - one of the most established yoga not-for-profit organisations in Scotland. We offer yoga programmes, many of them trauma-informed, in psychiatric hospitals, third sector organisations and prisons. In this field there is significant challenge in developing sustainable funding streams and planning organisational growth, as it is still a new concept. We operate as a social enterprise and generate income from yoga programmes, which allows us to fund our work in the community.

As part of my Churchill Fellowship, in 2019 I spent seven weeks in the USA, Canada and Kenya. During this time, I was able to explore financial sustainability in yoga not-for-profit organisations and discover how to set up long-term trauma-informed yoga programmes. I also had the chance to explore ongoing scholarship programmes, like those offered by the Africa Yoga Project, which give people experiencing health inequality the opportunity to develop skills and experience in yoga. My Fellowship also allowed me to develop international collaborations with organisations doing similar work to that of Edinburgh Community Work, and gave me the chance to ‘zoom out’ the lens with which I view and engage with our organisation.

"My Fellowship has given me confidence to transition to running Edinburgh Community Yoga on a full-time basis."

The opportunity to learn about sustainable business models in yoga not-for-profit will allow Edinburgh Community Yoga to be able to forward-plan confidently and expand our work. The mentoring I received on my Fellowship from those with more experience has already allowed me to feel more supported, encouraged and assured that the work we do is important in reducing health inequality. Having the opportunity to step away from our organisation was an incredibly valuable experience. Although Edinburgh Community Yoga has some learning to do, it was reassuring to see we are already contributing to social change through our work.

My Fellowship has given me confidence to transition to running Edinburgh Community Yoga on a full-time basis. As a result, I have decided to leave my role in medical education in order to concentrate on developing our organisation - a decision over which I have been deliberating for some time. 

As a result of my travels, Edinburgh Community Yoga has secured several opportunities for international collaboration. We are currently planning a summit of yoga not-for-profits in the UK and Europe within the next 18 months, and are looking forward to further collaborating on a best practice in yoga and mindfulness publication with the Yoga Service Council, where I was fortunate to spend time in the USA.

"Although yoga will not solve the complex issues of poverty and health inequality, it has great potential to promote and support mental and physical wellbeing."

We are currently working to develop our work around social prescribing and looking into offering yoga programmes and yoga therapy within the NHS. We are also excited about the opportunity to develop a further scholarship that allows people to develop skills and confidence through programmes that incorporate yoga as a tool for learning. This will potentially be with an exciting collaboration with the Africa Yoga Project.

Additionally, as a result of meetings with lululemon athletica Here to Be, a global partnership programme in Vancouver, we have been invited to apply for a significant core funding grant. If successful, it will allow us to make the necessary changes required for our organisation to grow.

Although yoga will not solve the complex issues of poverty and health inequality, it has great potential to promote and support mental and physical wellbeing. My Fellowship journey has allowed Edinburgh Community Yoga to continue to do this in a sustainable, planned and collaborative way. I am incredibly grateful to have experienced it and to be able to move into the future with excitement and only a little trepidation.

Find out more about Lorraine’s Fellowship journey on the blogs section of the Edinburgh Community Yoga website.

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