Yoga In Healthcare Alliance (YIHA) is a UK-registered charity dedicated to integrating the benefits of yoga into healthcare. YIHA works with the NHS and other health professionals to support patients and help them make lifestyle changes. YIHA was commissioned by the NHS to create the 10-week Yoga4Health social prescribing programme which is delivered by Yoga4Health teachers in the UK and abroad.
Paul Fox, Chief Operating Officer, Yoga In Healthcare Alliance says…
“The Yoga4Health programme is about empowering people to discover how much better they can feel by adopting a simple daily yoga practice. A large proportion of illness could be avoided or mitigated if people became more active and changed unhealthy behaviours for healthy ones. Activating patients to feel they are in control of their health and can take steps to boost their physical and mental wellbeing is key. At the same time, our programme aims to take them on a beautiful journey into their body, breath and mind to become more accepting, aware, mindful and kind to themselves. It is self-care by tapping into this powerful mind-body medicine: yoga”.
I was drawn to training as a Yoga4Health teacher as thought it was truly great to hear of an organisation that was linking yoga with healthcare to help people to improve their own wellbeing, one that is inclusive, accessible and would also reduce the burden on the NHS through reduced need for GP appointments. The Yoga4Healthcare programme is for NHS patients who are: at risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, suffering from stress, anxiety, mild to modern depression or social isolation.
The Yoga4Health programme is really accessible as participants can practise the set sequence from their chair or a yoga mat. What I love is the fact that everyone starts the opening sequence from the chair. Fellow graduate of Yoga4Health, Dr Chang and I have included some snippets from the protocol to show you.
Deepest gratitude to Heather Mason & Paul Fox of YIHA for their commitment to developing such a great programme. Below are a few postures from the programme, detailing chair and mat options.
The props that are needed for a typical Yoga4Health protocol are: Chair, mat, foam block, blanket and belt
The practice starts and ends with sitting bringing attention to your breath. The breath practice builds throughout the 10 weeks from observing breath, moving to an ocean breath and a coherent, equal ratio breath by the end of the 10 week programme. Participants are directed to their breath through practice.
1. Seated Twist
Ground feet on mat or foam block if needed for comfort. Inhale, with a tall spine, exhale to the right. Hold for 2-3 breaths. Inhale, turn your head only to the centre. Take 2 more breaths. Return to centre and repeat on Left. Twists are freeing for the spine and release tension. The Seated Twist is part of the opening sequence which is seated for all.
2. Gentle BackBend
Bring arms behind back to where it is comfortable and hold the sides of the chair. Roll shoulders back and down, lifting the chest, draw shoulder blades together. Hold for 4-5 breaths. Then fold forward to release and enjoy a lower back stretch for a few breaths. This Backbend is part of the opening sequence which is seated for all.
3. Chair Hamstring stretch
Sit with a tall spine, shoulders away from ears. Hold the belt lightly in each hand. Inhale, bend right knee, exhale stretch leg away, extend to where feels comfortable. This is great for opening and lengthening the hamstrings. Repeat this 4-5 times. When you are ready to switch legs, ground the right foot, pause before repeating on left leg.
Mat Hamstring stretch
If comfortable support the head and neck with a folded blanket. Hold the belt lightly in each hand. Inhale, bend right knee, exhale stretch leg towards ceiling, extend to where feels comfortable. Repeat 4-5 times. When you are ready to switch sides ground the right foot and pause before repeating on the left leg. Keep the pelvis in contact with the mat throughout the practice.
4. Chair Down Dog
Use the back of the chair. Inhale look forwards, exhale, take Down Dog, aiming to align head inside upper arms. Inhale, hold Down Dog, focus on length in the spine; exhale and look forwards again. Repeat this 3-5 times maintaining connection to your breath. Using the back of the chair removes the weight from the shoulders and wrists which may offer more accessibility for some participants.
Mat Down Dog
Use a folded blanket to support knees. Come to all fours, tuck toes, inhale lengthen spine. Exhale, lift the hips high, stay on toes/balls of feet, knees bent. Inhale, hold Down Dog and further lengthen spine if comfortable. Exhale, lower knees. Repeat 3-5 times, moving with breath. Posture can be held if that feels comfortable over moving dynamically.
5. Chair Warrior II
Sit comfortably with a tall spine, open right hip and turn out left leg, Draw palms together as you inhale, turn head, extend arms away, Exhale return to centre, repeating 4-5 times. Keeping connection to breath as you move, noticing space in chest and hips. Pause before repeating on L side.
If participants can stand with support of the chair, the Mat Warrior II described below can be followed with one arm on the chair as the other arm extends as knee bends on inhale. Straighten leg and draw in arm on exhale, repeat 4-5 times.
Mat Warrior II
Facing the long side of your mat, take as wide of a stance as is comfortable. Turn right leg out to roughly 80 degrees. Bring palms together, inhale, turn head, extend arms and lunge right leg. Try to keep the knee in line with the 2nd toe during this lunge. Moving with the breath move straighten let and then lunge back into Warrior II 5 times on right leg. Exhale and return to the starting position. When you are ready to switch sides, bring the feet together and pause before repeating on left.
6. Tree Pose with Chair
Using the back of a Chair offers stability for participants that are able to stand. Start by holding the chair, root left foot down into the mat and bring right heel to ankle or shin, turning Right hip out. If comfortable, lift the right arm, extending it like a tree branch. This pose helps to build balance and stability. When you are ready to change sides ground the right foot, pause and repeat on the other side. Hold each side of Tree Pose for 4-5 breaths.
Tree Pose without Chair
Use a wall for stability if needed. Raise the right heel placing it below or above the left knee. Maintain awareness of your breath as you press the thigh and foot into each other. Inhale, raise arms overhead, exhale and root into your tree for 5 breaths. Ground and pause before repeating with the left leg.
For more information of Yoga4Health protocol please visit Yoga In Healthcare Alliance site.