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House of Lords Hansard
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21 March 2019
Volume 796

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will draw up a strategy and campaign for the expansion, particularly in the National Health Service, of access to yoga and its associated health benefits.

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My Lords, there is evidence that yoga helps to build strength in healthy adults and can improve health conditions such as high blood pressure. The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days a week, and yoga is one of many activities recommended in their report, Start Active, Stay Active.

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I am very grateful indeed to the noble Earl for such a positive response. I am sure that he will agree with the Secretary of State’s statement last autumn that, if the NHS is to survive, we need more social prescribing by GPs, which will help with the financial position. Given what the noble Earl just said, I am sure he will agree that yoga helps people with mental health problems and back pains, those tackling addictions, and people with obesity—a whole range of subjects. Is he willing to meet a group of representatives to discuss how we might take this forward, particularly in the context of the 10-year programme being drawn up to try to offer people greater movements towards better health while saving the NHS money? I declare an interest as the co-secretary of the All-Party Group on Yoga.

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My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right about the importance of social prescribing—it can be felt right across the population, particularly in relation to mental health. I agree with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State about social prescribing; that is one of his top priorities. The noble Lord asked whether a meeting could be arranged with me, him and other interested parties. I will pass that request on to the Minister responsible so that they can have a useful conversation.

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My Lords, it is acknowledged that yoga is very beneficial for mental health: it provides mindfulness, an ability to make better judgments, to relax, and to take decisions in a sensible and responsible way. In light of that, does my noble friend agree that yoga should now be made obligatory for Members of the House of Commons?

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My Lords, my noble friend makes a very important point about the importance of yoga and the great benefits that it gives to everybody. I have unrolled my yoga mat in my office and am waiting for a lesson from my noble friend Lady Barran, who is a teacher of yoga.

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My Lords, there appear to be particular benefits of yoga for older people in improving balance and muscle tone, NICE estimates that falls cost the NHS more than £2.3 billion a year, and we know that older people often become lonely, so the mental health and social benefits of going to classes also apply. Given those facts, will the Government encourage yoga for older people?

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Yes, the noble Baroness is quite right. The only proviso as far as that is concerned is that more frail elder people should take great care—the noble Baroness makes a hand movement which I think describes her exercise.

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Anyway, deep breath! The noble Baroness is quite right about the importance of social prescribing and yoga being of great advantage to the population.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that East London NHS mental health trust has for seven years been running and evaluating sports programmes—including yoga, but also many other activities—for people with severe mental health problems? I shall give an example: 100% of those involved in its boxing programme for forensic patients—those with severe mental health problems and a criminal history—have achieved a significant improvement in their mental health and well-being. Will he make NHS England aware of the work in East London and issue guidance to mental health trusts across the country that they should all run a range of sports programmes for people with severe mental health problems?

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The noble Baroness is quite right: the importance of those various forms of activity is well felt. I do not know the event that she described, but I know that Haringey CCG has created a better care fund to improve health and social care services for older people, particularly those with long-term health conditions. Strength and balance is one of the programmes funded by that partnership; that goes back to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I will of course make that point to the department, but more and more areas are getting involved in social prescribing, which is promoted by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and is without doubt doing a great job.

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My Lords, I have just discovered that you can do downward dog on these Benches: I invite noble Lords to join me. With the evidence showing that yoga and mindfulness can be good for preventing and curing illnesses, both physical and mental, what progress has been made with the establishment of a national academy for social prescribing? Will representatives of yoga and mindfulness practice be on it?

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Yes, my Lords, engagement with stakeholders on the national academy for social prescribing has already begun and they are being consulted. The academy is under development. I have asked the department and NHS England whether representatives of yoga and mindfulness will be engaged in its development.

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My Lords, I can bear witness to the efficacy of workplace yoga, as I attended many of the lunchtime sessions organised by my noble friend for seated yoga before the Christmas break. I enjoyed them very much and commend them to all Members of the House. Noble Lords will be very relieved to know that MPs, Peers and other staff were not required to don their Lycra during lunchtime. Is the Minister aware of the amount of workplace yoga being encouraged for NHS staff for not only their mental but their physical well-being, for those who have to lift heavy weights and so on? That programme should be rolled out across the whole NHS.

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The noble Baroness makes a good point. What she did not mention is how good yoga is for stress, and how to reduce one’s stress levels with movement, breathing and meditation. I know that yoga classes are available in various workplaces, but I was not aware of the NHS programme. I will, of course, bring it to the attention of the department.