Opinion: Yoga happens beyond the mat

PUBLISHED: 15:00 17 June 2020

Cllr Ketan Sheth is supporting International Yoga Day.

Cllr Ketan Sheth is supporting International Yoga Day.


Yoga is rapidly becoming popular as a community-based approach to improving health and wellbeing by overcoming isolation or loneliness.

And that’s a good thing.

Especially when we consider that researchers say loneliness and social isolation are the root cause of many underlying health problems. And sadly, social isolation is on the rise.

So let me explain why I think yoga is so important and the benefits it can offer us all to improve our health and mental wellbeing in our modern society.

I know that many of us feel that yoga can offer activities and experiences, which are healthy for mind and body. And, that yoga also gets involved with others, which is often crucial for our wellbeing. For some, yoga can offer opportunities for informal drop-in and social interactions combined with more structured programmes of activity, or “recreational therapy”.

The World Health Organisation, who initiated the International Day of Yoga, has recognised that the level of empowerment, choice, influence and control we have over our lives has a significant impact on all those factors, and on our physical and mental wellbeing.

It is said that promoting self-management may help us improve our mental and physical health and take more control over our lives. The success of our community relies, I think, in large part on the trust we all place in our communities and the knowledge that our community will be there should we need the support.

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So, as we as a community take steps out of the devastating impact of Covid-19, we need to examine both the practical ways that community-led yoga can operate given the great demand for support services with ever decreasing resources.

I also think we need to make the commitment to working in partnership to increase local knowledge of yoga’s pivotal role in the social prescribing matrix. We also need to understand the links between community-led yoga, social prescribing and our resilience.

Just as we all accept the need for the government to provide a right to healthcare, to a decent education or to social security, we should argue for access to community-based recreational therapies as part of our progressive social prescription. Recreation therapy is a type of therapy that uses engaging activities, such as yoga, to enhance a person’s physical and mental abilities, resilience, and overall wellness being. This type of therapy may benefit people of all ages with recovering, coping, coming to terms with where and how they live.

I would like to say as well that everyone can do yoga.

Yoga, as we know, requires no equipment, no specific skills or physical abilities, and can be practiced by anyone, in any condition, in any location. Yoga allows us into people’s lives for moments of grace while we are all on our mats - we can feel connected to the other people in the room, regardless of our lived experiences, and the external conditions that separate us from each other. Also, yoga practice does not have to be so serious! We can laugh and talk to each other, expect the unexpected, and to go with the flow!

So, let me end by saying that in the 1940s the social reformer William Beveridge developed the welfare state to tackle what he called the “five giant evils” of his time – squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. They certainly were evils of that time.

I think that today in 2020 in the 21st century we should say that loneliness and isolation are increasingly becoming another great evil.

But on this International Day of Yoga 2020, let’s remember we have this important practice which can help to tackle that modern evil which can affect us all.

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