Taking yoga to our marginalized communities in Scotland.


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This article was originally published in the September issue of Yoga Scotland Magazine.
Many thanks to them for their support.

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As the far-reaching benefits of yoga become mainstream knowledge, recognition that those in less privileged positions may greatly benefit from the practice, has become a growing aspirational focus for many teachers. As the founder of Edinburgh Community Yoga; an organization with a core aim to ensure yoga and meditation is accessible for all in society, I have been aware for some time that a shift is happening within the yoga community in Scotland. Teachers and organizations are seeking to work with more marginalized and hard to reach communities. With the anecdotal benefits of yoga for mental health, addiction recovery, eating disorders, long term health conditions, PTSD etc. being backed up with scientific research on an almost a daily basis, and the successes of the inroads in this area already being made across Scotland, it is clear that there is much work to be done.

And so in the belief that working together, sharing knowledge and aspirations may allow us to move more quickly and more effectively, I proposed in May this year, to hold the very first ‘Edinburgh Community Yoga think tank’. Billed as “A chance for yoga and body/mind practitioners, mental health and social care professionals to put their heads together; to share ideas, contacts and experiences, in the hope that we can reach more vulnerable and at risk groups in Edinburgh and even across Scotland.”

Of course this is not a new idea; teachers have been taking yoga into marginalized communities, adapting their practice and teaching styles to support their student’s specific needs for a very long time.   Indeed, there have been small pockets of therapeutic application in the UK since the practice arrived; lone teachers and yoga therapists quietly, diligently sharing their knowledge for the good of the most vulnerable. But a real shift towards the US therapeutic yoga model that reaches mass populations is relatively new and unexplored in Scotland. There are of course exceptions, such as the ‘Prison Phoenix Trust’ whose pioneering work spans almost 3 decades, and the relatively new advent of organizations such as ‘KICC Active’ and ‘Yogability’ to name a few. But what appears to me to be new, and causing the shift, is the power and momentum the yoga community is gathering to reach these populations.

In attempting to further the impact of ECY I have been lucky enough to have had meetings with teachers and students alike, all who have a sense that taking these practices of pranayama, asana and meditation to those without the means to access yoga is not only a privilege but also an obligation. From this exploration, I started to recognize that throughout Scotland there are satellites of activity developing new ways of delivering and engaging vulnerable people, and that a central hub in which to gather and guide this momentum may be a useful tool to build on the work already being done.

On May the 2nd 2015 we came together; teachers, trainers, care professionals, medics, psychologists, psychiatrists, movement therapists and even a shiatsu practitioner. All with a sense that a) yoga has something to offer and b) there are communities with needs that are not being met.

We heard experiences from teachers working within the mental health service, prisons, with individuals that have eating disorders, long-term health conditions and drug use, and those teaching children and adolescents. It would seem with so many different areas covered why did we need to meet? Was the work not already being done? The answer is simple, because ‘we as individuals’ do not have the power of ‘we as a community’. With this in mind, the collective agreed on a shared vision to develop this work further

  1. a) Teachers interested in this work should be supported with appropriate training, mentoring and supervision,
  2. b) People working within the medical or care professions should be able to advise their service users where they can access mind/body practices,
  3. c) Funding opportunities must be accessible to support the professional delivery of the practice across Scotland.

Edinburgh Community Yoga final outreach-01It was clear from the workshop that there is no single solution to the vast and wide ranging social issues Scotland currently faces. It was also clear that there is most certainly a place for using the knowledge and therapeutic application of yogic and other mindful and mind/body practices in order to address some of these issues. Furthermore there is much enthusiasm, skill and knowledge which must be cleverly harnessed in order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in society, in the most responsible, ethical but impactful way possible.

And so this was very much the beginning of something I envisage growing and developing over many years. As a group we agreed we need a vehicle from which to communicate; a network or such. The recently started not for profit social enterprise ‘Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach’ may prove to be the vehicle to develop this work further. There is much to do, and much to organize, but with such a strong team sharing the same a vision, the sky really is the limit.

Laura Wilson, founder of Edinburgh Community Yoga, Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach and the Scottish Wellness Network

For more information or to be involved in this exciting new project please contact laura@edinburghcommunityyoga.co.uk

You can also watch our short film here https://vimeo.com/119646095