ECY is committed to spreading the benefits of yoga within our community.
Having established a diverse portfolio of outreach classes since 2015, over the last two years we have started to document the scope, scale and value of what we do. Last year’s annual report drew heavily on qualitative reflections from participants and teachers on the value of the classes we offer (this report is available on request by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org).
This year’s report takes a more systematic approach by capturing the numbers of those reached in different classes as well more about their demographic profiles. We did this by taking a snap shot of those attending our classes in an ‘average’ two week period. This showed we were running:
19 Outreach classes reaching 141 people over a 2 week period
14 were ‘trauma informed’ – reaching those with mental health conditions (4), those in recovery from substance abuse(4), military veterans (3), for women recovering from violence(2 classes) and for refugees (1); In all these reached 115 people;5 other outreach classes targeted NHS staff,older adults, those with long term conditions, and the LGBTQ community; these reached a further 26 people
Numbers fluctuate from week to week, but this gives a picture of the scope and scale of our work. Below is a snap shot of those attending our classes in a two week period. This showed we were running:
AGE RANGE: 21 to 96
GENDER: 47% of those attending identify as male– a much higher proportion than is likely to be found in most mainstream yoga studios.
KEY THEMES: Broad themes from analysis of our programme evaluations across all outreach programmes and classes.
- Useful skills
- Perceived improvement of mood
- Ability to manage stress/overwhelm
- Change priorities and thought processes
- Feeling supported, without pressure
- Feeling stronger, Sense of achievement
- Sense of peace and relaxation
- Optimism, Yoga as something to look forward to
- Having a safe space, feeling part of a group
- Changing the participant’s image of yoga
- Coping with Pain
Participants said they valued being able to take skills learned in yoga ‘off the mat’ and into day-to-day life. The most frequently mentioned of these was breathing– the highest single issue mentioned by NHS staff, but also mentioned by recovering addicts, women suffering from trauma, and the self-harm group. As one participant put it,
‘Yoga for me has taught me that being in my body is so important, my breath can regulate me, and my breath will guide me through anything.’
Another example indicates the complementarity of yoga to other support – one young man said he experienced panic whenever asked to share his experience at a mutual aid meeting, but now (the teacher recording the young man’s words):
‘he was able to go inside and use the breathing we had practiced and this calmed him down and he gave a relaxed share which he enjoyed.’
Other specific skills people were able to transfer into daily life included tapping (a grounding technique), or simply sitting down to feel connected to the chair:
‘The grounding and tapping things have been really, really helpful –I use them at work a lot as well.’
Before learning about grounding the person had just dug their nails into their skin to bring them back to the present moment.
For others, it is a more general sense of knowing how to relax:
‘The relaxation part is great, I always leave feeling relaxed and calmer not a regular feeling for me.
Someone else, asked how they would have coped with stress before they knew about yoga, said:
‘It was hard, I didn’t really do anything to deal with stress, but now that I have started yoga I feel like I have the tools that I need for me to go home and try it all at home.’
Almost all groups commented on their mood being lifted. The following quotations are typical; sometimes it is hard to tell which comments are from health professionals and which from those they could be caring for – arguably a poignant comment in itself on the state of the NHS.
‘If it’s not too over the top I would like to say this group has been a major factor in helping me deal with my life, with this illness, it’s a happy hour in a week that doesn’t have many of those.’
‘Even if my mood is low, by the end of the class I can sometimes be quite transformed, almost on a high.’
‘Sometimes you will arrive for class feeling quite low, but by the time class is over you feel refreshed, calm, and relaxed’
A majority of participants from NHS staff wellbeing workshops, as well as some from the self-harm group, said yoga had changed the way they felt about stress and feeling overwhelmed. Typical comments included:
‘[I] came here feeling overwhelmed left feeling the opposite.’
‘Knowing it is OK to feel how I do; lots of people need help to deal with stress’.
[I am no longer] ‘letting myself get overwhelmed by situations and frustrations … but taking a moment to think it’s okay to feel overwhelmed, and to move on from it, is quite a big thing I have got from this.’
Changing Priorities and Thought Processes
Two participants (one NHS the other from an outreach group) mentioned the value of having, or making, time for themselves. Ultimately, participants’ sense of what yoga is changed, realising that it is about removal of the fluctuations of the mind – ‘not just about asana’
Specific examples of changed thinking included:
One woman who would be ‘a bit more OK with attending a class with men’ when previously she would have been intimidated by that.
One participant being able to eat amongst other women on an outreach yoga retreat for the first time in many years
One participant said that preconceived ideas of yoga, based on flashy TV images of ‘almost double jointed people competing to bend the furthest’ had been‘blasted out of the water’.
Many participants commented on the value of feeling supported without the pressure to perform, and without being judged. This seems to be a significant contributor to healing.
‘There is no expectation only a wish, emanating from the teacher, that we try our best without causing harm to ourselves. This is at the heart of everything. Whatever Corps or Service a veteran is from they have been taught to push to almost self-destruction. It is so refreshing to be in a situation where there is no compulsion either implied or otherwise to make you perform. All you are asked is to be yourself and find your own limits. Granted over time these limits will extend, but safely and at your own pace, with care and advice from the teacher.’
‘The Yoga that Lorraine and Laura teach is very gentle, it puts you at your ease, but at the same time asks more of you than you believe you are capable of without pushing you past your limits.’
‘I think just being here helps, and trying some of the stuff that we can’t do but we can sit and have a laugh about it without feeling like a complete failure.’
‘We’re don’t criticise anyone, everyone’s accepted …..Having a laugh when you are here, it’s funny when we don’t get something quite right, but everyone can have a laugh about it too.
It would appear that the support without pressure contributes to the ultimate sense of achievement. All the comments here come from outreach groups
‘Over the weeks I for one have astounded myself with my improved flexibility, core strength and my concentration. My sense of humour hasn’t improved but, you can’t have everything’
‘I think the actual yoga gives me a sense of achievement (even if I start thinking oh no I’ll never do that!)’
‘I know that I am much more flexible than I have been in terms of how much I can move my body around, and that in itself gives me a sense confidence. At times you can feel stuck, believing that this is how you are always going to be…. There is one part of my body that is particularly painful, there are certain moves that when we did them at first I would just stop… Now, I can try: I’ll try and hold at that point and push myself a little bit more, and actually have that sense that maybe things could get a bit better’
‘I think it has really helped me realise I’m a lot more capable, and it’s helping me to become stronger, I’m able to get out and about, and I’m not stressed out so much’
‘I see so much progress in myself. Tonight through being able to breathe and relax into the stretches, I got so much further!’
This was mentioned by 4 groups including of NHS staff. The following comments are typical:
‘The relaxation part is great I always leave feeling relaxed and calmer – not a regular feeling for me’
‘Relaxation was very useful – felt so tired when I came in and felt revitalised and relaxed afterwards’
‘It has made me feel so relaxed – I’m lovely and level’
A feeling of optimism and having something to look forward to, was mentioned by participants in four of the outreach groups:
‘I could never have imagined that a Thursday evening could be so looked forward to.’
‘Looking forward to the next Yoga Retreat Day, and then the following 12 weeks Yoga’
‘It makes me want to get up every day that the yoga is on, because I know it is going to help me when I am here, and that is what I like’
Being in a safe space was mentioned by participants from three different groups. The way one put it, ‘A safe place, my time, our time!’ captures the sense of safety but also the link between individual and collective well-being.
Being in a group is clearly important to some:
‘not a class, a group – if I was in a class I would have panicked – in the group it is supportive, you know you’re ok’.
It also underlines the importance of support, and that that comes not only from the teacher but from others in the group too:
‘It’s difficult for me to go to groups with other people but the yoga group is easier and more comfortable because everyone understands how I am without expectation. I can have a bad day and nobody judges and everyone supports. I’ve learned a lot about people who have had trauma e.g. that coordination skills are poor this was great for me as I thought I was just weird. I think it’s almost like we are a wee team now and the closeness means a lot because dealing with this illness can be very solitary and isolated.’
Participants say yoga contributes to coping with pain either physically or mentally:
One participant, with almost two decades of ME was finding yoga helping – giving her practical stretches to do, rather than being stuck with realising she was getting stiff and achy and ultimately in pain;
‘yoga teaches you, you can put up with the pain more than you thought you could.’
Monitoring and evaluation methods
Quantitative data complemented by analysis of the qualitative feedback we have received. Our analysis drew from the following sources:
- Written feedback from individuals who have participated in ECY outreach classes (veterans’ classes)
- A verbatim record of a focus group discussion (the self-harm group)
- Notes made by the teacher from a focus group discussion (addiction recovery group)
- Reflections from teachers and participant observers of groups (Womenzone and LGBT groups)
- ECY’s report to NHS Lothian – which drew on feedback questionnaires filled out by participants on the different courses provided.
The quality of this feedback lies in its diverse sources: when analysed as a body it presents a very consistent set of themes that shed light on the value of ECY’s work. The kinds of benefits that participants note are very similar – whether the comments are from veterans, people in recovery, victims of trauma, or the health care professionals that are suffering from stress in trying to meet the diverse demands of the NHS.
The next stage of developing evaluation depends on more robust and consistent means of data collection and analysis across our projects We are actively seeking research collaborators and hope to be able to develop high quality evidence in support of our work. We also hope to be able to provide impact reports for specific groups that in future, may contribute to evidence based practice.
To contact us regarding evaluation and research opportunities please email email@example.com