Mental Strengthening by Simon Hunt
Three years ago I was given an exciting opportunity to teach yoga at a psychiatric
hospital in Dudley. As nurse and a longtime practitioner of yoga I was keen to see
whether patients would benefit from adding yoga to their prescribed programme of
established therapies. I hoped they would enjoy it, too.
As a yoga teacher registered with the Yoga Alliance and already teaching a wide range
of classes, I had a varied experience to draw on to help me offer a relevant and,
hopefully, valuable class. By continuing my own study at the Parkdale yoga centre in
Wolverhampton, I had a forum within which to discuss any issues concerning the
appropriate development of the class.
Once I started the class, I received encouraging support from Bushey Fields hospital.
The class was proving to be popular with many patients who regarded it as a new and
powerful way to learn to relax.
Pete Yates, Director of Studies at Parkdale and I thought that it would be useful to
capture some of the reactions of my clients as part of a research study. I subsequently
undertook a 12-month study, starting in April 2002.
Research took the form of a questionnaire given to clients after completing each class.
People were asked to rate their ‘general sense of wellbeing’ on a scale of 0-10 before
and after the class. A space for comments also gave respondents the opportunity to
elaborate on their thoughts and feelings about the class. I also interviewed five regular
clients at the end of the year-long study to get a more personal account of their
As my particular role is as a Substance Misuse Nurse at Bushey Fields, I had become
interested in the possibility of yoga as a coping mechanism for abstaining from alcohol
and other drugs. However, the class was open to anyone, since I was also aware of
yoga’s potential to help people experiencing anxiety and depression.
The class is a mixture of gentle asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing exercises) and
meditation, sensitive to individual needs and the dynamic of each class. Beginners and
increasingly regular attendees came to class voluntarily. Everyone had a health check
first so that postures could be modified and adapted accordingly.
The study threw up some interesting results. Over the 12- month period 47 clients
attended the classes with a total of 203 appearances. Once all the scores were totalled,
the average score for ‘general sense of wellbeing’ prior to the class, expressed as a
percentage, was 42%. This increased to 82% after the class.
Clients were reporting all sorts of benefits. Most said that their sense of tension had
disappeared, and that yoga offered relief from stress. The overwhelmingly positive
“There is a wonderful in-touch feeling with your body. My fingers and head are buzzing.
It is very energising. The tension in my neck has disappeared.”
“I felt relaxed and in control afterwards. My balance is slowly improving, which seems to
give me a greater sense of self control”.
“I had a tension headache when I arrived, it had gone by the end of the yoga.”
“Very enjoyable, I am learning to concentrate, combining breathing with movement.”
“ I am going to carry on doing yoga. Thank you!”,
Even after completing other therapies provided by the hospital, many clients kept up
their yoga classes, saying that it did not feel like a treatment as such and that despite the
hospital setting, it felt like any other class they might attend. It was gratifying to hear
people say that an ongoing yoga practice was a helpful technique for addressing day-to-
day difficulties as well as being enjoyable for its own sake.
The class continues to thrive and offer yoga to people who may not have had the
confidence or opportunity to experience it before. Clients feel at liberty to drop-in to the
class as they please and feel the need. Some come back after a few months’ absence
for a ‘top-up’, only to become regular attendees again. The number of people who tell
me that they are now supplementing the class with their own home practice is also very
encouraging. The class continues to evolve and adapt according to the needs and
development of the clients, and as my own practice and understanding of teaching yoga
Two clients stopped using heroin during the year of the study. They used the class as
part of a wider treatment package. I asked them “what does yoga mean to you?” Their
“ A relaxation. A stress-free hour and a half. An enjoyable, mild exercise. Twelve months
ago I never thought I would be doing yoga, now I miss it when I don’t attend. Initially it
was just something to do, a way to stretch and keep the joints supple. It has calmed me
down a lot. It’s enjoyable but it can be difficult to describe. It’s not just a five-minute fad.
It’s more of an ongoing experience.
It focuses your mind, that is if you want it to focus. It’s a different experience. You get out
of it what you put in. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. Some weeks I feel
tranced, but it’s an escape into reality. It’s always the same, but always different. To
think I used to use heroin to get like this!”