Free yoga classes help Royal Infirmary staff improve wellbeing

FROM reducing stress and improving fitness, to helping manage the symptoms of chronic pain, the health benefits of yoga are well documented.

Staff Nurses from theatre recovery Jane Waldron, front left, and Catriona Byrne, front right, join in a yoga class for staff run by Mary Ramage to help with empathy. Picture: Greg Macvean

And now NHS bosses hope the ancient spiritual practice could help their own hard-working staff avoid a burnout.

Doctors and nurses at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary have been offered free yoga classes during their working day as part of a drive to improve health and wellbeing.

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As well as the obvious physical health benefits, bosses hope the exercise will also teach staff how to show more compassion and empathy towards patients.

34,000 days were lost due to mental illness for NHS staff working in the Lothians last year.

The 20-minute drop-in classes, funded by the NHS in partnership with the non-profit wing of Edinburgh Community Yoga, are being carried out by instructor Mary Ramage.

The project is believed to be the first of its kind at a Scottish hospital.

Lorraine Wilson, who manages the outreach programme for Edinburgh Community Yoga, said: “The feedback from staff has been really positive.

“Management has been really supportive of the staff. Even practising for just 20 minutes can have enormous health benefits.”

Edinburgh Community Yoga has also run courses for people recovering from addiction, suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems.

Lorraine added: “As far as we know, this project is the first of its kind at an NHS hospital.

“We want to offer people the opportunity to learn breathing techniques for the mind and body and feel the benefits for their health and wellbeing.”

So far more than 40 health workers have taken part in the classes, with plans to roll the programme out to other hospitals in the pipeline.

Inga Cosway, co-ordinator for NHS Lothian’s Healthy Working Lives, said: “The thing with yoga is you can get immediate benefits, so straight after a session staff find their shoulders are lower, they are more present and are better at working together as a team. Patients also appreciate a smile and that staff are more relaxed.”

Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach is the not-for profit branch of Edinburgh Community Yoga and it believes yoga and meditation should be accessible for everyone, no matter their state of health or economic status.

Jacqueline Reid, senior charge nurse at the ERI, has attended four of the sessions and described them as “inspiring, uplifting and rejuvenating”.

She said: “You feel that you have a new lease of life after the 20 minutes. The classes taught me not only the importance of taking regular breaks, but also an awareness of tension and techniques for reducing this.

“A colleague summed it up nicely when she said ‘we are learning techniques for life’ as we left the session.”