World Mental Health Day: recognising the benefits of specialist yoga by Emily Brett

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On World Mental Health Day today we at OURMALA are proud to demonstrate the impact our specialist yoga programme has on the mental wellbeing of our refugee and asylum-seeking clients.

A new, independendent report supports what we are seeing every day – that more than 90% of our clients taking part in our evidence based, trauma informed yoga experience a positive change to their mental health.

Every day we are faced with the reality that in the UK, the asylum system is in need of reform and the sector of support services for refugees and people seeking asylum is underfunded.

Most of the people we work with have fled violent and cruel situations – from war-torn countries, torture and human trafficking.  These are not economic migrants but people who cannot live in their countries of origin due to circumstances beyond their control. Their backgrounds vary and many of them have professional and university backgrounds.

The rate of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and nightmares and inability to sleep through the night is high. Many clients of our clients are also very isolated and lonely. Low confidence, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts are common and stress makes it hard to concentrate.

Out of 30 women and men representing 10 different ethnicities, over the past month:

  • All except one had experienced a depressive episode
  • 60% had experienced a major depressive episode
  • 48% experienced suicidal ideation nearly every day for two weeks or more
  • Just over 66% presented with moderate to severe PTSD

The new report evaluating the impact of OURMALA yoga programme shows how our yoga programme is not only highly effective at improving mental and physical health, it also significantly reduces loneliness and supports more the effective integration of our refugee and asylum-seeking clients into UK society.

The new report, Trauma-informed yoga for refugees and asylum-seekers: an independent report on OURMALA’s impact, was authored by an independent healthcare expert who is  Senior Consultant Rheumatologist at Central Middlesex Hospital London, Dr. C Bernard Colaço. He noted that, “attendees were cross cultural and cross religious boundaries and any gender… It is clear that OURMALA has achieved immediate and lasting physical and mental health benefits for refugees and asylum seekers… I would strongly support extension of this service.”

Further research carried out by Lily Kelly-Tarrant in Independent impact report: OURMALA’s trauma-informed yoga programme shows:

  • 93% reported a positive change in mental health
  • 90% reported increased in confidence with a reduction in loneliness
  • 53% was the average reduction in stress, anxiety and nervousness
  • 42% was the average reduction in depression

The findings from this report closely follow that from the first independent report that evaluated a year long study in 2017.

When someone has registered to seek asylum in the UK, they are not legally allowed to work until they are officially recognised as a refugee the by UK government and this process can take years. All this time, they live below the poverty line in often substandard accommodation, with poor nutrition, facing great uncertainty and effectively their lives are in limbo.

Understandably, support services have always focused on legal, housing, medical, language and welfare needs of this population. Psychological support exists but is rarer. At OURMALA, we believe that our specialist yoga programme is as essential as the above services and fills a gap in the ‘support model’ for this population across the UK.

We provide a ‘bio-psycho-social-spiritual’ service that not only improves mental, physical and emotional health and social and support networks. We know from programme evaluation that it also enables clients to get the most out of the other services helping them to integrate.

Yoga is widely recognised as an effective healthcare intervention that is cost-effective and offers preventative and curative benefits by the NHS, private healthcare providers and insurance companies.

Our goal is to provide access to this programme to all refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK. It is a cost effective health intervention that delivers very positive outcomes for mental health and a more humane model for integration.

According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, less than than one quarter of a percent of the UK’s total population (around 0.24%) are refugees or people seeking asylum.* This amounts to 117,234 refugees, 37,829 pending asylum cases and 16 stateless persons in the UK.

This may be a tiny percentage of the UK population but it represents a massive need. These people are the most marginalised, underserved and at risk in our society. We believe that the social return on investment in this programme roll-out will pay dividends – delivering positive results for the individuals, their children, communities and our country as a whole whilst delivering cost savings to health and social service providers.




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