House of Commons Speech by Charlotta Martinus, November 2018

“Thank you for inviting me to speak. I base my contribution today on 15 years of continued interaction with the diverse community of people involved in yoga in schools across the UK, which includes school leaders, teachers, counsellors and yoga teachers.

Last week I was about to teach yoga to my year 7 and 8, they were messing about on the mats. A stern-faced woman enters the room – says “What’s going on here?” I invite her to join us for our yoga class, she says “I’m not really dressed for it – but tell me more”. I explain that the school has chosen yoga as their whole school wellbeing initiative –she pauses, her face changes as she looks at the mats and looks back at me and says – “what an absolutely wonderful idea.This is what we are looking for.” As she walks out through the door I ask who she is and she turns around to say “I am a school inspector”.

She is not the only one who thinks this way. Increasingly, yoga is catching on in those schools that have realised that they have to address mental health issues themselves and prevent the crisis from happening.

There are a wide range of issues that face young people linked to Mental Health such as:

Stress

Anxiety

Depression

Obesity

Bullying

Behavioural issues

Sleep deprivation

Addiction

And many many more…

The research shows that all of these are addressed by yoga.

The most recent research led by Westminster University indicates an interesting new aspect which links yoga to increased resilience.

Apart from research, there is also an enormous amount of experiential evidence from yoga in schools. Here is one example:

This is a letter from the Pupil Referral Unit in Milton Keynes. A 14 year old girl who has been absent from regular school for many years.

Since you have been teaching yoga at the Bridge I feel like I have more control out of my life and that I can do anything I put my mind to (eg breathing work and relaxing and stuff) I feel like its gonna be a lot easier. If someone asked me a year or two ago would you ever think you would be doing yoga and in school full time, I would have laughed in their face!”

Imagine if more young people had access to these embodied practitioners before they were moved to the PRU which costs £13000 per year per pupil?

There are three important elements to consider when discussing the role of yoga in schools.

Firstly, up to 2015, yoga was increasingly used as a preventative measure (26% of schools accessed yoga), however due to redirection of Sport England funding, yoga is not as easily available in as many Secondary and Tertiary environments anymore.

Secondly, the increasingly stressful environment that teachers and pupils are facing (testing, lack of trust from leadership – 1 in 3 NQTs leave profession in 3 years!!!)

These first two actually LEAD TO MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES which takes us to the third point:

  1. the on average 30% cut in CAMHS funding over the last 3 years, means that schools are left to deal with something that they are ill-equipped to manage.

HOW DO WE AVOID THIS?

The vision we have in this vertical is for yoga to be readily available in each school to reduce the incidences of mental health issues and improve young people’s wellbeing. We see this as involving important cost savings for the NHS, the education system and other areas such as social services.

In order to achieve this, we need your support in three principle areas; curriculum, research and joining the dots between education and the healthcare system.

The First, Yoga in the Curriculum, PSHE, PGCE and SEN

  • The logical place for yoga in schools is within the PSHE (initial exploration of this is already taking place)
  • Yoga is extremely beneficial in the Special Needs context and it would be valuable for SENCOs to have yoga on their list of recommended therapies

For maximum impact and consolidation:

There is a need to be offering yoga as part of the Teacher Training curriculum to support future wellbeing for teachers and students – so directive from government that this is a simple and impactful intervention affording long lasting change.

Secondly, research:

There are plans to implement two large scale research projects, one of which focuses on the ways in which yoga can reduce mental health issues in schools in which the aim is to be partially funded by the NIHR and the other is a longitudinal project aimed to explore how yoga can improve outcomes and reduce costs in a wide variety of ways, academic and other, within schools. And this would be funded by a social impact bond. In both cases, the scale of the endeavour requires an extensive range of support and we request your help in making contact with appropriate stakeholders and decision makers in funding bodies, governmental institutions and the corporate world to support these projects.

The vision for yoga in schools requires joined up thinking. It is vital to develop richer links between those funding health related interventions and school funders. In the current climate in some areas, CCGs are funding yoga for young people. It would be valuable to have conversations with different regional CCGs and NHS England, as well as other organisations, in order to raise awareness and develop policy of the potential impact of funding yoga in schools.

I am sure that the right honourable gentlemen and ladies have particular insights on how government might help to support the propagation of yoga in schools and would welcome any and all insights.”