'Joining a group was inspiring': a qualitative study of service users' experiences of yoga on social prescription.
BACKGROUND: Yoga is becoming an increasingly popular holistic approach in the West to manage long-term health conditions. This study presents the evaluation of a pilot yoga intervention, Yoga4Health, that was developed for the NHS to be socially prescribed to patients at risk of developing specific health conditions (risk factors for cardiovascular disease, pre-diabetes, anxiety/depression or experiencing social isolation). The aim of this qualitative study was to explore service users' experiences of Yoga4Health and the acceptability of the programme. METHODS: Qualitative data were collected from three sources: 1. Open-ended questions on questionnaires completed by services users at three different time-points (baseline, post intervention and 3 months); 2. Interviews and focus groups with a subset of participants (n = 22); 3. interviews with yoga teachers delivering Yoga4Health (n = 7). Each data source was analysed thematically, then findings were combined. RESULTS: Of participants completing baseline questionnaires (n = 240), 82.5% were female, 50% White, with a mean age of 53 (range 23-82) years. Baseline questionnaires revealed key motivations to attend Yoga4Health were to improve psychological and physical health, and believing Yoga4Health would be accessible for people with their health condition. Post-intervention, participants reported a range of benefits across psychological, physical and social domains from Yoga4Health. Increased confidence in self-management of health was also reported, and a number of participants described making positive lifestyle changes after attending the programme. Unanticipated benefits of yoga emerged for participants, such as enjoyment and social connectedness, which facilitated ongoing attendance and practice. Also key to facilitating practice (during and after the intervention) were suitability of the classes for those with health conditions, practising with a group and qualities of the yoga teacher. Home practice was supported by course materials (manual, videos), as well as the teaching of techniques for everyday application that offered immediate benefits, such as breathing practices. Follow-up questionnaires revealed a key challenge was continuation of practice once the intervention had finished, with the structure of a class important in supporting practice. CONCLUSIONS: Yoga4Health was a highly acceptable intervention to services users, which brought a range of biopsychosocial improvements, suggesting yoga is an appropriate intervention to offer on social prescription.