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Oncology/palliative careOct 16, 2020

Welcome to Priya Dasoju's world: extolling the benefits of yoga  

Physiotherapist Priya Dasoju is in her element offering yoga classes and other services to patients at a hospice in Hertfordshire. PhysioUpdate editor Ian A McMillan poses some questions for the committed yoga enthusiast and former professional adviser at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
On a roll: yoga's mental and physical benefits are increasingly being recognised


A recent systematic review, which had input from physiotherapists, found evidence of the positive effect of yoga beyond usual care for reducing depressive symptoms in people with a range of mental disorders

Is yoga gaining more acceptance in mainstream physiotherapy?

I think yoga is increasingly being accepted as a legitimate form of exercise, but it’s clear that the relaxation and mindfulness elements draw many individuals to it. The perception that yoga is only for ‘bendy’ people or women, for example, is thankfully disappearing and we see a changing demographic taking up classes. There is a growing body of evidence on the benefits of yoga. A recent systematic review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which had input from physiotherapists, found evidence of the positive effect of yoga beyond usual care for reducing depressive symptoms in people with a range of mental disorders. It suggests that yoga may provide an additional or alternative way to engage people with depression in meaningful physical activity. See: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2020/04/05/bjsports-2019-101242

How do you usually run sessions and are they popular?

Our hospice runs a number of exercise classes for outpatients. Most have life-limiting conditions but some are cancer survivors. A common theme is that they want to live well and value practising yoga in a safe environment. The class sizes are limited so we can provide close supervision and hands-on support where required. Our yoga sessions are very popular. Patients really enjoy the sessions, which we tailor to meet a range of abilities. We get fantastic feedback; patients commonly report they feel safe as we are aware of their conditions and any limitations. Our biggest issue is moving patients on to mainstream community classes as they don’t feel confident enough to attend, but we are now building close links with teachers in the community and reassure patients that they will always have our support.

Were the yoga sessions curtailed by lockdown?

Yes, unfortunately our group classes have been affected by lockdown. Most of our patients are vulnerable and shielding and it will be a while till we can carry out face-to-face group classes. It was clear early on in lockdown that patients wanted to continue to do yoga and, in fact, felt like they needed it more than ever as they were quite anxious, and also missed peer interaction. We decided to run virtual yoga classes via Zoom, but first carried out risk assessments to ensure the patients could take part safely. The class size was limited further, and we were lucky to get a volunteer teacher so that I could keep a close eye on the participants. The patients really value being able to continue with the sessions and the classes are very popular. It was great to see patients who are not usually technologically savvy making an effort to take part. We are continuing to run yoga and Pilates sessions virtually for the foreseeable future.

Is it harrowing to work in a hospice?

I think the word hospice leads to a misperception that patients only receive end-of-life care. Although a number do, many are admitted for symptom- control and are moving back home or into another setting. We also have a growing number of outpatients who want to live well with a life-limiting condition. All that said, it can be incredibly sad as we do build good relationships with patients and often see them through their treatment trajectory, so inevitably it does affect me when they pass away. However, the privilege I feel in helping them live well and achieve their goals till then – and being part of the excellent, holistic care that the hospice provides – outweighs any negative aspects. I feel very lucky to work in such a wonderful place!

Your previous post was at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. Did that experience influence your practice?

The skills I gained as a CSP professional adviser have been invaluable. I developed my ‘non-clinical skills’, enabling me to think more strategically. In many ways I am a better clinician as I understand the importance of providing high-quality care but also the value of collecting data to evidence the care we provide, and how we contribute to the wider healthcare system. I feel more confident in taking on leadership roles, and in presenting and undertaking projects. Clinicians need to understand the ‘bigger picture’ and this provides more satisfaction, wherever we work.

Any further career or practice plans?

I really feel I have found my area of expertise at the hospice. I am able to combine my musculoskeletal knowledge along with teaching yoga and providing holistic care. My ambition is to develop a specialist service for people needing post-op breast cancer reconstructions. I have seen a number of patients who haven’t fully recovered, as post-op rehab can be very variable, and would like to set up a service providing consistent, high-quality care. I have funding for a course to develop my specialist skills in this area but unfortunately this is on hold due to the current Covid restrictions.

How do you relax?

I have a sweatshirt that says ‘YOGA, COFFEE, NAPS’ … that slogan pretty much sums up it up. Add in Netflix and I’m sorted!

Priya Dasoju, Macmillan specialist physiotherapist, Hospice of St Francis, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Author: Ian A McMillan
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