Stretching the mind

Almost three months ago, my American wife left her job in New Mexico and moved lock, stock and barrel to Glasgow. Initially she had intended to take some time to settle in, enjoy a relaxed summer, start to do up our slightly dilapidated flat and gradually work her way into employment. Unfortunately, the reality is that we didn’t really get a summer this year, we have only now acquired a wallpaper steamer, and work is proving difficult to come by, resulting in her recently crossing that dangerous line between ‘holiday’ and ‘unemployment’, and giving her a fair amount of time on her hands.

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Two of the ways she has been filling that time is by wandering around the Mitchell Library (highly recommended) and by doing yoga. These two activities converged last week when she borrowed the above book, Yoga: The path to holistic health, by B.K.S. Iyengar. With frameworks and conceptual models swimming through my head about the ways social enterprise can impact upon health, this title intrigued me. The claim being made was that through doing yoga you follow a path which will lead to a broad definition of health and wellbeing, that people’s lives were being improved through engaging in this activity. The NHS apparently acknowledges this, recommending yoga, along with other ‘mindfulness activities’ to combat stress, anxiety and depression. Alongside the knowledge that yoga classes almost always cost money, does that mean that all yoga schools and studios are social enterprises? Is Mr Iyengar a social entrepreneur? And, through reading the book, could I increase my understanding of the processes involved in how this particular social enterprise model can be considered a public health intervention?

Many of the other social enterprises I have examined direct their social purpose toward service users who have been forgotten or marginalised by the system and have fallen through the cracks between public and private sector provision, whereas yoga consumers choose to spend their money on the service. The target group are the consumers of the service, which although less common in urban environments, is often the case in the provision of vital services to rural communities. Moreover, it is consumers who entirely fund the businesses, not relying on public sector commissioning or the selling of a separate commercial product to survive, potentially making the business more sustainable.

The model of governance and profit distribution may preclude many from social enterprise status but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that yoga studios could be democratically governed, perhaps through a form of consumers’ cooperative, and that all profits could be ploughed back into expanding the yoga business, thereby increasing the social value generated. If, as Mr Iyengar claims, yoga is one path to holistic health, and if certain governance structures are put in place, yoga studios could not only be considered social enterprises that generate social returns for their consumers, but they may also shed new light on the particular pathways involved in the health-generating potential of social enterprises.

Stretching this a little further (no pun intended), if doing yoga can help to combat some of the detrimental health effects associated with unemployment, should we find ways to overcome the financial and other barriers to involvement so that more people can gain from this form of intervention?