Lorraine Close is the Outreach Director at Edinburgh Community Yoga, she recalls a conversation with Clare Cable about her role as a nurse and how she has continued this into the community by supporting disenfranchised groups to have access to yoga and along with it effective stress and wellbeing techniques to apply in everyday life.
‘With a nursing qualification, you can do whatever you want. You don’t need to work on a ward forever, there are so many opportunities out there for you if you want them- go and find them’
I was 21, about to start working on my first job on a medical ward in Aberdeen and I wasn’t entirely sure what Dr Sundari Joseph, my favourite university lecturer meant at the time but her have stuck with me for the rest of my life, which I let her know when I bumped into her at a medical education conference 15 years later.
Fast forward to 2021 and I am now the Outreach Director of Edinburgh Community Yoga, a not for profit social enterprise offering over 20 trauma informed yoga programmes to communities in Edinburgh, founded with my co-director Laura Wilson in 2014.
What do running a yoga not for profit and nursing have in common? When I left my job teaching undergraduate medical students at Edinburgh Medical School at the end of 2020 I felt strongly that I was taking a step away from my nursing career and was potentially exiting a career that, as Dr Joseph had sagely informed our graduating class of 2004, had offered me opportunity to travel all over the world and experience many different things. The sense of moving away from nursing, fear of losing an identity (as well as my NMC number!) that was core to my work coupled with a certain impending global pandemic that shut down our yoga programmes in the community had me seriously questioning my life choices and wondering if I should be asking for my job back!
I recalled my first conversation with Clare Cable through ECY’s involvement in a Calysts for Change Project and how she suggested to me that my role in the organisation was in fact nursing in the community and in that moment how I got to that point all made perfect sense.
Edinburgh Community Yoga’s vision encompases the yogic values of respect and compassion and the humanist ideal of unconditional positive regard. We believe in social equity and work towards an inclusive world where each individual has access to and is empowered by doing yoga.
We take the therapeutic benefits of yoga to communities in Edinburgh. We are a not for profit that ensures access and inclusion by working across the cultural, social, economic and health barriers that inhibit people from taking part in yoga. Our aim is to provide a learning environment that is safe and supportive, and one that equips people with the skills to deal with stress and improve their health and mental wellbeing.
I didn’t come to this work – running and developing yoga programmes in psychiatric hospitals, prisons, homeless shelters and addiction recovery settings and running wellbeing workshops for NHS staff, through work in the field of yoga. I came to it through my nursing career. This vision was developed from my nursing experience that offered me a strong sense of the need for holistic approaches that promote salutogenesis (thanks Harry Burns for teaching me that word) and centre compassion, kindness, connection and understanding at their heart in order to begin to address the complex health inequity and systemic injustice that is so deeply rooted in our society both globally and here is Scotland.
After a few years of working on medical and surgical wards I left to travel with my heart set on working eventually for Medicine Sans Frontieres (an emergency relief NGO working globally) . What should have been 12 months working as a nurse in Australia turned into 2 years in India, 6 months of which was spent working with nursing based not for profits with homeless people on the streets of Calcutta. I left exhausted and with more questions than I started out with but overwhelming with a sense that I wanted to do more. Following a brief stint working 12 hour shifts at a maximum security prison outside of Glasgow (mostly dishing out methadone and diazepam) and a trip to Central America I moved to London. After completing a diploma in Tropical Nursing at the London School of Hygiene and working in travel health I returned to India to work with Community Health Education programmes in slum communities around the Union Carbide Factory site in Bhopal. All of these experiences offered me so much- a strong sense of the injustice around health and poverty in Scotland and beyond, an understanding of the warmth and kindness to be found in people anywhere in the world and a clear sense that young white women parachuting into developing countries to try to help make things better was probably not the best route to improving health inequality. I wasn’t sure where to go next but I did know that the integrative and holistic approach to health using Western medicine, community health workers and practices like yoga and ayurveda that I had experienced at the Sambhavna Clinic where I lived and work was an approach that I believed had far more potential for true healing than my experience of working in prisons where people were over medicated, and often treated without kindness, compassion or understanding of what had occurred in their lives to lead them to a point of incarceration (my understanding is that health care in prisons has thankfully moved on and changed for the better). In the meantime yoga had served me very well in my own life, teaching me an ability to sit with uncomfortable thoughts feelings or situations, to find pauses between thought and action and to discover a place of quietness, stillness and peace within.
I found myself back in Scotland in 2012, planning to do a Masters in Global Health and was offered a job in the medical school- teaching clinical skills and resuscitation which led me to an MSc in Nursing Research. This put my other plans on the back burner but offered me the opportunity to complete yoga teacher training in my spare time as well as taught me how much I enjoy education and teaching. Though I loved my job in med ed I kept returning to the sense of how much I wished I could have taught yoga in prisons instead of giving out drugs and so I began to look to see what organisations were doing this type of work.
I met Laura Wilson, who had just established ECY and was teaching in the community, in 2014 and we grew the organisation together from there. 7 years later we are both employed, have an administrator, a team of 12 teachers and run 22 outreach projects running in the city as well as a scholarship programme to support people to study yoga further and training for teachers in working community settings and trauma informed practice.
What we do is hard work, and there are definitely days where we wonder why we do it. But we always come back to the sense that, if nothing else, we offer people a moment in their day or week to perhaps experience a little bit of calm- and that is truly enough. The intersection of this work with nursing is now so clear to me and I am forever grateful to QNIS for bringing this to my attention. It doesn’t need to be a one or the other career choice, it is in fact both and this sense has given me confidence in my decisions and helped me to retain my identity as a nurse- which I didn’t realise was important until I thought I had lost it.
The sense of community, relational support and wellbeing that comes from our yoga programmes is not just about yoga. It is about valuing each human who turns up, it is about the power of connection with each other in the group, having something to show up for, feeling valued enough to be treated with respect and to be able to take part in an activity that for so many people we work with was thought as of ‘for posh folk with nothing else to do’. We hope that our work contributes in some small way to social change by supporting the people we work with. It feels like a long stretch at times but we believe it is of value. Globally the field of yoga not for profit is growing and in 2019 I was able to travel to the USA, Canada and Kenya to visit other organisations doing similar work as part of a Churchill Fellowship, consolidating my sense that we are on a good path and that there is support from other people in what we do.
We work in partnership with mental health services, community health teams, Occupational Therapists, clinical nurse specialists, experts in community development and many other inspiring individuals working in the third sector to support the many people in Scotland who, for a variety of reasons experience health inequality, systemic injustice and a lack of accessibility to practices that promote well-being. It seems to me that organisations working with people who have experienced developmental or complex trauma are increasingly recognising the value of how traumatic experience is (or isn’t) processed by the body and that working with embodiment practices an adjunctive therapeutic treatment and that can be really helpful.
I enjoy this continued experience of interacting with other health and social care professionals and hope this continues to be an integral aspect of my work.. I have recently qualified as a TC-TSY facilitator teaching yoga based movement to people who have experienced complex/developmental trauma and I imagine that this work might find me further integrated with health care, perhaps through one to one work in in-patient settings.
My nursing career has been a convoluted path- II often think of myself as a jack of all trades and a master of none, but I am incredibly grateful for the breadth of experience and these days I believe it makes me better at my job, and soI no longer view it as a negative.
Wherever the path winds next, one thing is clear. Nursing is an inherent part of my identity and always will be, wherever I end up. Those words, uttered by Dr Joseph when I had no idea what life or nursing would bring, could not have been truer and I continue to be so grateful for the opportunities as a result of being a nurse that I have been gifted with.