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Do Yoga Teachers Have a Role to Play in Healthcare?

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Do Yoga Teachers Have a Role to Play in Healthcare?

By: Lynda McCullough

Ever-increasing numbers of physicians and research studies tout the benefits of yoga, but is it truly being integrated into healthcare? A recent article in Yoga Journal notes that physicians are prescribing yoga in greater numbers than ever, and there are now more than 130 yoga therapy training programs worldwide. But what kind of access do patients have to classes or therapists that can meet their needs? Can those recovering from illness or struggling with depression find a class that feels welcoming and appropriate for their needs?

As a yoga therapist myself, I believe we teachers and therapists have an even greater role to play in healthcare. Healthcare, particularly those areas embracing holistic approaches, must better incorporate yoga into its overall model. The medical clinic near my home displays literature in the waiting room describing the greater hospital’s system’s embrace of a holistic approach that includes yoga and Ayurveda, but the company is not able to actually provide those practices.

On the other hand, the organization Evolution of Medicine and physicians like Mark Hyman, James Gordon, and Aviva Romm are promoting healthcare approaches that are holistic and embrace self-care, social support, and community. Yoga fits neatly into this vision.

As new thinking about both the model of care and the “nuts and bolts” of that care continue to evolve, yoga teachers and therapists can fill a need by providing therapeutic yoga and related classes such as meditation. They in fact can provide education on a complete system of self-care that includes movement, stretching, breathing, mindfulness, and even what to eat.

A yoga class fills the need for community and social support naturally, and classes designed to be gentle and inclusive might also make space for discussion during or after class. Teachers or participants might raise questions or explore struggles that arise in learning new health behaviors or new perspectives or provide support for loss and change.

I recently spoke with Lisa Schmidt, a counselor and yoga educator in Scottsdale, Arizona, who trained in dietetics at Bastyr University and combines nutrition, mindfulness and yoga in working with people who have depression and autoimmune illnesses. She came to this approach after seeing the failings of medicine up close in a job analyzing corporate budgets. She calls herself a yoga educator, and she offers yoga, mindfulness training, and nutrition counseling. She is an example of a new yoga professional meeting the need in healthcare.

Yoga professionals like Schmidt might work on their own, as partners with doctors, or as consultants to clinics. Another way yoga is working its way into medicine is in the work of physicians like Sara Gottfried, Baxter Bell, and Tim McCall who actually practice yoga themselves and share its benefits with patients within a holistic approach to patients’ ills. They spend more time with their clients than other doctors and incorporate more natural remedies. Along with yoga and food changes, they sometimes encourage use of meditation, herbs, or supplements.

We are in the middle of a healthcare revolution, and I believe that yoga can actually be its centerpiece. I hope to see more and more yoga teachers on the staffs at hospitals, psychiatric centers, rehab and senior centers, even programs for at-risk youth. Its time to bring the best of what we have to the table for the health of the system, the doctors themselves, and, most importantly, the patients.




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