Why More Western Doctors Are Now Prescribing Yoga as Therapy
There is a growing body of research that is proving yoga has mental and physical healing benefits. More and more doctors, including those with traditional Western training are prescribing this ancient practice to their patients.
Yoga is no longer seen as only being suitable just for young, thin, bendy people or those with enough flexibility to bind themselves into a pretzel shape or strong enough to carry all their body weight on one hand. Yoga is for everyone. There is a misconception that students need to be super flexible in order to practice yoga but the truth is anyone can practise and derive benefit from it.
“If you can breathe, you can practice yoga.” TKV Desikachar
“My yoga practice became the base that restored my health, taking me from smoking, having high blood pressure, and being overweight and pre-diabetic to being fit, active, and a picture of health. I’ve lost 50 pounds, my blood pressure is normal, and I can jog and hike without pain.”
David Rachford, a Navy veteran who suffered painful nerve damage and severe sciatica as a result of a career-ending back injury and who was offered therapeutic yoga as part of his recovery in USA.
Yoga as therapy is now recognized as a clinically viable treatment, with established programmes at major health care centres, such as The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre and The Cleveland Clinic. The healthcare world’s increased acceptance of yoga as therapy is partly due to a significant body of clinical research that now documents yoga’s proven benefits for a range of health conditions, including back pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, as well as its ability to help reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Yoga has even been documented as a way to alleviate the side effects of cancer treatment. More than 500 research papers on yoga therapy have been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the randomized, controlled, double-blind studies that are modern medicine’s gold standard.
The research on yoga as a helpful component of cancer treatment has expanded the most, says Khalsa, co-editor of the first professional-level medical textbook, Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care (Handspring Press, 2016).“These days, it’s hard to find a major US cancer centre that does not have a yoga program,” he says. “Patients are demanding, and spending more on, complementary medicine like acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and yoga.”
New research also shows that yoga can outweigh the hormonal effects of age. A study by Loren Fishman, MD in 2015 and published in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, found that 80 percent of older participants, most of whom had osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia, who practiced 12 yoga poses (often modified) a day showed improved bone density in their spine and femurs.
The yoga programme at The Raw Retreat allows students of all abilities, including those who have never practised before to build up a practice that they can follow at home once they leave. We also include some yin yoga, restorative and also yoga nidra. The classes are inclusive and always offer modifications. Our student guests have included those suffering from cancer, MS, chronic fatigue. obesity, stress, anxiety, diabetes, back pain, insomnia, heart disease and many other health conditions, We have also taught students that have had a stroke and also amputees. At The Raw Retreat yoga and meditation feature every day and the reason for this is that it simply makes guests feel good.
For many yogis, simply practicing yoga regularly improves overall well-being and strength. Indeed the NHS now provides information on yoga on its website.
Some GP practices also prescribe yoga lessons instead of prescriptions, giving patients vouchers for lessons at local yoga studios.
It will take time to shift both practitioners’ and patients’ attitudes toward yoga. Many from both groups still view yoga as strictly a supplement to conventional treatment rather than a primary approach. The most powerful shift may be the one that happens within each of us—when we take responsibility for our own health, do our practice, and allow for transformation and healing to occur.
Rachford, the Navy veteran, is now a trained yoga teacher. “We tend to want immediate cures for pains or injuries, and Western medicine is very much geared toward prescriptions and surgery,” he says. “But yoga doesn’t work that way. As Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said, ‘Do your practice and all is coming.’ Yoga helps me deal with stress and has allowed me to release addictions and harmful behaviours. It has set me free from pain and suffering, which allows peace, joy, and health to be present in my life.”